After seven months in the job, Matt Western sat down with The Boar to discuss his first days in Parliament, the “major issues” currently facing the government, and the problems concerning student and council housing in the Warwickshire area.
Mr Western described Westminster as “a very old, archaic place – old physically, but archaic in its protocols and behaviours.” Calling it an “alienating” place, he said he felt like parliament had a tendency to “disadvantage those people who don’t have that sort of background”.
Western talked of his presence in parliament immediately after the election, where he witnessed the first meeting of the government and the Conservative party. Describing the atmosphere as “electric”, he recalled the moment when Theresa May walked past him on her way to talk to the Conservative party about the election result and her plans for the future.
“You could feel the anticipation of what she was going to say and what the reaction might be among the Conservative Party”. Despite this, Western stated that the Prime Minister was met by “rapturous applause”.
I think that there is an issue in society generally about the multiple of chief executive pay versus the lowest decile
– Matt Western
“I suddenly realised that I wasn’t watching this in the way that you watch a soap opera, and that I actually found myself on the set.” He attributed the “soap opera” atmosphere in government to the rising pressure from Brexit, and the fact that the government have still not addressed some of the “major issues”, such as the economy, the NHS, issues in the education sector and the roll-out of universal credit.
When questioned what he thought were the major issues currently facing the constituency, Matt Western highlighted rising inflation, “way ahead of the targets set for the Bank of England… and for the Bank of England to manage”. Western also suggested that these rising costs coupled with poor wage increases are placing families “under real hardship”.
The MP for Warwick and Leamington also shared his views on the issue of vice-chancellor pay, saying: “I am not going to defend any particular person, I think that there is an issue in society generally about the multiple of chief executive pay versus the lowest decile (i.e. 10%).” One of Western’s key aims is the provision of housing in the Warwickshire area, described by the MP as “concerning”.
According to Western, the council in Leamington and Warwick have built 50 new council homes in the last 10 years, while he estimates that there are between 20-30 people sleeping rough every night. While he commended local charities such as Leamington Winter Support and Helping Hands for their efforts, the MP highlighted that the spread of homelessness in the Warwick area is particularly concerning.
In addition to rough sleepers, he asserted that there are over 700 people in the Warwickshire area who are statutory homeless, people who are “sofa-surfing”. However, the lack of housing also encompasses student life. Western stated that there are currently 2,400 residents on the housing waiting list, yet provisions are not being made to reduce this number.
The spread of homelessness into the Warwick area is particularly concerning
Matt Western elaborated: “We’re not seeing the housing to bring down the statutory homeless and there is no money going into the absolute desperate situation of rough sleeping.”
Western then went on to talk about student and academic struggles in Warwick and Leamington. “The University has been such an important area for our local economy. But I think the cost of living in Warwick and Leamington is driving students out of the area, and is driving academics out of the area, because it’s so expensive.”
“I know from talking to a lot of academics, they’re now moving, they can’t afford to live in the area. These are signs of just how overinflated the housing market is in the area.”
To this end, Matt Western stated that solving the housing crisis was one of his top priorities. He was keen to emphasise his “outspoken nature” towards Riverside House and Warwick District Council’s “shiny new offices at the top of town” that bear no contribution to any social, affordable council housing. Western raised the topic in Parliament as “a national issue, because of the principle of what is happening”.
In an attempt to tackle the issue of homelessness, which he thinks is exacerbated when people living on the streets form a “community” and depend upon each other, Western explained that he “is very much in favour of Scandinavian type models, where there are retreat type places where you can treat the addictions and put people back on the rails”.
The cost of living in Warwick and Leamington is driving students out of the area
Western was then asked how he balances the need for student accommodation and council housing within the constituency. He asserted that there were better locations for student housing that have not yet been considered by the council, such as abandoned sites that have not been occupied for years. However, Western also emphasises the role of the university: “In July, in my meeting with the vice chancellor (of Warwick), I raised this as an issue… and he did accept that everyone, and the university in particular, has to take responsibility.”
Finally, Matt Western addressed landlord liability for student safety on private property, following the recent Labour backed bill. Western stated that he raised the issue of landlord liability three years ago, and last year following the fire at Grenfell tower, while having meetings with Warwickshire Fire and Rescue.
“My person preference is that there should be an annual fire check in each property and any property that is rented, not just for students, but for long-term established residents as well, so that the quality of the accommodation is declared safe and certified by the Fire and Rescue Service.”
Western also expressed an intention to visit student properties to truly understand the reality of the situation, including speaking to students about safety, matters of retained deposits, management fees and up-front payments.