09 Feb 2024

2024 Presidential Address and Appeal: An EPIC reminder of the power of housing to create change

We had an incredibly powerful evening at last night’s Presidential Address and Charitable Appeal, hosted by CIH president, Jill Murray BA FCIH

During her speech, Jill gave an insight into life growing up and how it galvanised her passion for housing and drive to become the best housing professional she could be:

“My BE EPIC campaign is in fact my personal story – it’s not something that I dreamt up for the purposes of becoming the CIH president. It’s about my belief in the housing sector and its role to deliver change to people and communities.” 

Jill also shared more about her endeavour to raise money for a very important charity, Action for Children.

“The work that Action for Children do is so important across the United Kingdom and especially in the most vulnerable communities. Building foundations for children to have a happy, healthy, supported life fits incredibly with Be EPIC and I would like to thank everyone who’s kind enough to support this wonderful charity which will make a positive difference to the life of a disabled, vulnerable child or young person and their family”

After her powerful address, Jill was joined on stage by friend and leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer MP, who reiterated Labour’s firm commitment to housing, stating “I want a country where every person has a safe and secure place that they can call home”.

Read Sir Keir Starmer's after dinner remarks in full

Thank you Jill, for that introduction, for inviting me here tonight, and for your friendship. I know your story, but hearing it afresh was inspiring. And what a story it is. From starting out as a clerk, and rising to be president of your professional body, the Chartered Institute of Housing. I’m glad you’ve been able to share it – and for a fantastic charity.

Talk about scaling great heights. Speaking of which - I’m sorry I won’t be able to join you on the charity walk up Scafell Pike this summer. When I said I had a mountain to climb in 2024, that’s not quite what I meant!

And it’s great to be in such a historic venue. Now, I’m more of a Camden Hells man myself. But I was interested to find out that this brewery was actually founded by an MP, a man called Samuel Whitbread. No relation to Fatima I’m afraid Jill. And his son, also called Samuel Whitbread, who inherited the family business, was also an MP. Now, I know what you’re thinking. And yes, it is unusual to find two politicians who could organise a piss up in a brewery.

But Samuel Jr did a bit more than that. In 1807, he proposed a radical new law alongside suggesting free education for children and financial help for the poor, he argued for the provision of subsidised housing and the building of cottages, so the most vulnerable families could live in some dignity and the poorest children could have some security.

This is so important to me. I started off by talking about climbing a mountain and the truth is, it’s much easier to climb a mountain if you have a good base camp to start from. And for me – forgive me if you already know this - it was a pebbledash semi in Oxted. That was the base camp from which I could grow up, go to university and become a lawyer.

And many of my first cases were fighting for families in mould ridden housing, or at risk of being made homeless. Because I remembered just how important it was to me, as a child, having that place I felt safe. And I wanted other children to have that chance that I had in life.

Now, someone else who wanted children to have a good start in life was Octavia Hill. Scandalised by the living conditions of working people, she set out to make sure every child had a safe home, she trained women who did some of the things you were talking about Jill – not just collecting rent but caring about their tenants, being on the frontlines of the problems people face, and recognising, as you said, that housing is the foundation of our lives.

And the work of those women actually persists today. Because ultimately, over the course of the century, their organisation became the Chartered Institute of Housing. So I would suggest that perhaps they were among the first housing professionals to pioneer the ‘Be EPIC’ slogan.

Professional, remarkable, visionary people, who pushed forward the housing industry in this country, challenged what was possible, and changed people’s lives.

So there we have it. Two figures – Samuel Whitbread and Octavia Hill - who bookmarked 19th Century Britain, who worked to change the face of housing in this country.

Two people who connect us in this brewery this evening, more than a hundred years later, as we seek to do the same.

Because we need to reform housing in this country. We need to make it the base camp for people to achieve their own aspirations, not the barrier that prevents them reaching the summit.

Let me tell you. In my constituency 5 years ago, a man called Daniel bought a new-build flat that should have been his sanctuary and security for years to come. Instead, there were problems with the foundations. Cracks in the walls. Rotting timber frames.

That flat should have been Daniel’s base camp. Instead, he’s had to pay thousands in legal fees. Stuck with a flat that’s structurally unsound.

And look around the country. 140,000 children – a record number – who are homeless in temporary accommodation. 1.6 million children living in freezing houses with mould on the walls or water leaking from the ceiling. Families cramped into unsuitable temporary accommodation.

And there’s a price to pay for every child who can’t fulfil their potential because they have no home to sleep in tonight.

There’s a cost to this country for every young person who won’t live the life they deserve, because they don’t have the housing they need.

So I want a country where every person has a safe, secure, place that they can call home. Not just grinding - day in, day out - to make the rent every month, never able to plan ahead, let alone save for a deposit.

But homes that can be the bedrock of big hopes, to have a family, maybe to study, or perhaps to take that dream job.

A place like I had growing up. That’s why we’d extend Awaab’s law to include private renters, so no child has to grow up in homes where mould grows on the walls or water drips from the ceilings.

That’s why we’d build 1.5 million new homes so more than a million families have that base camp from which they can aspire to greater heights.

That’s why we’ll work with you to build the Britain of the future for a decade of national renewal.

Because look – the Tories have failed families across the country. They’ve failed parents who had faith that their children would have better opportunities, faith that my parents always had - and that I want to have for my children.

They’ve failed young people who want to start families of their own. The majority of young adults, people between 20 and 24, live with their parents. How are they supposed to seize opportunities and have ambitious dreams, if it’s impossible to leave their childhood bedrooms?

And they’ve failed homeowners across the country when their recklessness blew mortgage rates through the roof. Homes should be people’s biggest security - not their greatest stress.

Labour has a plan to fix that. To ease the mortgage bombshell, offering support for people struggling to pay their mortgage. To help young people onto the property ladder, building more social and affordable housing, giving local first-time buyers first dibs on new homes in their areas, and a government-backed mortgage guarantee scheme.

To reform planning to boost the supply of new homes, and to create a new planning passport for urban brownfield development, to overhaul the leasehold system, and build the next generation of new towns.

We want to get Britain building again. Because we know that the homes of today are the hope of tomorrow. We can’t build a future for our country unless we build homes that make it possible for people to think about the future.

Just like we can’t reach the summit unless we have that base camp. And look, I may not be walking up Scafell Pike with you this year. But I know a thing or two about walking in the Lake District – as Jill and John both know - and when I was a kid, my mum loved the Lake District.

We went every year. For every family holiday. So I have some advice - take a raincoat – yes, even in summer. Take a map – because let me tell you, nothing strains relationships like an argument on a sheer cliff edge. And if nothing else, it might be helpful to find the nearest pub later.

But most importantly, take people who will encourage you in your difficulties and celebrate you in your successes, who will guide you when you’re going the wrong way and join you on the journey.

Because the point about climbing a mountain, as I found out with my family all those years ago, is that we have to do it together.

Thank you.

Find out more and donate to Jill's Action for Children campaign

Alongside ‘Be EPIC’, Jill has also chosen to raise money for Action for Children, a children's charity created to help vulnerable, disabled children, young people and their families throughout the UK. Their vision is that every child and young person has a safe and happy childhood, and the foundations they need to thrive.

"Too many children are growing up with their families struggling to make ends meet and statistics released in July of this year demonstrate that child poverty numbers throughout the UK have been continually rising. Fact is that we may be seeing the start of the greatest rise in child poverty in a generation because the 2023 figures confirm a staggering 200,000 more children are in poverty compared to last year and the Institute of Fiscal Studies are projecting a devastating 50% increase in child poverty by the end of the decade.

"This is why building foundations for children to have a happy, healthy and supported life, fits incredibly with my ‘Be EPIC’ campaign, and I would like to thank everyone who is kind enough to support this wonderful charity which will make a positive difference to the life of a child."

You can donate to Action for Children via Jill’s JustGiving page