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Labour has made itself look ridiculous with its policy announcement on the rights of tenants’ pets

The Independent logo The Independent 14/02/2018 Kirsty Major
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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

The Tories are currently engaged in operation puppy-wash: a raft of animal welfare policies designed to repair the damage incurred to their party during the general election campaign in which they reneged on banning hunting and stopping the ivory trade.

It’s a situation which hasn’t been helped by a poorly communicated vote on transferring EU regulations on animal welfare into the EU Withdrawal Bill.

I doubt it’s been completely resolved by that photo of Michael Gove hugging a puppy, either. But it’s clear that it’s an issue a lot of people care about.

Labour proposes end to badger cull in new 50-point animal welfare plan

Not to be outdone, Labour has announced plans to ban the live export of animals for slaughter; strengthen the Hunting Act; enshrine the principle of animal sentience in law; end the badger cull; implement a review of animal testing; expand affordable vet care for people on low incomes.

In a new policy paper released today, it also pledges to consult landlords on giving tenants the right to keep a pet. This is obviously the party for the many pets, not the few.

Labour has an impressive legacy on animal rights – from banning the hunting of wild animals to protecting the treatment of pets, which should be celebrated – and the policy paper on tenants’ pets is a welcome move to improve the treatment of animals.

But by using animal rights for political capital, Labour runs the risk of denigrating political debate. Let’s talk about animal rights once we’ve secured fundamental human rights.

Take housing, a market in the UK that is failing. There are basic rights that tenants do not currently have proper access to – affordable, well-maintained properties with secure tenancy contracts are a pipe dream for many.

Yes, this is a policy which focuses on animal welfare rather than housing but had Labour instead made it part of a wider housing announcement then it would have been far more welcome.

Of course, Labour has done some great work on suggesting policies that would correct the private rental market – such as coming out against Section 21 no-fault evictions – but these ideas haven’t gone far enough.

In the UK we have a lack of policy preventing landlords excluding tenants who receive benefits and an opposition party suggesting we should focus on whether or not landlords should allow pets. Clearly, there’s something wrong here with the way our political priorities are shaped by public debate.​

This isn’t the only area where Labour has fallen short on offering up policies which properly prioritise according to the reality of the situation.

The party has proposed an inflation cap on rent rises – but when you have rents which are already unaffordable and inflation is rising, the caps only address one tiny part of the problem (the inflation), rather than the fundamental affordability of a property. Any rent cap that does bite affordability can push landlords out of the rental market, which is a boon for those with deposits saved to buy up the new housing stock but not for those without.

What is actually most effective in the long term is more social housing – which both the Conservative Government and Labour have committed to – and in the short term, until these houses are built, an increase in housing benefit. With housing benefit being reduced each year, and rent prices soaring, year on year people are finding that they can’t afford the homes they live in, which will inevitably lead to an increase in homelessness (and has done so in the last few years).

As it stands, we could face a situation where animals will have more of a right to a home than their owners.

This policy announcement press release makes Labour look ridiculous – they have done some great work on reforming the private rental sector, but they need to go much further in protecting people’s right to safe, secure and affordable housing before they start concentrating on animals.

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