Interview with Sarah Teather MP, Lib Dem Spokesperson on Housing

Q. What inspired you to become an MP?

I was, and still am, driven by the injustice that I see all around me. Being an MP gives you a unique opportunity to actually do something about the things that make you angry.

Brent is a remarkable place, but also one of the most deprived areas in the country. I deal with hundreds of devastating housing cases every month, and I have constituents who have been left languishing on the social housing waiting list under four different Prime Ministers – two from each of the largest parties – yet still stand little or no chance of finding a permanent home. Labour and the Conservatives have been in power for several generations, and they have failed us.

Q. The Crisis charity highlighted in a report last year the growing incidence of mental ill health amongst single homeless? What would a Lib Dem government do to tackle this?

The high number of mentally ill people finding themselves without a home points to endemic failure further up the system. We urgently need to be identifying and helping mentally ill people before they find themselves in the situation where they could lose their home. My colleague, the Liberal Democrat Health Spokesman Norman Lamb has been outspoken on the need to improve metal health provision. For many years, the Liberal Democrats have campaigned to make sure that people with mental health are subject to the same 18 week target for treatment as those with physical illness.

Q. What would be the approach of a lib Dem government be compared to the other main parties concerning housing?

The Liberal Democrats would do things completely differently to the old parties. We are the only party heading into the election with a promise to invest real, hard cash in providing new homes.

Our proposal for a £1.4billion empty homes fund would, through a combination of grants and cheap loans, bring a quarter of a million homes back into use, while creating an estimated 50,000 desperately needed new jobs in the construction industry. It is quicker, cheaper and greener to do up existing homes than to build new ones – although new build will continue to be important as well.

Q. What is your opinion of the record of the Government in relation to housing ?

The Labour government have an appalling record on housing, and have abandoned the very people who voted them into office. However, Labour’s real failure on housing has been to continue the policies of their Conservative predecessors. The supply of new homes has slowed to a trickle, while waiting lists across the country have swelled to record numbers. Thousands of people have lost their home during the recession, money for decent homes has been snatched away from council tenants at the last minute, and huge numbers of young people are forced to stay at home with their parents because they can’t afford anywhere to live.

This is not a record that the government should be proud of.

Q. What is your opinion with regard to what the Conservatives have to say?

The Conservatives’ supposed solution to the housing crisis is to relax minimum space standards so that vulnerable families can be shoved into any old sub-standard box going spare. This policy not only exploits those families waiting for a home, but is blindly ignorant of the scale of the housing crisis facing us.

Only the Liberal Democrats are promising new money to spend on housing. It is a scandalous waste of resources that almost a million homes across Britain are sitting empty while people are without a home or sleeping rough. Our pledge to bring empty homes back into use would offer a life line to families on the waiting list and help those communities scarred by derelict property. The other parties need to put their money where their mouth is.

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