The Stakes: Social Housing
Every day in the UK, 150 families become homeless: the tip of the iceberg of Britain’s spiralling housing crisis. So what’s been going on? Why has the housing crisis worsened and what needs to be done to turn this around – to provide homes for people rather than profit?
Where are we at?
Previous governments have relied on the private market to provide the homes that people need. But this has been a disaster. Private developers have been building less than half the homes we need (estimated as between 240,000 to 280,000 homes needed, but only between 100,000 and 125,000 actually built, each year).
Building more homes isn’t necessarily the answer to housing need in any case – not if these are luxury homes, kept empty as investments for capital gain – a major problem in central London and increasingly so in other cities too. Meanwhile, the supply of genuinely affordable social housing has been shrinking. Too many tenants are living in substandard private accommodation as a result, without security of tenure but paying excessive rents – leading to rent arrears, the major cause of evictions and so of homelessness.
What’s at stake in the General Election?
The Conservative government has been making this crisis even worse with the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, aiming to decrease the supply of social housing even further through extending the Right-to-Buy and threatening to price council tenants out of the more profitable areas. If the Conservatives win, we face five more years of rising homelessness and social cleansing. This will effectively mean the end of genuinely affordable social housing – leaving city centres open only to investment opportunities for the very rich.
What can be done?
Governments need to intervene rather than rely on private markets to meet social needs. Building more homes is essential, but these need to be genuinely affordable – at least 200,000 new social rented homes need to be built each year. And if these homes are to stay genuinely affordable that has to mean the end of Right-to-Buy. Council housing should be prioritised, although with some scope for alternative forms of social housing, such as co-operatives, as long as these stay genuinely affordable. And local authorities need the powers to finance and build the homes that people need.
Private tenants need to be supported too. They need to have the benefit of regulated rents. And they need security of tenure. So do housing association tenants. One of the ironies of the 2016 Housing and Planning Act has been that this has brought tenants of different tenures together, working alongside trade unionists, community activists and those politicians who share their opposition to the Conservative government’s attack. Whatever the outcome of the General Election on 8 June, the campaign for Decent, Secure Homes and Rent Control for All continues. Campaigners are holding a press conference and protest on 25 May to demand that housing is an election issue (details to follow). There will also be a demonstration after the election, on 24th June, to demand that whoever the government is, they take urgent action to solve the housing crisis.