Labour Campaign for Council Housing launched

By Martin Wicks

Shelter’s recent housing report called for £10.7 billion annually to be invested in 155,000 ‘social housing’ homes, 3.1 million homes over 20 years. John Healey, said the report was a wake up call for the Conservatives. It was also a wake up call for Labour. Shelter’s proposal far outstrips Labour’s commitment of £4 billion a year grant for “affordable homes”. This was the level of grant available under New Labour eleven years ago. Moreover this money would not just be for ‘social’ homes but “affordable ownership” as well.

Labour’s Housing Green Paper had a fundamental flaw at its heart. Instead of proposing a legal duty on councils to build council housing it proposed a duty to promote “affordable housing”. Councils could apply for grant solely to build “affordable ownership” homes and they would fulfil this duty without building a single council home.

Currently Labour has no commitment to funding a specific number of council homes nor a guarantee of grant for councils. Those councils that do want to build them will have to compete with housing associations. Labour is committed only to 100,000 “affordable homes” a year for rent and sale, by the end of a five year Parliament.

The gulf between the aspirations of Labour Party members and Labour’s official policy was reflected by the composite resolution passed at last year’s conference, in support of 100,000 ‘social rent’ homes a year and an end to Right to Buy (RTB) rather than just suspension. Yet John Healey’s office has said that it does not envisage 100,000 ‘social rent’ homes a year being built until the second term in office. Neither has he committed to implementing conference policy to end RTB. He is leaving open the possibility of councils being able to sell their homes again if they have plans to replace the properties sold under RTB on a ‘like for like’ basis.

Frustrated with this situation a Labour Campaign for Council Housing has been launched by Party members who want to radicalise Labour’s housing policy. The initial focus will be on campaigning to commit Labour to

  • Build 100,000 council homes a year, funded by annual government grant of £10 billion (£100,000 per property) and

  • Ending RTB in line with last year’s conference vote.

We share Shelter’s ambition for building more than 150,000 homes a year. However, their proposal would mean only £69,000 grant per property and it says nothing about council housing. We believe the main emphasis should be on council housing which gives tenants a more secure tenancy and the possibility of holding their landlord to account. Even when tenants are elected to boards of associations they have a legal duty to the business rather than to other tenants.

In the housing association sector there has been a process of commercialisation which has seen the bigger associations abandon their supposed social purpose and build homes for sale. Their organisation, the National Housing Federation, capitulated to the government over the extension of RTB to the sector. It supported the proposed theft of council RTB receipts from the enforced sell of ‘higher value’ homes (thankfully abandoned). We believe that any grant for housing associations should only go towards building homes for ‘social rent’ and not to support commercial activities.

It is certainly true that councils would be unable to move immediately from the very small numbers they are currently building to a large scale programme. However, the key to them being able to do so is a guarantee that they will receive grant on an annual basis. Otherwise they will not have the resources needed to plan and execute building 100,000 homes a year.

The acute shortage of council housing resulting from more than 30 years of RTB sales has created an unprecedented crisis. An estimated 40% of council homes sold are now owned by buy-to-let landlords charging much higher private rents. With home ownership beyond the means of millions, and council housing tenancies like gold dust, many people are forced into the private rented sector where rents have outpaced inflation and earnings, nearly a third of properties are ‘non-decent’, and there is no security of tenure.

Labour’s current policies are completely insufficient to resolve the housing crisis. A large scale council home building programme is the necessary means of beginning to do so. Labour should commit to the funding required to deliver it. There are only 1.59 million council homes left in England. Ending RTB and beginning to build on a large scale can begin to push this number back up for the first time in a generation, offering people genuinely affordable and secure homes.

The campaign is circulating a model resolution for Labour’s conference this year. To contact us and get involved, email us at: labourcouncilhousingcampaign@gmail.com

Model resolution for Labour Party conference

Conference notes that

  • Shelter’s ‘A Vision for Social Housing’ report concludes that 3.1 million new social rented homes need to be built over the next 20 years – an average of 155,000 per year.

  • Under the last Labour Government’s ‘National Affordable Homes Programme’ the grant available for councils to deliver new council housing was set at around £60,000 per home. Considering inflation since then, at least £100,000 per home will be needed for councils to deliver social rented housing.

  • Under the policy of Right-to-Buy, over 1.8 million council properties in England have been sold to date. These homes have never been replaced one-for-one.

  • Jeremy Corbyn committed to building 100,000 council homes a year during his 2016 leadership campaign.

Conference therefore calls upon the Labour Party to:

  • Adopt a policy of building 155,000 social rented homes a year, with at least 100,000 of these social rented council homes, to start with immediate effect when in Government.

  • Pledge at least £10 billion a year for housing grant, ring-fenced for delivering 100,000 social rented council homes, to be announced at the first Budget of a Labour Government.

  • Adopt a policy of ending, not suspending, Right-to-Buy to be announced on day one of a Labour Government.

Conference also calls upon the Party to provide a clear commitment that housing proposals passed as policy at our Annual Conference since 2017 will form a part of the radical housing policy included in our next manifesto.

 

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