As well as its plans to build thousands of council homes, Labour says it’s setting aside £1bn to buy back properties which have been sold to private landlords, through right to buy.
Homelessness housing charities such as Shelter, dealing day-to-day with people who are struggling with unaffordable and unsuitable housing, have long argued that there’s a desperate need to build social housing on a big scale. This is something that even previous Labour governments under Blair and Brown failed to do.
Many blame Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy council houses scheme, and all local councils’ failures to replace these homes when sold, for causing Britain’s current housing crisis, but the problem is a complex one.
Many years ago, the UK housing sector began to rely more and more on the private rented sector (buy-to-let landlords) to take up the slack when social housing provision declined. Enticed into the market by increasing demand and growing market rents, due to under supply, private landlords invested and provided much needed rental accommodation.
But the resulting structural change in the housing market, with steadily rising rents, coupled with a cap on the local housing allowance (LHA), meant that many low income families were finding it an increasingly difficult to keep a roof over their heads.
Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey says this will change, that when Labour takes power there will be a “housing revolution”: “We need all parts of the housing industry firing on all cylinders.”
Alongside the Lib Dem promise to build 100,000 homes for the social sector, Labour’s plan is far more radical: setting aside £75bn over five years, they say they will build 100,000 new social homes every year for five years. These policies contrast sharply with the The Conservative Party policy of increasing private sector home ownership.
Labour’s proposals, billed as “social housing for the many” by those charities and providers in the social housing sector, have been universally welcomed by all its stakeholders: the offer would bring council housing to the fore again, as opposed to the social housing which is currently seen to be delivered by the housing associations. Councils would once again have a big role to play in house building.
Strongly critical of the Conservatives’s free market model, Mr Healey, who was briefly Housing Minister under Gordon Brown, says that what is needed is that, “…instead of government stepping back from these problems, its a government that’s willing to step up.”
The biggest question surrounding the solving of these problems at the bottom quartile of the housing market is not so much the difference in the various party’s proposals and doctrines, but whether Labour really can afford the vast sums of money involved, given all the other promises and commitments they have made.