Thursday, 12 March 2015

Kicking Off

I love football.

Despite still being captain of the parliamentary football team, which turns out for occasional charity matches, my knees tell me that my playing days are nearly ended.

I haven’t refereed a match for some time, but I admire those who turn out for minimal reward and occasional abuse in the local leagues. I still mentally score the performance of referees, whether it be in junior matches or the premier league.

I have had a lifetime of following Sheffield Wednesday, home and away. It hasn’t always been fun! I have a seat on the Kop, located close to where I used to stand for many years, long before there was any roof above.

I try to watch amateur football. Last Sunday morning, taking a break from visiting constituents, I watched an under-13s local league match – an exciting 4-4 draw. I have enormous respect for the commitment shown by the coaches and volunteer administrators, without whose contributions none of this would happen.

I am the chair of the all-party football group in the House of Commons, enabling me to engage with key personnel in both the amateur and professional game. It also provides the opportunity to speak out on football-related issues which go to the heart of our society; a recent example would be about Ched Evans, rape and respect.

It’s in that context that I reflect on the recently announced new TV rights deal for the Premier League, worth £5.1bn over three seasons. These massive financial deals have seen substantial year-on-year increases in payment to the clubs – how else could they afford those mind-blowing wages?

Following the publication of the football taskforce report in 1999, the Premier League committed to giving 5% of TV rights to benefit the grassroots’ game. But the Premier League is failing to keep its promise.

5% of the new deal would mean £85m a year from 2016-17. Government support for councils for sport and leisure has been cut by £20bn (43%) since 2010.

That 5% could transform the prospects for local amateur football on which, after all, the professional game depends.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Broken homes’ promises

In 2010, Housing Minister Grant Shapps told me 
Building more homes [than Labour] is the gold standard upon which we shall be judged.” 

In 2011, Cameron told the CBI 
We will restart the housing market and get Britain building again."

Yet David Cameron and Nick Clegg have presided over the lowest level of housebuilding in peacetime Britain since the 1920s. Their first housing decision was to cut the affordable housing budget by 60%.

Millions of working people can no longer afford to buy the modest homes they want and they are unable to attain an affordable or social home. As a result, eleven million people now rent privately and are paying ever rising rents but have no stability, experience poor standards and face rip-off letting agent fees.

Last year, the lowest number of homes for social rent were built since John Major’s government. And, the number of affordable homes built was 26% lower than in 2009/10. The Government’s “affordable rent” model is anything but affordable to families on low-incomes. As rents have spiralled up, the housing benefit bill is now £1.6bn higher when they took office.

It’s no surprise that home ownership is at a 30 year low. Owner-occupation has fallen from 67.4 per cent to 63.3 per cent in 4 years. There are 205,000 fewer homeowners since 2010.

The number of people buying a home with a mortgage has declined and at 6.9 million households is now lower than the number of households living mortgage-free (7.4 million households) for the first time in over 30 years.

David Cameron claimed that his NewBuy scheme would help 100,000 on to the property ladder, but it has helped less than 6000. A record number of young people in their 20s and 30s now live at home with their parents. Only a third of 25- to 34-year-olds now own their own home, whilst nearly half are renting from a private landlord.

Whilst ever they and their friends are comfortably-housed, Cameron and Clegg will remain complacent about the housing crisis that is consuming ordinary working families.