Trust Labour to fix Tory housing crisis
Theresa May told her conference she wanted to “build a better Britain”. But she couldn’t even build a proper conference set, with first an F off then an E. She also got a P45 from a protester. What I found harder to swallow than her Strepsil was her claim on housing.
She promised to spend £2billion on affordable and council housing.
After the speech, her spin doctors had to confess that her “rebirth of council house building” would build 25,000 homes over five years. With more than a million waiting for a council house, it doesn’t even amount to a sticking plaster on a gaping wound caused by the Tories.
Thatcher’s Right to Buy, which gave huge discounts to council house tenants to buy their homes, took two million out of supply. For every 10 council houses sold, only one new one was built. Over a third of those sold ended up in the private rental market.
So as taxpayers, we built the council houses, subsidised the substantial discount that allowed tenants to buy and sell for a profit, then paid huge amounts in housing benefit to the private landlords who bought them.
When I took over housing in 1997, I slashed the Right to Buy discount to make it harder. I also spent £20billion bringing council properties up to the Decent Homes Standard after years of neglect, where people were still living with outside toilets.
I introduced a Key Workers Initiative which offered cheaper shared ownership properties for teachers and nurses in London.
We also saw more housing associations taking the lead in building social housing.
This was all undone by the Tories when they got back in.
Then Chancellor George Osborne increased the Right to Buy discount, which accelerated the number of council houses being sold off. By 2014-15 we were losing 12,000 a year and only starting to build 2,000 a year.
So even under May’s plans for building 5,000 a year, we’ll still be losing more than we build.
Osborne also cut the amount of government money we gave to housing associations to build social homes, from £3billion a year to just £450million.
Social rents changed to affordable rent – actually 80 per cent of market rent. The number of social homes built to rent dropped from 37,000 a year under Labour to just 1,000 now.
That meant the Government ended up paying more money in housing benefit instead of building the homes to keep rents low.
Instead, Osborne put billions into Help to Buy, a programme that subsidised people buying £450,000 homes – for the few, not the many. What we really need is a radical social housing programme – and Labour has grasped that. Its manifesto promised to build 100,000 council and social houses a year, 20 times more than May’s offering.
When I was Deputy Prime Minister I built houses for £60,000 without a deposit or mortgage to rent or buy. These “flat pack” modular homes can be built off site and then assembled.
They’re cheap and energyefficient, reducing fuel bills for tenants. Let’s build them on public brownfield land we own. It’s an area the size of the West Midlands.
Labour also propose private rent controls. The total rent paid to private landlords is more than double the mortgage interest rate paid to banks by homeowners.
Why not look at a living rent, with rents linked to local earnings so we can crack down on the profiteering of buy-to-let landlords?
And finally, let’s scrap Right to Buy for good. It’s a lottery for those who have a council house and we end up paying for it with fewer homes for those in need.
That’s a proper housing revolution and, if Labour gets it right, it’ll help Jeremy Corbyn secure the dream home he needs – No10.
HARD TO SWALLOW PM May