Passing the Baton
Looking beyond the Commonwealth Games to a slower paced event where the losers could be left without a home.
The Commonwealth Games has been a spectacular success of which Glasgow and Scotland can be proud. All the events have been exciting to watch - but perhaps none more so than the relays on the track, in the pool and in the triathlon. We all love a good relay. Yet some people may not have noticed another long-running event held over recent years in that other great sporting arena – Westminster. This is the minister for housing relay.
The government has just announced its fourth minister for housing since the start of this Parliament four years ago. The Labour government before it had nine ministers in charge of this portfolio during its thirteen-year term. In a country that is crying out for some sort of cohesive housing policy – an area of government which, like health, education and the economy, needs long, long term goals and strategy - these statistics are a very poor indictment.
Thirteen housing ministers in seventeen years: one could be forgiven for questioning the deep commitment to housing policy from both sides of the House. In this relay both Labour and Conservatives have been passing the baton every fifteen to sixteen months on average. That’s hardly time for each runner to get up to speed, never mind time to create a sensible, sustainable, and socially, morally and environmentally acceptable legacy for future generations.
Anyone who has passed or taken a relay baton at full tilt will know how difficult it is to do well. Sadly the recent housing ministers all seem to have been travelling at walking pace at the changeover. So it’s not even the case that we are able to enjoy the action. There is no real action going on. But we would like to think that something is being done to provide enough modern and efficient homes for a modern and efficient society, and that the country can be saved from lurching from housing boom to bust. We also need reassurance that the failure of successive governments to implement meaningful long-term housing policies over the past four decades will not mean that low-paid workers and those who provide our vital social services struggle to even save up for a deposit, never mind qualify for a mortgage.
Let’s hope that whoever is in charge after the next general election will select a minister for housing who is good enough to hold on to his or her baton long enough to help make Britain be a place where everyone can find and afford a place.