Speech by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham at the Housing 2023 conference in Manchester, Tuesday 27 June 2023
I’m pleased to welcome you all to Manchester again for this Housing 2023 conference.
But I’ll get straight to it: this one has to be different.
Since you were last here, something has happened in Greater Manchester which has sent shockwaves through housing and requires a whole-sector response.
That in this day and age, in a country as wealthy as ours, a two-year old boy could be killed by his home is a moral outrage.
It is an entirely man-made problem and an indictment of national housing policy under successive governments.
I would call it the “Cathy Come Home” moment for this generation but it’s more serious than that - the death of Awaab Ishak was all too real and not a TV drama.
It is hard to believe that this is happening in the 2020s. It suggests not much has changed in the 85 years since George Orwell chronicled the grim reality of housing in the North of England in The Road to Wigan Pier.
But this is not just a Northern problem. It is a national problem – as has been laid bare week after week by the outstanding work of ITV journalist Dan Hewitt.
This has to be the moment when things change.
It is time for the UK to follow Finland and adopt a Housing First philosophy.
Indeed, yesterday the Prince of Wales launched his Homewards project which recognises the Housing First model adopted in Finland.
Our national mission should be to give all people a good, secure home. It is a simple fact that you cannot achieve anything else in life without that foundation beneath you.
You cannot level up any part of the UK when half of its housing stock is falling down and damaging the health of the people who live inside.
And to those who ask whether it is affordable? It is our failure to provide it that leads to the waste of billions of pounds of public money dealing with social crises that come from the lack of it. Good housing is true prevention.
Our task at Housing 2023 is to leave here with a sense of shared mission and urgency about how we get there.
To be fair, Michael Gove has been facing up to the seriousness of the problem and is proposing to legislate to protect renters.
We need to use this event to be clear about what we need from that legislation.
He has also given Greater Manchester powers to act to raise housing standards in the recent Trailblazer devolution deal.
Today I want to share with you our early thinking about what we intend to do with those powers.
It’s about creating an integrated, place-based, systemic approach to raising housing standards which we hope might form a template to tackle an issue we’ve all neglected for too long.
Here is what the housing crisis looks like in Greater Manchester:
In 2019, according to new Government data, almost 12 per cent of all homes in Greater Manchester had a category 1 health and safety hazard.
Over 17 per cent did not meet the current Decent Homes standard.
In the private rented sector, things are much worse. 15 per cent of homes had a category 1 hazard. Over 26 per cent are non-decent.
Here, 290,000 households now rely on Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to help with their housing costs - at a cost of over £1.5 billion per year.
Much of that public money ends up in the hands of private landlords who own those 26 per cent of homes that aren’t maintained to meet basic standards.
My guess is that £1 billion of public money is being used to house people in homes that damage their health and drag down communities.
Something is seriously wrong there.
This appalling state of affairs is partly the landlords’ fault but also the Government’s.
Over the last decade, Local Housing Allowance rates have not kept pace with rents.
They were frozen again in April 2020.
This means there is a dwindling number of homes within reach of people in receipt of housing benefit.
Those that are within reach are often in a very poor condition.
Today, research shows only 4 per cent of new tenancies in Greater Manchester are affordable within Local Housing Allowance rates – compared to 30 per cent when the rate was frozen.
What is the human effect of this? Devastating.
It means thousands of children and families made homeless and forced to live in temporary accommodation.
In Manchester alone 2,745 households are in temporary accommodation. In Greater Manchester as a whole it’s around 5,000.
Across England it’s over 100,000.
Last week, I visited the Manchester Communication Academy in Harpurhey.
The school has set up its own homelessness support project with local partners because so many of its children are living in temporary accommodation.
How can those students possibly fulfil their potential living in those circumstances?
And how did we get to a point in 2023 when schools have to become an extension of the housing department?
Sometimes the word crisis is overused in political debate. But given the figures I have just read out, I defy anyone to say we do not have a full-blown housing crisis.
The strange thing is, whilst politicians have been using that term for about two decades, the Westminster debate about the housing crisis hasn’t even begin to scratch the surface of it.
It tends to focus more on policies to promote home ownership and less on children in temporary accommodation or tenants in homes that present a real and present danger to their health and well-being.
Don’t get me wrong, those policies certainly have their place. But they don’t fix the housing crisis.
If we’re going to get anywhere near to doing that, all politicians and all parties have to up their game.
Personally, I believe we will only get the sea change on housing that we need when we make a good, safe, secure home a human right in UK law.
That change would require action on many more levels – including much great focus on the state of the existing housing stock and the urgent need to build hundreds of thousands of homes for social rent.
Until that time, we are using what powers we have in our Trailblazer Devolution deal to set ourselves a 15-year new mission for Greater Manchester – a healthy home for all by 2038.
In simple terms, that means a home that doesn’t damage your physical health through damp, mould and other physical hazards and doesn’t harm your mental health because you live in fear of eviction.
To achieve this, we are proposing a complete re-wiring of the system to put power in the hands of tenants – but, in doing so, make it work better for everyone: tenants, landlords and local communities.
This is how our approach will work.
It starts with the introduction later this year of the Greater Manchester Good Landlord Charter.
Based on the model of our successful Good Employment Charter, the new Good Landlord Charter will articulate a clear set of standards that both social landlords and private landlords will be required to meet if they are to be accredited.
At present, a working group, which includes landlords’ representatives and representatives from the Greater Manchester Tenants Union, is drawing up the detail.
If done right, we believe it can be a real help for tenants and landlords who are trying to do the right thing.
For tenants, it would set out clearly what they are entitled to expect from their landlord and, over time, would give them visibility through accreditation of the many good landlords in our city-region who are trying to do the right thing and differentiate them from those who are not.
For the decent landlords, it would give them recognition of their approach and prevent them being tainted by the actions of the less scrupulous.
The working group is also looking at articulating what they should be able to expect in return from tenants with regards to acceptable behaviour and how they might be better supported.
For those landlords prepared to sign up to the improvement journey through the Charter, we would signpost them to the wider support that may be available to them, such as our Your Home, Better which is providing retrofit funding and advice to private home owners.
We would have a firm expectation that all social landlords with homes in Greater Manchester would immediately register with the Charter and start working to meet the service standards set out for them in particular.
The Good Landlord Charter will be a positive, improvement route for many landlords. That said, we are aware that too many in the PRS are unlikely to sign.
This brings us to the next stage of our approach.
For tenants stuck in a poor home, with an unresponsive or unhelpful landlord, we are proposing giving them a new right to request a GM Property Check.
Our councils would be in the lead on overseeing these checks – but, to help them, we are proposing the establishment of multi-agency teams drawn from a range of organisations – including Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service – to carry out this inspection work and bolster the local enforcement capacity that has been lost over the last decade or more.
Depending on the results of the check, the landlord could be issued with a Property Improvement Plan which will show them clearly what needs to be done to bring the home up to the decent standard and signpost them to any support and advice that is available.
If the landlord refuses to engage with this process, we would then seek to use the full range of enforcement tools at our disposal and indeed we are looking to Parliament to strengthen these as the Renters’ Reform Bill goes through.
Ultimately, if all else failed, we would look to take ownership of the property and would be seeking the help of Parliament and the courts to make it easier and less costly for councils to take properties out of the hands of those unscrupulous landlords and into the hands of those who will manage them properly.
One particular feature of our Trailblazer was a new partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions on Universal Credit and housing standards and the concept of a “policy sandbox” to try out new approaches.
It is often people on the lowest incomes who are in receipt of Universal Credit who are in the worst housing and who feel trapped by it and unable to challenge their landlord who holds all the power.
We would like to turn the tables and empower them to take action.
For those people, we will be asking DWP to join our multi-agency approach and take on the job of liaising directly with the landlord, taking the pressure off the shoulders of the residents.
They would be an early priority for GM Property Checks as we begin to roll that capability out.
We believe that the approach I have outlined is in effect to create a new, integrated place-based service for raising housing standards, bringing clarity and collaboration to a highly-fragmented sector.
I am also encouraged that things are already beginning to change nationally.
Today, the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, the piece of legislation which includes ‘Awaab’s Law’, will go before Parliament for the final time.
As the debate takes place in the House of Lords, a petition of 177,000 signatures calling for Awaab’s Law will also be delivered to Downing Street.
I hope that this legislation can be implemented as soon as possible and I commend the campaign by Shelter, the Manchester Evening News and its correspondent Stephen Topping, Greater Manchester MP’s, representatives of Awaab Ishak’s family and people across the country who have brought Awaab’s Law to within touching distance of becoming legislation.
However, we know that neither this Bill nor our suggested approach alone will solve the housing crisis, so alongside we will be developing an ambitious vision for our emerging home retrofit programme as a wider home improvement programme to bring all of our existing 1.2 million homes up to decent standard.
We also know that there is no solution without building more homes for social rent. We are pleased that our new partnership with Homes England, and greater flexibility over the Affordable Homes Programme, will allow us to establish real momentum behind our drive to build 30,000 truly affordable net zero homes by 2038.
But when you add it all together – action to improve existing homes and build new ones – we believe Greater Manchester had a credible plan to solve the housing crisis here by 2038.
We ask all political parties to get behind it – and give other parts of England the power to do the same.
Article Published: 27/06/2023 15:32 PM