What happened at the Welsh Labour conference
At a time when UK politics and media are full of debates and disagreements about Brexit, there’s always the risk that issues like housing and homelessness struggle for the attention they deserve. Welsh Labour’s Spring conference in Llandudno, north Wales, took place against this backdrop with potential elections on the horizon.
In the main hall Jeremy Corbyn spoke alongside Mark Drakeford, the new Welsh First Minister. As an insider to Welsh devolved politics, Drakeford has not tried to present himself as a fresh figure - even as he made his first leader’s speech at a Labour conference. On housing he committed Welsh Government to end section 21, so-called ‘no fault evictions’, that allows landlords to evict people from homes after 6 months without having to give a reason. While not a surprise from a First Minister whose leadership manifesto pledged greater security for tenants, others have reflected since then that the proposed change raises many questions about how this change fits with other Welsh Government tenancy reforms already in the pipeline. A consultation is forthcoming.
As is often the case, some of the most engaging debate was happening outside of the main hall. Within minutes of the First Minister’s announcement on section 21, Shelter Cymru, Community Housing Cymru and Tai Pawb were holding a fringe event on housing for all. Beyond the broad agreement and goodwill towards the idea of housing as a basic human need, it was very clear that to achieve this Wales will need to overcome some tricky obstacles in policy, the law and practice. On the ending of section 21 delegates, including landlord representatives, seemed to agree that changing the law was only part of the solution. Without more genuinely affordable homes and better support for people at risk of homelessness the problem of housing insecurity would continue.
Crisis was there to talk to Assembly Members, MPs and others about ending homelessness, as we set out in recommended action to governments in England, Scotland and Wales in Everybody In: how to end homelessness across Great Britain. Greater security for tenants was a big theme, of course, but along with some other major changes. The First Minister’s speech mentioned more social house building to come, which is promising in the run-up to the imminent publication of the review of affordable housing supply that Welsh Government commissioned.
2019 happens to be a year of anniversaries in homelessness policy: 20 years of devolved government, 10 years since the Welsh homelessness plan (which comes to an end this year), and 5 years since the ground-breaking Housing Act. Will this be the year that Welsh Government commits to having a new plan, to end homelessness within 10 years? At the moment only the new First Minister and his colleagues can answer that. At Crisis, however, we’re going to keep asking and do our bit to make sure ending homelessness gets the debate it deserves.
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