As the housing crisis rages, forcing renters to choose between heating, eating and paying the rent, our elected representatives are snuggled up in their second homes on the taxpayer’s largesse.
In 2013, 335 MPs claimed more than £5m in rent allowances that enabled them to live in central London. This is yet another aspect of their jobs that cocoons them from the reality of life for ordinary constituents who bear the brunt of austerity. It’s no surprise that the campaign for a better deal for renters isn’t gaining much traction in Parliament, when most MPs’ only experience of the private rented sector is finding out what £20,000 will get you in London.
So, Generation Rent has a suggestion: move Parliament out of Westminster to a less expensive part of the country. At £325 per month, the median cost of a one-bed property in Hull is the cheapest in England. Four hundred MPs renting at this level will cost less than a third of the current rent bill. Add in lower employment costs outside London and that gives savings over five years of £120m – plus a windfall from the sale of Portcullis House. And Hull would gain at least 3000 badly-needed jobs.
Once the Palace of Westminster lies empty, it can start doing its bit to solve the housing crisis. Generation Rent supporter Jay Morton has designed us a new look Parliament which would house 364 flats, meeting Westminster council’s annual affordable housing target in one go. These flats would be made available to rent at the local housing allowance level, finally providing Londoners with genuinely affordable new homes.
The proposed new Westminster Court housing development. Click to expand.
The courtyards throughout the Parliamentary estate would give the flats plenty of daylight, plus provide space for play and leisure facilities for the new community. The debating chambers would make nice swimming pools. And we’ll keep some of the more historical parts as a museum.
Sadly, this is probably not going to happen. But in making this proposal, we want to make a serious point.
The proposal is a reminder to MPs – and everyone who wants to be one in May – that they enjoy a very privileged position in relation to their constituents. They haven’t borne any austerity – and the prospect of them doing so by uprooting them from London should give them the humility to take seriously their responsibility to make life better for those of us without £20,000 a year rent allowances.
Private renters have very little security of tenure. They spend far more of their income on housing costs than social renters and home owners. Ad they are more likely to live in despair, disrepair and unhealthy conditions. Private renting is currently designed to favour the people who invest in it rather than their customers – and this needs urgent change.
Every time May’s new parliamentarians retire well-fed to their warm second bed after a day in the Commons, they should remember how lucky they are and how much renting needs to change for those who are turning in for the night cold and hungry.
Dan Wilson Craw is head of communications for Generation Rent.
Images: Jay Morton.