What we learnt at Conservative Party Conference
Over the next month, the Crisis policy team will be heading to Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative and SNP conferences, meeting politicians, going to fringe events and listening to debates. We will be blogging about our experiences at each.
Conservative Party conference has come and gone. Thousands of booted and suited party members flocked onto the pavements of Manchester making their way to conference center for another year of policy debates, policy updates and the standard, slightly awkward at times, spontaneous networking in the corridors of hotels and conference centers. Conference season is Glastonbury for policy wonks, one could say.
Amidst the numerous debates in tents, two significant announcements were made on the main stage: the devolution of business rates to local authorities (including the phasing out of the core local government grant) and ending the requirement on developers to build affordable homes for rent and shifting to home ownership. The implications for both could be substantial for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Devolving business rates
Devolution played a prominent role throughout conference, reflecting the context of current national policy making. By devolving business rates in 2020, local authorities will be given powers to lower rates to attract more businesses. Local authorities will get to keep the income generated – but at the expense of losing national grant funding. Whilst this will be good for areas with high growth potential, poorer areas with lower economic activity may struggle. Of real concern to Crisis, is the potential for the Homeless Prevention Grant to be lost. We are currently campaigning to keep the Homelessness Prevention Grant in the upcoming spending review, but if it’s phased out along with the core grant, vital support for preventing and alleviating homelessness will be lost. It’s essential this doesn’t happen.
From Generation Rent to Generation Buy
Dominating headlines has been the announcement in Cameron’s main speech to end requirements on developers to build affordable properties for people to rent, and instead build ‘Starter Homes’ to be sold to first time buyers at a discount. Moves to make home ownership easier are a good thing, but not at the expense of reducing the number of homes that are affordable to rent for people on low incomes. We know that the current lack of affordable housing for rent is already a lead cause of homelessness, and these plans will be a disastrous for thousands of households across the UK. Everyone should be able to aspire to own their own home – but the reality for so many that this is a distant dream. We must make sure developers build may more affordable homes for renters or government will quickly experience the cost of a sharp rise in homelessness.
A Greater Britain
It wasn’t a policy announcement as such, but Cameron’s line ‘let’s build a Greater Britain made of greater hope, greater chances, and greater security’ led into a narrative that put tacking poverty and social injustice high on the agenda should be at the center of the Conservative Party mission. Tackling the root causes of poverty came up again and again but homelessness didn’t get a mention once. Family was a consistent theme throughout conference, but with very little detail on what the party wants to do about this.
Homelessness is one of the most acute forms of poverty experienced in the UK, and it’s on the rise. Yet policies on housing and devolution still fail to recognize the need to support the poorest and most vulnerable people. If tackling poverty and social injustice really is at the heart of the Conservative Party’s core mission then there’s a job of work to be done to ensure housing and devolution policies contribute to ending homelessness – not increasing it.