Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central
Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central

Home. Over the last few months we’ve spent so much time at home.

How has it been for you? A chance to catch up with life in the place you just love to be, or have you been pushed to your limits, trapped inside.

Imagine if you had a young family and no garden, a damp, mouldy home or were overcrowded. What if you haven’t felt safe due to an abusive partner or intimidating neighbours, or maybe the anti-social behaviours of those around you? I have received many emails about these and other problems people have faced during lockdown.

I’ve listened to the experience of many elderly residents feeling ever more ripped off by independent living ‘management companies’. I have taken up the cause of those caught up in York’s care home tragedy to the highest level.

This season has shone a light on every reason why there must be a complete change in our approach to housing in York. For years we have been fed all the excuses, but this hasn’t helped people, it hasn’t put down bricks and mortar and hasn’t taken away the mental strain that poor housing causes. There is no getting away from it, we have an enduring housing crisis.

Home should be safe, should be a place which brings us peace and pleasure, deliver restoration at the end of a busy day and absolutely must meet the needs of those who occupy them.

Those with the power and responsibility have failed; both Council and Government. They could have built the homes that local people need, like other Labour Councils are doing. But no. This is why Labour promised we would prioritise housing, invest in good quality, sustainable homes you could afford to buy or rent. It is still our priority here in York. Labour believes housing is an investment not a cost.

In 1901, Seebohn Rowntree produced a report entitled ‘Poverty: a study of town life’. Having studied the lives of 46,754 individuals (11,560 families) in York.  He recognised the effect poor housing and sanitation had on people’s lives. Poverty (measured then at 27% of the population) marked the inequality in the city, but the Rowntrees family wanted to find solutions.

The following year the foundations of New Earswick were laid. These homes had well-proportioned rooms with ample space for families to live in, they had gardens and were surrounded with green spaces. There were allotments so you could grow your own food and enjoy healthy living, there were community amenities to enhance your wellbeing. Today, people still want to live there.

This is the proud heritage of our city. It led to the Housing Act 1919, the birth of social housing in the United Kingdom. The focus was on the wellbeing of each and every person fulfilling their dream of a good home. This is one of the most important interventions anyone could make.

Today it is the mental health of residents in poor housing that has been severely tested. Families have been put under unprecedented strain, and when you can’t throw open a back door to take 5 minutes out in the garden, home becomes a prison not a place of rest.

For too long developers have been given free rein to buy up every bit of land in order to make their millions from it. They have not been given cause to pause or challenged to find the solutions to York’s housing crisis. They have laughed at those in authority and sneered at those who can’t afford their luxury creations.

This is why I have consistently been throwing down the challenge to Government and the Council; they have collectively failed you and all who long for a suitable, safe, sustainable home.

With 1600 households currently on York’s housing waiting list. What did the Council’s housing spokesperson come up with – eight, yes just eight homes to be upgraded at £68k a throw!

Three things:

  1. The housing needs of York people need to drive every planning, investment and housing decision in York
  2. There needs to be a whole-person approach to housing – to meet someone’s mental and physical health needs
  3. The Council needs to stop developers pushing them around and start building the homes people need

No more ‘luxury apartments’, no more gated student accommodation blocks, no more excuses.

This is why politics matters. Labour demands housing justice to ensure everyone has a decent home and garden to live in, with green spaces to enjoy and cultivate. If this was good enough 100 years ago, it is certainly good enough today.

To read the full article on the York Press website, follow the link below:


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