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Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the launch of Labour’s Housing Green Paper.
He opened by referring to the sky-high rents and house prices, luxury flats proliferating across our big cities, while social housing is starved of investment and a million are on housing waiting lists. Tens of thousands of children are in temporary accommodation and homelessness is up by 50% since 2010.
Housing has become a means of speculation for a wealthy few, leaving many unable to access a decent, secure home.
Labour’s plan to turn this around involves two simple steps:
- build enough housing
- and make sure that housing is affordable to those who need it.
The promise: the next Labour Government will deliver one million genuinely affordable homes over ten years, the majority of which will be for social rent.
Fifty years ago, local authorities were responsible for nearly half of all new housing completions. Nowadays it is just 2%. Private housebuilders openly acknowledge that it is simply not profitable for them to build houses for the less well-off. We need to do it ourselves.
At the beginning of the Thatcher years, nearly a third of housing in this country was for social rent. That figure is now less than 20%. Council building has been in decline since the Right to Buy was introduced and councils were prohibited from using the proceeds to replace the houses sold.
Sadiq Khan has announced that the number of affordable homes and the number of homes for social rent started in London in the last year, is higher than in any year since the GLA was given control of affordable housing funding in the capital.
That is the difference Labour can make in Office. But Sadiq and his team are starting from an extremely low base and working within the crippling constraints imposed by this Government, cutting social housing grants time and time again, redefining affordable housing so that it’s no such thing and forcing councils to sell their best stock.
This Green Paper sets out many of the radical measures needed to transform the planning system:
- ending the “viability” loophole so that commercial developers aren’t let off the hook;
- giving councils new powers to acquire land to build on and better use land the public already owns;
- and the financial backing to actually deliver, which means the ability to borrow to build restored to all councils; and extra support from central government too.
When the post-war Labour government built hundreds of thousands of council houses in a single term in office, they transformed the lives of millions of people who emerged from six years of brutal war to be lifted out of over-crowded and unhygienic slums into high quality new homes and introduced to hitherto unknown luxuries such as indoor toilets and their own gardens.
Setting new benchmarks in size and energy efficiency, something that old council stock still does to this day council housing was not a last resort but a place where people were proud to live.
In the Green Paper it was good to see an emphasis on retrofitting the housing stock and hopefully bringing back the thousands of empty houses back into use.
Having previously blocked and voted down Labour legislation to give tenants the right, the Government now say they support the basic legal right for tenants to take a landlord to court if they fail to make or maintain their home ‘fit for human habitation’, a right included in MP Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill.
A Labour Government would introduce and fast-track this legislation, if the current Government fails to ensure it is enacted before the next Election.
The next Labour Government would launch a new programme to complete the job – Decent Homes 2. Following the Grenfell Tower fire it would update regulations to include fire safety measures and consult on a new fire safety standard to add to the existing four Decent Homes criteria, including retro-fitting sprinklers in high-rise blocks.
A Labour Government will deliver a new era of social housing, in which councils are once again the major deliverers of social and genuinely affordable housing and set the benchmark for the highest size and environmental standards.