Monday, 4 February 2013

My open letter to #rdg Conservative MPs on social housing policy


I have sent the following letter tonight.  Before the election Rob Wilson MP and then candidate Alok Sharma demanded an apology from Reading Labour claiming that they "100%" "Absolutely" would guarantee secure tenancies.  Last week Cllr Ballsdon claimed that 'the country cannot afford to let residents new into social housing have a home for life'.

I am asking that they clarify their position and also apologise to both residents and the local press for their comments which were I believe misleading.  Everyone in politics has a duty to be up front and honest (and yes I am aware I am writing this on the day that Chris Huhne has pleaded guilty, but that just makes the point more important and relevant).  

Readers may disagree with me about social housing tenures (I do acceot there are some arguments on the other side to my position) but I hope all will agree that it's key that politicians are honest, especially in the run up to elections!

Letter below:

Dear Mr Sharma, Mr Wilson and Cllr Ballsdon,

I am writing to you today following statements from the Conservative Group last week at council regarding social housing.
Before the 2010 General Election I and, I believe, many in Reading were somewhat reassured by public statements regarding social housing as follows:
“I want to make it absolutely 100 per cent clear that people’s tenancies will be absolutely guaranteed with the Conservatives and that we will not ‘equalise’ rents with the private sector.” (Rob Wilson MP)
“We have made it crystal clear in our manifesto that we will respect the tenures and rents of social housing tenants. 
We know residents across Reading have great pride in their homes and the neighbourhood in which they live. Conservatives recognise the importance of social housing and the security it provides.
(Alok Sharma MP)
Since then in parliament Mr Sharma and Mr Wilson have voted for the introduction of fixed term tenancies nationally and so-called ‘affordable rents’ which are based on market rents not on affordability.
I believe it is very disappointing that you chose to say one thing before the election and do another after the election.  I believe this is bad for politics.
As well as my obvious disagreement with the way you voted, it was fundamentally wrong to have used words before the election to suggest that tenures and rents would not be changed.   I believe you owe Reading’s residents and the local press an apology.
However in the council meeting, and repeated on her blog, Cllr Ballsdon has now stated a still more extreme view that
the country cannot afford to let residents new into social housing have a home for life

I believe that the security given by council and other social housing offers many benefits including allowing tenants to take on a promotion at work or increase their hours without being afraid that they will be forced from their homes as a result.  It also helps children to perform better at school, since they don’t need to keep moving school.  This is without the many community benefits that Mr Sharma referred to in his comments before the election.
Please can you clarify your position? Should the Conservatives gain control of Reading Borough Council would you introduce fixed term tenancies for new council tenants?
Regarding the issue of affordable rent, please can you clarify what you would say to the 47% of working households in Reading that cannot afford to rent a 3 bedroom house at 80% of market rent?  I believe that working people on household incomes of less than £30,000 should be able to afford to live in a 3 bed house if that is what their family needs.  Would you disagree? 
I understand the bind that housing associations are in to find ways of funding social housing.  While in the 13 years of Labour government almost 3000 social homes were built in Reading, under the Conservative-led government the annual figure is likely to be far lower.  
I would ask that as MPs and a Conservative councillor you make the case to national government for Reading. What Reading needs is the government to reverse the slash in investment in social housing so that residents afford decent homes.  Please make this case to government as Reading’s representatives.
I am making this letter publicly available on my blog and will also make public your response.  I believe residents deserve clarity on their representatives’ views on this vital issue.

Yours sincerely,

Rachel Eden