The word crisis comes from the Greek word to mean separate or to sieve. A crisis then is a moment in time, a juncture, where a fundamental choice is made. We cannot afford a ‘back to normal’ once Covid-19 is over; so we need a new consensus.
Eighty years ago, William Beveridge, one of the giants of the Liberal tradition, shaped a social contract that changed our society following a time of crisis. It was a contract – a promise – that every one of us would have the opportunity to get on in life, to be healthy, to be well educated, to have a place to call home, and that there would be a safety net for when the going got tough. At least then politics was about the art of the possible.
Yet for far too many people and for far too long, that social contract has been broken.
Far from being the great leveller, Covid-19 has shown just how unequal and unfair our society is. It has shown us just how fragile our personal and economic freedoms really are.
2017 estimates put the number of individuals and families in Wales who are denied the freedom, security and dignity of a home at more than 5,200. Across Great Britain, that figure stands at more than 175,000 on any given night.
We can do better than this. We need a new social contract for the future.
Local councils have, in the last weeks, provided self-contained accommodation for people experiencing homelessness. The response to the pandemic has brought about local partnerships to not only provide accommodation for people experiencing homelessness, but to ensure the necessary support those people need to access and maintain that accommodation.
The commitment to supporting people experiencing homelessness has been immense and shows that we can work together to end the worst forms of homelessness.
But it shouldn’t require a pandemic, and there is more to be done. We need to see tougher measures on stopping evictions, greater support for housing costs, lifting the benefit cap, ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit, and allocating a greater proportion of our social homes to households experiencing homelessness.
This must be our starting point for ending homelessness in Wales.
Access to safe, affordable, and good quality housing is an essential part of a fair, free and liberal society. So, what does our approach to homelessness look like in the aftermath of Covid-19? How do we end homelessness in Wales?
- A national plan to end homelessness: We need to work with those newly accommodated, getting them into safe, secure, and affordable homes. We also need cross-public sector, do-all-it-takes plan to give everyone the freedom, security, and opportunity a safe home provides. Welsh Government must start on that plan immediately.
- Building the right number of homes: In 2016 Kirsty Williams AM took the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ commitment to building 20,000 new affordable homes over this parliamentary term into government. Now we must go further. We need a commitment to building 20,000 new social homes over the next parliamentary term.
- A rights-based approach: Everyone in Wales should have a right to adequate housing. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would incorporate the UN-enshrined right to adequate housing into Welsh law, getting to the heart of key issues in homelessness and the severe shortage of affordable and accessible housing.
From this crisis, we can agree a new promise, a new social contract. We need to make the positive choice for a politics of the possible, to create a Wales where we are all free to thrive and where we all have protection from social hardship.
To do that we need the courage, breadth of vision, and the radicalism of Beveridge to build a renewed and just society in the aftermath of Covid-19.