The government must introduce private sector rent controls to stop social cleansing on a grand scale, writes Jeremy Corbyn
On Monday I asked housing minister Grant Shapps what he was planning to do about the problems that many private sector tenants face in respect of energy-inefficient homes, poor conditions and insecurity; and also if he would introduce rent controls. I raised this, as nationally the level of private renting is rising fast, fuelled by buy-to-let mortgages and the encouragement of everyone to have their own property portfolio.
The never-never world of property portfolios and huge incomes has its downside. Almost a third of my constituents are living in private rented accommodation with no security of tenure, often very high energy costs and sometimes landlords who are very reluctant to repair or improve the properties.
Rent levels are astronomical, with lows of £1,000 per month for a one-bed, rising to well over £2,000 for a two- or three-bed flat. With profits like these to be made it is not surprising that the market is growing very fast, and as with all markets, the vulnerable get pushed aside.
Local authorities face huge housing issues with demands outstripping supply many times over; the only way those in housing need can be housed is in the private sector. The modest building programmes now underway go nowhere near meeting the need for council housing.
The last and present governments have been concerned at the growth of the housing benefit bill to well over £18bn and is paid to almost 5 million people. A large proportion of this pays excessive private sector rents. To deal with this Iain Duncan Smith has chosen the worst of all options by capping housing benefit payments and including housing benefit in an overall benefit, limit thus leaving a shortfall.
A constituent of mine living with her children in a private rented flat was paying rent of £650 per week from the end of 2010 and received housing benefit of £575. Last August her local housing allowance was reduced to £400 and her transitional arrangements end in April. Thus she must find £250 per week, from her other benefits, to remain in the community and for her children continue attending local schools.
The maths are impossible. She is being forced to move somewhere else, well away from the area she has made her home in. She is not alone as 133,000 similar families are being forced to move out of their homes in many London boroughs. It is social cleansing on a grand scale.
Ultimately the housing crisis can only be dealt with by new provision. Yet we are nowhere near meeting demand; each year over 200,000 households are formed, in the last year for which figures are available, 102,000 homes were provided. Homelessness is rising and local authorities discharge their responsibilities to house the vulnerable homeless by locating them in the private sector, and all the insecurities that brings.
The issue that has to be faced is the insecurity of many people's lives and the need for wholesale reform of the private rented sector, including rent registration and control. Other counties and cities (notably New York) do control private rents and provide security of tenure.
Obsession with the market seem to prevent ministers looking at the huge problem and all its ramifications in health, education and employment that come from the housing insecurity that too many face.
Jeremy Corbyn is MP for Islington North