The title for this post is unashamedly borrowed from a 1945 Labour campaign poster, when housing really was ‘the’ election issue. The sentiment is perhaps even more pertinent now, but sadly the response from the main political parties falls well short of what is needed. What hope is there if those likely to form the next government really do not grasp the issues and fail to develop policies that will work. Politics truly seems to have taken over from any sense of ‘what works’!
Yesterday, the Labour Party launched its Manifesto, but sadly there was little new or different about their housing policies. The pledge is there to build 200,000 new homes a year, to build new garden cities, the reinvestment of help to buy ISAs and backing for small builders, but there is nothing new – this has all been mentioned before and most was the subject of the Lyons Review report. So no big surprises, no new policy to get us excited about the possibilities for action and making a difference! If you want to know more, I recommend blogs by Jules Birch and the RTPI, who cover the issues in more detail. I was more encouraged by the work of the Fabian Society and John Healey MP, which considers the ‘overwhelming case for new public housing‘ and puts forward arguments for why we need to build more social housing. Let’s hope the Labour Party is listening to some of this and can beef up their housing policies if elected.
Today sees the launch of the Conservative Party Manifesto, which in housing terms pitches back to the 1980s and the Thatcherite Right to Buy policy, this time promising to extend the policy to Housing Association tenants. So what we have proposed is a policy that sells off affordable housing to individuals, who already live in secure accommodation, undoubtedly without the ability to replace these homes 1 for 1. Quite how this helps us to address the housing crisis and the lack of affordable homes is beyond me, but clearly it could be an attractive policy to those who will directly benefit. For those in private rented accommodation, or living with friends/relatives, or homeless, or living in overcrowded housing because of the lack of available, affordable housing, it’s a policy that further limits choices and that reduces the hope for many of ever finding a decent home.
Those in favour of RtB policy see it as increasing equality and providing more people with the opportunity to buy their own home. This is undoubtedly true, and many have benefited from this over the last 30 or so years. But unless we build new social homes to match those sold, we end up with less and less social housing stock for those that need it. We have an ever increasing affordability crisis in the housing sector. We have more people in poor and inappropriate accommodation. But we have fewer social/public homes to offer those in need. How is that promoting equality of opportunity?
The problems of our housing crisis are there for all to see, the solutions are pretty obvious and mostly agreed upon within the housing profession. But politics takes over and we are left with a reinforcement of the problem rather than a solution to the problem of the lack of affordable homes. Building more affordable homes where they are most needed and maintaining them as social/public housing stock is essentially the simple solution. Instead we seek to sell them off, push people into the private rented sector and support the lack of affordability through benefits payments (which we’ll also reduce at the same time).
So far, whilst it is indeed good to see housing policy on the political agenda, and playing some part in this election debate, I am less than impressed with the ‘solutions’ offered by the two main parties. Let’s build the houses – quick – seems like a mantra we should all be repeating, often and loudly!