Young Tenants Fightback campaign logo
Young Tenants Fightback, a campaign to defend the rights of young renters initiated by Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs, launched last Wednesday with a lobby of and deputation to the city council.
Joe Muller, Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs
Supported by local GMB activists whose union branch had already generously donated towards the campaign, we braved the rain swept streets of Leeds outside the council chamber to leaflet the general public and council workers before short speeches were made by Iain Dalton, YFJ Yorkshire organiser, and Katrine Williams, PCS DWP group Vice President.
Our deputation of three then went into the council chambers. Iain Dalton made an impassioned five minute speech to the council and the Lord Mayor (see full transcript below). Our deputation was well received, with spontaneous applause even breaking out at one point, and the council quickly moved for our concerns to be moved to the Executive Board. We await their response.
Upon leaving the chambers our group was immediately surrounded by several Labour and Green councillors eager to show their support for the campaign. Whilst we welcome support for what we are putting forward, we need action not words from local councils; by refusing to implement the government’s cuts to Housing Benefit, which will massively affect young people, as well as imposing rent caps and offering better protection for tenants in the massively overpriced private rental sector. We recognise and welcome the council’s initial opposition to the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ whereby housing benefit claimants could see their payments cut for daring to live in a property with a spare bedroom (potentially affecting 30,000 households in Leeds alone), we now urge the council to continue the fight for their communities around all the other housing issues.
Young Tenants Fightback, though still in its early days, has already received huge support from local union branches, housing groups and the local media. The strong interest in our campaign shows the very real need for a voice for young people struggling to live independently and for a viable solution to an increasingly urgent housing crisis.
Speech to Leeds City Council
There is a crisis in housing – a crisis in the social housing sector with around 27,000 in Leeds on waiting lists for council or social housing.
A crisis in the private rental sector with average rents across the country consuming around half of people’s incomes.
A crisis in the home-owner sector where only 1,380 homes were built in Leeds last year and to buy even the lowest priced one you would have to earn over £40,000 per year.
This is a crisis that is hitting many young people acutely.
We believe that everyone should be able to live in a decent quality, affordable home. But for young people it’s becoming harder and harder to be able to do this. A record almost 3 million people between the ages of 20 and 34 still live with their parents, an increase of half a million in the last 15 years.
And when you do move out, it is usually into a HMO, a house of multiple occupancy. For some people this is a choice – they like living with other people, but for most it is a necessity to be able to afford to do so, particularly under 35s on housing benefit
In the area I live in, young people, especially students, get crammed into houses, sometimes up to 3 or 4 into what would in the past have been a two bedroom house, because although the rent charged is cheaper for each individual, the total rent taken from a house is greater. This also limits the properties available to couples and families. In effect HMO landlords benefit at the expense of all tenants.
Low pay is a factor in this. Many young people are unable to find full time work, and have to make do with part-time jobs. The TUC estimates that in the UK there are 3.3million people in work who would like to get more hours up to full time work. This is up from 2.3million in 2008. Those in work under 21 years of age have a lower minimum wage than the rest of the population which scandalously will be frozen this year – yet there is no discount on rent or bills to go with the discount employers get on staff aged under 21.
This has an impact on housing benefit, with 93% of new housing benefit claims being from households where at least one person is in work. Housing benefit is also important for the unemployed, who with the government’s cuts to housing benefits will be expected to make up the shortfall. But with the new proposal to scrap housing benefit for under 25s, then some young people face the harrowing prospect of losing their home as well as their job if made redundant. Whilst we welcome the stance the council is taking on the ‘bedroom tax’ issue, this is only of one the damaging effects of the governments changes to housing benefit.
HMO’s in particular can often be poorly maintained – sometimes because tenants live there for less than a year. I have heard friends tell me countless times about leaky pipes not being fixed, broken ovens and washing machines and other issues. But also because it’s difficult sometimes to know who is responsible for it – the buck gets passed between landlords and letting agencies.
There has been a proliferation of letting agents with various extra charges levied by them on tenants such as credit check charges and the Guardian a few weeks ago even reported about someone who was charged £440 for cleaning that wasn’t even carried out.
This council has a choice over these matters – it can act or not. Whilst we are aware you do not have powers over every aspect of housing, you could, for example, increase the resources to the environmental health team to carry out regular inspections of tenanted properties. You could refuse to carry out the cuts to housing benefit and campaign for the additional funding to make up the shortfall from the government.
There have been councils in the past that have opposed government policies on housing to defend the interests of ordinary people in their areas – such as in Clay Cross in the 1970s and Liverpool in the 1980s.
Where you do not have direct powers at present – you should put pressure onto the government to act on these matters or give you those powers. We think a mass social housing building programme is necessary with good quality housing, as well as a cap on rents at an affordable level. Empty housing could be compulsory purchased and brought back into use.
The money is there for this. The housing benefit cuts at just over £2bn are less than half of what Vodafone were let off tax last year, £7bn out of a total of £120bn each year evaded by the wealthy and large corporations. The government could use its ownership of some of the banks, such as HBOS and RBS, to run them in the interests of ordinary people and, for example, to make cheap, affordable mortgages available for first time buyers.
We believe a mass campaign would be needed to build up the political pressure for this money to be used to start to resolve the housing crisis.
So I ask again, the choice is yours – will you act on this or not?