Labour should demand the government funds large scale council housing programme and ends right to buy

By Labour Campaign for Council Housing

The Labour Campaign for Council Housing, the Labour Homelessness Campaign and Labour Tenants United have written a joint letter to Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and Homelessness, expressing concerns about Labour’s Housing policy. It calls on the Party to press the government to fund a large scale council house building programme and to end the right to buy. The letter sent to Thangam was prompted by an interview she did with Inside Housing.

Concerns over the watering down of Labour’s policy were previously expressed when, in a Zoom meeting, Thangam indicated that Labour might switch from ending right to buy (RTB) to giving councils 100% receipts for sales. Labour’s previous policy of merely suspending RTB sales was overturned by the unanimous vote of the last Party conference.

The three organisations are calling on the Party to implement existing policy as adopted at the 2019 conference and included in the 2019 election manifesto.

Labour Campaign for Council Housing Secretary, Martin Wicks said: Housing policy is not just for general elections. We cannot wait for the next one in order to address the housing crisis. It is crucial that we put the government under pressure to fund a social rent council house building programme and to end the disastrous right to buy policy.

“Labour needs to be campaigning for the policies to which it is committed rather than watering them down. Many people who before RTB would have had some prospect of a council tenancy, today stand no chance. In particular a generation which survives on precarious work, even if they have higher qualifications, has no chance of buying a house. The shortage of council housing forces them into the private rented sector with its insecure tenancies and often exorbitant rents. A large scale council house building programme is necessary to address their needs. Labour should be campaigning for this now, linking up with the growing tenants’ movement in the private rented sector. If a 22 year old footballer can force a government U-turn, why can’t we?”

See the text of the letter below.

Dear Thangam

Re Labour Housing Policy

We were very disappointed with the interview you did with Inside Housing. It gave no specific commitments, as if we had a blank page and we were starting from scratch. Yet Labour’s housing policy, as determined by the last conference, and included in the Manifesto, was very clear. In relation to council housing It committed the Party to

  • 100,000 council homes a year,

  • Funded by £10 billion grant a year and

  • Ending RTB (rather than the previous policy of its suspension)

The vote at the conference was unanimous.

For us a policy is not just for government but for the here and now. With Labour losing the general election, obviously we are not in a position to implement the Manifesto in government. However, we cannot simply wait for the next general election and hope that Labour gets elected. The housing crisis is being exacerbated by the pandemic, which has shown the health consequences of poor and often over-crowded housing. The huge decline in the number of council homes, now less than 1.6 million in England, was the result of RTB sales, the growth of Buy to Let (promoted by tax reliefs) and the private rented sector with its high rents.

The housing crisis needs addressing now. In the current circumstances we believe that it is incumbent upon Labour to campaign together with the LGA Labour Group, the trades unions and the growing tenants movement, for the government to fund a new round of council house building and to end RTB. This is a weak and shambolic government which has been forced into a number of U-turns. Even the Tories in the Local Government Association recognise the need for councils to be able to build council housing once again on a large scale.

In Inside Housing, you said that, as Shadow Housing Minister, your job is to consider what the Party can “reasonably” ask the government to do. Given the scale of the housing crisis we need a radical not a “reasonable” policy. We think that you should stick to the existing policy and act upon it, challenging the government’s refusal to fund social rent council housing and its concentration on home ownership. We think Labour should be urgently pressing the government to commit to what we as a Party committed to. A large scale council house building programme is the only realistic means of addressing homelessness and shrinking the exploitative private rented sector. Campaigning for this can show millions of people whose housing situation is precarious that the Party is prepared to build a movement which supports their interests.

We look forward to your response. We would like to have a Zoom meeting with you to discuss our concerns further.

Regards,

Labour Campaign for Council Housing

Labour Homelessness Campaign

Labour Tenants United