Tonight more than 120,000 children will go to sleep in temporary hostel-type rooms, some sharing toilets or bathrooms with people they don’t know. These are the kids who can’t go home, whose families are homeless for want of decent, affordable housing. And to our national shame, their numbers have increased every year since 2010.
They are the extreme end of a housing crisis that is evident across the country for people on ordinary incomes.
At the other end of the housing market, thousands of properties are owned as second homes, either for investment or for holidays and weekend breaks.
The housing crisis is in part a crisis of inequality. The housing wealth divide has widened following the global financial collapse a decade ago, as homeownership has continued to rise for the richest 10 per cent and fallen for the least wealthy half of the population.
Labour will do what it takes to help those people whom the market currently fails. We will build a million genuinely affordable homes over 10 years – including the biggest council house-building programme in more than 30 years.
We will build for those who need it most, including the very poorest, with a big boost to new social rented homes. And we will also build Labour’s new affordable homes for those in work on ordinary incomes who are priced out of the housing market and being failed by housing policy. People like HGV drivers, shop staff, warehouse managers, teaching assistants, call centre supervisors and nurses who do the jobs we all rely on: the backbone of the British economy and heart of our public services.
But we also need to act more directly to take on inequality. This means regulating the rental market to rebalance the power difference between those who own property and those who do not. That’s why Labour plans new renters’ rights with an end to no-fault evictions, new minimum standards and controls on rents.
Tackling inequality is the driving force behind proposals I set out earlier this year to capture more of the rising value of land for the local community rather than filling the coffers of landowners, developers and land agents. That’s why Labour will set up an English Sovereign Land Trust to make more land available more cheaply and without windfall profits to landowners, and why we’ll enforce affordable housing requirements to stop developers dodging their obligations.
But we must be willing to go further to put a brake on the growing gap between Britain’s housing haves and have-nots, and to ensure that those who have done well out of the housing market do not leave behind those with no home at all.
So that’s why I’m setting out Labour’s plans for a national levy on second homes that are used as holiday homes, equivalent to double the current rate of council tax, to help give homeless families the chance of a first home.
We know that nine in 10 second-home owners are in the top half of the wealth distribution, so it’s only right that they pay a bit more to help those with no home at all.
For too long, the government has ignored the proper role it should play in making sure our housing market works for the many not the few. I’m determined the next Labour government will be different. Tackling housing inequality will be at the heart of our plans to fix the country’s housing crisis and give everyone the chance of a place to call home.
John Healey is Labour’s shadow housing secretary