My South London Press Column, 30/01/2015

A roof over our head and four walls to keep the elements at bay comes second only to having food in our stomachs when we think about the necessities of life but, for too many of our fellow citizens finding somewhere to live and the ruinous cost of it once they have, is becoming a waking nightmare.

The reason is simple – as London’s population has soared the number of new homes built has fallen short of what was required to stand still let alone cope with the existing backlog. London now has the most expensive housing in the country and the city is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy property. Little wonder ordinary Londoners are struggling.

According to the Government’s statistics average full time earnings in Lewisham are £30,368 a year. But you have to earn £100,000 a year to be able to afford a mortgage in London. Renting is even more expensive than buying and the government have defined “affordable rent” as being 80% of the open market rent which in London is beyond average incomes.

If the reason for London’s housing crisis is simple, are the solutions simple too? In one way they are – we need to build thousands of new homes each year of all types so that the market slows down and costs begin to return to sensible levels. But making that happen requires government at all levels to make housing a priority so that land is made available rather than stockpiled, councils are given the ability to borrow to build an increased number of really affordable new homes, and the homes that are built are rented or sold to people who want to live in them, not treated as investment opportunities.

In Lewisham we are building some good quality temporary units for those in urgent housing need on a site that will later have a permanent development including new homes on it. We are building permanent new homes as well and only last week identified sites for a further 124 with many more to follow. Meanwhile we will be pressing anyone who stands for parliament or as Mayor of London to make it a priority to work with Lewisham and the rest of the Boroughs to build more and more homes until we have this crisis under control.

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Don’t Lose Your Vote!

Today, the 27th January 2015, is the start of the 100 day countdown until the General Election. The act of voting is one of the fundamental ways that we as citizens can affect the direction our country takes, both locally and, as we will see on the 7th May, nationally as well.

A good turnout at the General Election will give us a much better understanding of the depth of feeling among the population about how they want their country to be run, but a low turnout will deliver a result which may not truly reflect the will of the nation at large.

It is, of course, entirely possible that some of you feel that there is simply no one standing that you are prepared to vote for.  I am sometime told that on the doorstep and my usual response is to ask for an assurance that they won’t complain about anything the person who is elected does! It is in the end though a personal choice. I am much more concerned when I know there are thousands of people out there that may want to vote but have missed the opportunity  through no fault of their own purely because the system of voter registration has changed.

Previously, one person in every household was responsible for registering everyone else who lives at that address.  Under the new individual electoral registration (IRS) method, each person is now required to register to vote individually, rather than by household.

This new system of registration means that on the 1st December 2016, electors will be deleted from the electoral register if they haven’t been automatically matched using government data, or if they do not respond to requests for them to register individually.

In my own borough of Lewisham we have identified that there are approximately 24,500 unconfirmed local government electors on our register, who, if they remain unconfirmed, will eventually be removed from the register on 1st December 2016.

This number of potentially unconfirmed voters is unacceptable, and this needs to be addressed locally as well as nationally, and that’s why in Lewisham we are working to hard to make sure that people do register themselves to vote as individuals

Political commentators are currently saying that the General Election is too close to call, and this makes it even more important that everyone who is eligible to vote is actually registered to vote, because every vote really does count.

To make sure you’re eligible and registered to vote go to the central government voter registration page at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

If you are a Lewisham resident you can also find information at http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/mayorandcouncil/elections/voting/Pages/default.aspx