Suddenly, housing is going up the political agenda. Last night, the BBC news reported on homelessness and how even middle class professionals, such as nurses and teachers, were finding themselves without anywhere to live.
Earlier this week, it was reported in the Evening Standard – oddly enough in the property pages aimed at those who can afford to buy – that Richmond council is facing a crisis because so many families are presenting as homeless that they are going massively over budget to accommodate them. The reason: the new benefit cap which means that they can no longer afford to live in the private rented sector any more. So the Tories are creating this crisis and refusing to provide the money to help councils deal with it.
In fact, it is Tory policies that are causing the longer term housing crisis that is affecting millions of Londoners. Last year just 6,550 new homes for social rent were completed in the whole of England – that’s a fifth of the total in Labour’s last year in power and the lowest level for more than 20 years. The Tory government also insists that local councils prioritise so-called affordable housing ahead of social housing – at 80 per cent of market value it is anything but affordable. They encourage private developers who put up luxury housing which is then sold to foreign investors. Boris Johnson when he was mayor used to boast about the number of homes being built but his dirty little secret was that most of these were luxury flats that did nothing to help Londoners.
The Tories have also refused to protect people in the private rented sector from landlords who are taking advantage of the crisis to hoik up rents. At the last election, Labour promised to cap rents in the private sector, which clearly is now becoming even more urgent since so many people are finding it impossible to pay them.
Where are the Tories or the LibDems on this issue? Why do they never talk about the housing crisis except in the vaguest terms. Let’s set it out clearly. This crisis is a result of a series of policies pursued by the Tories and it will continue to get worse unless the root cause is recognised. The solution is simple. We need a lot more social housing, and for ‘affordable’ housing to actually be affordable. Labour is committed to building a million homes over five years – half of which will be council homes.
Social housing requires a small subsidy to get built but, since tenants pay rent that covers a substantial part of the cost, it is money well spent. It is not just about providing housing – it offers stability to communities and the opportunity for people on low and middle incomes to no longer have to worry about having a roof over their heads. It is about stabilising communities, something the Tories talk about but fail to do anything about.
Only the Labour party is talking about these issues. The Tories have admitted – in private – that they hate social housing because they think it creates more Labour voters. They argue, wrongly, that it requires massive subsidy. The pressure is now on. The BBC report clearly showed that social housing is the only long term solution. Building it would not only provide homes, but also create jobs. Money is easy to borrow at low interest rates at the moment. There is nothing to prevent a mass programme of social housing, except Tory ideology.