By Martin Wicks
The housing composite motion which was passed at Labour’s recent Conference did not focus just on Labour policy for a future Manifesto. It called on the Party to “demand that the government takes action now to end the housing crisis” by a series of measures listed (see How Labour must hold the government’s feet to the fire on the housing crisis). These included a largescale council house building programme and ending Right to Buy.
The Labour Campaign for Council Housing believes that Conference vote should be used as a springboard for developing campaigning activity. We have drawn up a model resolution (see below) for CLPs/union branches which
- Calls on Labour at the national level to implement the composite resolution as a matter of urgency, and
- Proposes that Labour council groups, be they in power or opposition, put a motion to their council declaring a housing emergency. Councils will therefore publicly call for largescale council house building, ending Right to Buy, etc.
The idea of councils declaring a housing emergency came from our members in Cornwall where the crisis is particularly acute as a result of the second homes/holiday homes phenomenon. We think this is an idea which Labour and trade union members should pick up on. Councils should declare a housing emergency as a springboard for campaigning to pressure the government to fund the building of social rent homes, end RTB and adequately fund existing homes.
Since 2010 the number of council homes in England has declined by 203,000. There has been an increase in building by housing associations over that period but they have built more and more homes for sale/shared ownership and the social housing they have built has been largely at so-called affordable rent.
Anybody who is renting is facing a ‘perfect storm’ of increased gas prices, food price inflation (foodbanks are bracing themselves for a big increase of people approaching them) and the loss of the extra £20 Universal credit. Rent arrears will rise. Social tenants face five years of above-inflation increases thanks to government policy, and London housing associations have even come up with the mad idea of above-inflation rent increases for 30 years.
There are signs of a big increase in numbers on the housing waiting lists. My own local authority, Swindon, has seen the households on its list increase by 33% in the last year alone. The Local Government Association has warned that numbers on the list could double over the next year owing to the impact of the pandemic, the end of the furlough scheme and increasing evictions. Councils are paying a fortune to place homeless people in private accommodation because of the acute shortage of council homes.
The ratio of earnings to prices for median market homes in England is 7.65 times median earnings and 6.91 times lower quartile earnings for lower quartile homes. For new builds there has been an extraordinary increase to 9.60 times median earnings and 9.77 times lower quartile. The average price for median new build in England increased from £190,000 in 2012 to £304,000 in September 2020, the latest available statistics. Even lower quartile homes increased over that period from £142,995 to £223,995. Promises to turn Generation Rent into Generation Home Ownership are ridiculous at these prices. Housing is not a competitive market. The big builders are not going to build on a large enough scale for prices to fall since that would erode their profit margins. They have never built for social need.
According to a recent Yougov poll, 61% of Tory MPs are in favour of the government funding more social housing. The Local Government Association, with a Tory majority, has said that there can be no resolution of the housing crisis without councils once again being largescale builders. They have called for the government to fund 100,000 social rent homes a year.
Yet there is a gulf between the word and the deed. They have relied on private lobbying which will not shift the government. For that, mass pressure is required, combining councillors with tenant groups, campaigns like Shelter and those directly suffering the consequences of the housing crisis. The pandemic has given us a sharp reminder of the connection between housing and health. Covid has had a far greater impact in poorer and over-crowded homes.
Generation Rent will only be liberated from its current circumstances, being forced to live in the private rented sector, with high rents and often poor living conditions, living at home with parents, or sofa surfing, by the building of social rent homes on a large scale.
We are asking branches/CLPs and union branches to move our resolution and use it as a means of promoting campaigning activity aimed at building pressure on this government of U-turns to make another one on the funding of council housing, existing and new build.
This CLP welcomes the housing composite resolution passed at the Labour Party Conference which included the main demands of the Labour Campaign for Council Housing. It called on the Labour Party to “demand that the government takes action now to end the housing crisis by”
➢ Fully funding councils to deliver the building of 150,000 social rent homes each year, including 100,000 council homes
➢ Ending Right to Buy
➢ Reviewing council housing debt to address underfunding of housing revenue accounts
➢ Fund the retro-fitting of council housing to cut greenhouse gases, provide jobs and promote a shift from outsourcing to Direct Labour Organisations
➢ Ending Section 21 (no fault) evictions
It also said: “Conference also calls upon Labour to place these actions at the centre of its housing policies.”
The passing of the composite resolution needs to be a launching pad for campaigning activity. We therefore
➢ Call on the Party nationally to implement the composite resolution as a matter of urgency.
➢ Call on our Labour Group to propose that our council declares a housing emergency to campaign for those key demands. This may include lobbying local MPs, the Local Government Association and other organisations, working with tenant groups and trades unions.
The CLP agrees to affiliate to the Labour Campaign for Council Housing.
Martin Wicks is Secretary of the Labour Campaign for Council Housing.
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