Amidst the coronavirus commotion and the bluster over the budget, it can be easy to forget that the UK is in the midst of a housing crisis.
The latest publication of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (an independent body set up to assess the calamitous state of UK housing), unsurprisingly did little to disturb this state of affairs. Partly this is due to the inherently long term nature of housing policy being starkly at odds with the hyperactive news cycle.
But when that crisis is your daily reality – as it is for so many – it’s far more difficult to overlook. And overlook is precisely the right word as a much larger part of the problem has been a damning lack of action. The figures speak for themselves.
Over 300,000 people in the UK are homeless, rough sleeping has tripled since 2010, more than a million households are on waiting lists for council homes, more than four million people in the UK live in substandard or inappropriate housing, and ‘Generation Rent’ sees stable housing as a pipe dream.
Taken together, the verdict on Conservative policy over the last decade is clear.
Nowhere is the scale of the issue starker than in London. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower is a microcosm of everything wrong with the UK housing market. A burnt-out social housing standing just minutes from obscenely expensive empty properties.
Nearly a decade of Boris Johnson as mayor left the city in this state. Without decisive action from authorities, chances of reversing this rot are slim. Sadiq Khan recognises this all too clearly, which is why he has declared the upcoming mayoral election as effectively a referendum on rent controls.
In light of that track record, it seems more than a little optimistic to expect the Prime Minister to perform better now that he has climbed to the top of the greasy pole. However, getting the government involved with providing the homes we all desperately need is essential.
Labour knows this. At the last general election, we proposed building over one million new homes over the next 10 years. Crucially, this was not a pledge for more low-quality private developments churned out by developers for quick profit like in London under Boris. It was for affordable housing, whether through ownership, rent or other models.
Government is not alone in its responsibility to act. Private developers must also play a part. For too long they have been left alone and allowed to put profit first. Legislation must be tightened to ensure what is built meets a sufficient standard of quality and affordability.
Given the scale of the crisis, we are required to make a full exploration of all the options. Co-operative housing schemes comprise a small but potentially burgeoning sector of the housing market. Moving away from traditionally paternalistic models of ownership to instead emphasise community and collective organisation.
The aforementioned report stakes out its support for many of the above ideas. But whether the government will gloss over this in favour of more profit maximisation is anyone’s guess. There is already evidence that they are.
Written by Chief Labour writer, Evan Saunders
Point of Information
Good article, but misses an awful lot! – a Liberal response
I won’t lie, I was not an expert on the housing crisis that is plaguing our country at the moment. However, after brushing up, I don’t think Mr Saunders is either! He misses a number of crucial policies while choosing to back others which could have disastrous effects.
The first mistake is placing the blame solely at the Conservatives feet. Believe me, they are far from a shining angel here, but it was the Blair/Brown government who started cutting council and social housing even before their austerity program in 2008.
Mr Saunders also fails to recognise the importance of social housing. They are falling in number drastically – a failure of the Conservatives. The opportunity for long term, low costing rent is far more important than council homes. Not only will it force rent in general to lower, but it would also give people renting a chance to buy their home.
Now, ‘buying social homes’ must be managed properly as well. It was Thatcher’s plan in the ’80s. However, most of these sold houses are now owned by private landlords. Again adding to this ‘generation rent’ problem. But simply pouring £75 billion into council housing as you and Mr Corybn suggest is not the answer. Social housing is far more important!
Finally, to add to the amount this article misses, it fails to recognise the failure of associations (which help with co-operative housing scheme) and homeless charities. Out of the 300,000 homeless last year, Shelter, one the UK biggest charities only helped locate 5,300 people. This might be admirable if not for the £16.39 million in reserves they currently have! Associations in the UK who are meant to offer secure rent received as much as £16.4 million in 2019 alone.
Mr Saunders, unlike your piece which simply complains and says ‘more houses, that is what is needed!’ Stop blaming others, increase social housing, and check charities and associations.
Written by Liberal writer, Max Anderon
Harsh and for the most part, unrealistic – a Conservative response
A crisis and national frenzy like that created by the coronavirus does take attention away from other domestic issues. But that doesn’t mean to say we should attack our government outright for neglecting an issue that has, unfortunately, been next to normal in the UK for a number of years.
My colleague Mr Sanders writes from a position as if it is anti-Conservative to help those in desperate need of assistance with regards to housing. Is that really fair?
I concede that the accountability of private developers is something any government should be aware of. However, there is only so much our government can do to enforce developments that are affordable for those in lower-income groups. Private companies building in London do focus on running a high-profit margin, making change to existing policies problematic.
Overall, Mr Saunders raises some interesting points, but I believe his message and underlying hopes in writing are unrealistic. Yet, times like this do raise questions about how governments can appropriately balance their resources and focus. I am not sure whether a mild assault on the Conservative housing policy is appropriate.
Written by Conservative writer, Joshua Tyrrell