How can we ‘build back better’?

Trust for London partners with the Social Change Agency to convene the London Housing Campaigners Group to share lessons learnt about housing campaigns, explore opportunities for collaboration and keep abreast of the latest policy developments in the sector. Today, the London Housing Campaigners Group share their reflections on how better housing needs to be a central part of ‘building back better.’

At the start of April, the challenges felt overwhelming. The same folk who’ve been worn down by years of austerity now risked bearing the brunt of the pandemic. They are those most in need of support from our members, yet the hardest to reach during lockdown, as so many are digitally excluded. At the same time, the truth was dawning that we were about to face the worst recession in hundreds of years. How could the poorest communities be made to pick up the tab yet again for events outside their control?

There’s a growing belief that, in the words of a graffiti artist in China:

“We can’t return to normal, because the normal that we had was itself the problem.”

So, the London Housing Campaigners Group is joining the calls of others to ‘build back better’.

For housing, this means:

massively increasing the development of social rented homes

at rents that are affordable to those on low incomes;

ending homelessness

and a reliance on food banks;

reforming welfare benefits

to include a raising of the housing element to the level of median rents;

bridging the big digital divide

with the provision of a national free wifi service.

We are not alone in believing that this crisis means that we have to reinvent how society operates, structurally, economically and politically. The extraordinary way that communities have come together to help each other has also strengthened their voice. From now on, we want an active say in how things are run. Being wheeled out to vote once every few years is not enough - people must be heard throughout the year and our elected representatives must listen.

As lockdown continues, we are hearing similar beliefs and similarly bold asks, whether it be to address the needs of children and young people, to tackle climate change or to rebuild public services from the fire service to health and social care, and to revalue who really are the key workers in terms of pay and conditions.

And now there’s a name for it – build back better – and from the London Housing Campaigners’ viewpoint, the emphasis is on the word build!