Shaun Bailey: The pandemic is no excuse to break our election promise and reduce aid to Yemen

6 Mar

Shaun Bailey is the MP for West Bromwich West.

The 2019 election feels like a very long time ago, and a lot has changed since then. Our lives have been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it has been a time of incredible hardship for many of my constituents.

I’m proud that the Government has been there to provide support during this time, through measures like the furlough scheme and Bounce Back Loans. But the impact has been global, even if it has not affected us all equally.

The manifesto that my colleagues and I were elected on at that election could not have foreseen this turmoil, but it made one principled promise that should have withstood it – that our commitment to supporting the poorest countries would always be proportionate to our income.

I was sad to hear that promise abandoned in November, and this week has given us the first illustration of what it means in practice, which the announcement that our aid to Yemen is to be cut by 60 per cent.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries on earth, it has been ravaged by conflict for five years, and 80 per cent of its population rely on humanitarian aid to survive. The UN has warned that four hundred thousand Yemeni children are at risk of dying of starvation.

I may be naïve, but when I heard that the aid budget would be cut I expected support for crises of this magnitude to protected. I know my constituents have a variety of views about the merits of foreign aid in general, and some of them will be pleased to see our spending reduced. But I think there are very few of them who would look at Yemen, where half of all medical facilities have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, and a child dies every ten minutes from a preventable disease, and say that we should be doing less to help.

At the Urgent Question on the cut in Parliament, there wasn’t a single voice from any party in support of the move. MPs can see what the public see – that even when we have to tighten our belts, we shouldn’t do so at the expense of people who are on the brink of famine. Indeed no other member of the G7 is cutting aid in response to the pandemic: all six are increasing their contributions while we reduce ours.

Ministers are clearly aware that they do not have the support of the House in cutting support to Yemen, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that they may not have sufficient support for the wider proposal to reduce the aid budget to 0.5 per cent of GNI. They must give Parliament a say though, if they are going to avoid the same level of fury every time a new area of aid spending is reduced.

Whenever that choice comes, I will vote to keep the promise on which I was elected, because I refuse to accept that as a country we are stepping back when the world’s most vulnerable people need us to step up.

Shaun Bailey: The Tories shouldn’t be afraid of talking about social housing

7 Jul

Shaun Bailey is the MP for West Bromwich West.

I’ve been getting used to being quite a novelty. One of the new Conservative MPs from a traditionally working class, Labour area, and, more pertinently perhaps, one of the few Conservative MPs brought up in Social Housing.

Social housing saved me and my family when we were at our lowest. My Mum had just survived a torrid, abusive, relationship with my father. We spent a year living out of our car, sleeping on the sofas of relatives and not knowing where we would end up next.

My mum’s initial experience of social housing was a tough one. When we were (finally) given somewhere to live, after battling the local authority for over a year, the house my Mum was presented with was battered, dirty, and needed serious work to just make it habitable. My mum did what she’d always done; she knuckled down and she made it liveable. We eventually moved on and found the home that my Mum has now lived in for over 20 years.

The discussion around social housing and socially rented homes often gets confused with the debate around affordable homes. Of course, as a Conservative, I absolutely believe we should ensure that everyone is able to own their home, but the pursuit of our property-owning utopia should not ignore those people who may not be able to (or want to) own their home.

For me, and for the communities I represent, social housing is a bedrock.

For me, it provided somewhere safe, somewhere I could thrive and work, and more importantly it supported that sense of ‘Place’ that is so integral to anyone’s identity and stability. That is why the government is striving to ensure this is re-invigorated, particularly in areas like mine, which have seen their communities disintegrated after years of being overlooked.

There have been some real wins for social housing recently. Last year, housing associations in England built more than 45,600 affordable homes and added an estimated £2.4 billion to the national economy. Notwithstanding the clear economic benefits of a strong social housing network, the residual benefits of providing a strong foundation for some of the most vulnerable in our communities to be able to go out and expand from, goes without saying. Giving people a sense of responsibility and belonging allows all the other aspects of community to flourish. That’s how I went from Social Housing to Westminster and how every little boy like me should also be given that chance.

There is however, still more to do:

A YouGov Survey published last week by the National Housing Federation shows that:

  • More than 1 in 10 people have said they felt depressed during lockdown, because of a lack of space in their home.
  • One in 20 people who said they had a lack of space had also said they had needed medication as a result.
  • Nearly 20 per cent of those in cramped conditions hadn’t been able to get enough sleep due to lack of space.

Clearly, these are problems that need resolving.

I am excited by the Prime Minister’s statement that our recovery will involve “Build, Build, Build” – this is key to our future.

It is now incumbent on politicians like me, representing communities like mine, to ensure that social housing is at the heart of our recovery plan and gets the support that’s long overdue to resolve these problems, which I am sure many of my constituents can relate to.

Yes, this does mean building more homes, but it also means looking at innovative ways that we can sustain and improve our current social housing stock. It means ensuring that we have a social housing system that provides a bedrock for our most vulnerable, and re-building those communities that have been decimated after years of being overlooked.

This will be done by taking the revolutionary and reformative zeal that we’ve seen from this Prime Minister, and if necessary, totally re-inventing and re-thinking the way we provide social housing.

We can start immediately by re-profiling existing commitments to social housing and providing additional tenure and timing flexibility in the current grant programmes. We need to add additional flexibilities in the current grant programmes and extend the existing Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme for an additional year to 2022, with the same conditions as the current programme prioritising new social and affordable homes built by housing associations. It could also be made available for bulk-buying homes from developers at a discount to convert to rent, as long as the homes are high quality, the right size, and in the right places.

We should also use the forthcoming Spending Review to double down on our ‘levelling up’ plan, by setting out a long-term investment programme. This will kickstart the building of a new generation of high quality, beautiful and greener affordable homes for people to rent and buy.

The economic impact of the coronavirus will no doubt hit communities in the north and midlands, hardest. Therefore, it is important that funding is targeted to support those in greatest need and we should adopt a place-based approach to renewal in cities, towns, and communities across the country. The communities in my constituency need this renewal and I hope the constituencies with the greatest need will be prioritised.

Not only would this kind of commitment stimulate long-term investment in modern methods of construction, it will also create jobs, boost productivity and skills.

To do this effectively, it means that the government will need to listen, and then act on the views and concerns of those communities who are directly impacted by social housing, many of them being the communities which lent us their vote in December, giving us the opportunity to form the government they deserve.

We are at the crossroads of an exciting opportunity for social housing. For the first time in a long time the government of the day understands the very communities who rely on this vital social service. I am determined to ensure for survivors and battlers like my mum and the millions of others like her, that Tories are no longer afraid to talk about social housing.