THE winter has been bleak for many families across Cornwall and the wider South West in terms of housing.

Figures from Shelter show nearly 2,000 people were homeless in Cornwall over Christmas, with as many as 12,500 across the wider South West. The former Home Secretary’s description of homelessness as a “lifestyle choice” is indicative of the current government’s obliviousness to the plight of thousands.

So what is the government doing about the housing crisis? Many private renters are finding themselves homeless even after spending years as model tenants, looking after the property and paying rent on time. This situation is allowed to continue due to section 21 orders, which give landlords the legal right to implement no-fault evictions. Tenants can find themselves subject to two months’ notice and, with the current housing shortage, it can prove impossible to find alternative accommodation in this period.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to abolish section 21 evictions and this was set out in the 2019 Renters Reform Bill. Four years on, private renters are still subject to section 21 notifications and the abolition of these has now been delayed due to being linked to the need for judicial reform. Thus, we are unlikely to see the reduction of section 21 evictions before the next general election with the government setting no timeline for abolition.

Rights and protections for tenants are essential in preventing unnecessarily high levels of homelessness and ensuring those in rental accommodation have safe homes fit for habitation. The Housing Bill 2016 was supposed to update the rights of renters but the Conservative government blocked a key Labour-backed amendment to ensure landlords were held to account.

So, having fallen short on improving tenants’ rights and the standard of rental accommodation, has the government succeeded in keeping its promises on increasing housing stock?

The answer in short is no. Targets set in 2021 for the building of 300,000 new homes by the mid 2020s is no longer a target, merely a commitment reiterated by Michael Gove that it will be completed “as soon as possible”.

Failing on commitments to increase housing stock creates a general housing shortage and pushes up rental prices. Labour’s plan is to reinstate house building targets, combined with restrictions on buy-to-lets and second home ownership, and a commitment to build more social housing.

So the choice is: do we vote for a change to fresh promises by Labour of improved rights and standards for tenants, more house building, more affordable homes and more social housing or do we stick with the Tories’ broken promises and lack of coherent plan from the 16th housing minister in 13 years?

by Louise Ladd of South East Cornwall Labour Party