Last week the government completed a quick fire hat trick of housing announcements that promised much, but in reality delivered next to nothing. Following on from the missed opportunity of the Social Housing Green Paper and the loophole ridden Tenant Fees Bill, we now have the Prime Minister’s confidence trick that saw her announce “extra money” for council house building.
It is of course on one level a relief that the government has finally realised that this vital issue is worthy of a press release.
The housing sector in all its forms has plunged deeper into crisis in the past decade as investment from central government in affordable and council homes has stagnated, at a time when housing and rental prices have rocketed. In Lambeth, this has left us with 28,000 people on our council home waiting list, a figure that rises by 3,000 each year. And behind these figures and trends, are the human cost. Families crowded into cramped accommodation, searching for a home while paying ridiculous housing costs and worrying about the impact their living conditions are having on their children and their own mental health. These are the kind of cases that fill my inbox each week. And of course, rising levels of rough sleeping and homelessness, the ugly and deplorable by-product of a broken system, are there to seen on streets throughout London.
What we need now is not tinkering around the edges, but a genuinely new approach to housing with a well funded, long term programme of council house building at its heart. This isn’t what is on offer from the government last week. Despite the spin, the promised extra £2 billion wont be available until 2022: it wont help anyone searching for a home now. It also represents a significant decline in the funding levels that are currently available for social housing (levels that have already been cut repeatedly since the Conservatives entered government in 2010). And divided across all local authorities this “new” money amounts to less than £6 million per borough which would build a handful of homes at today’s construction prices.
What is frustrating is that we are not short of good ideas to address the problems in our housing market. Last month former Lambeth councillor Luke Murphy helped author an IPPR report – which you can read here – with some radical ideas to fix the broken land value market that inflates house prices. Councils, like Lambeth, are on the ground building new homes with the scant resources by using limited land and maximising our powers and funding to deliver new council homes.
And this week in Liverpool, John Healey and Jeremy Corbyn set out what a Labour government would do to tackle the Tory housing crisis, with private renters unions, a tax on holiday homes and plans to build one million council and genuinely affordable homes.
That’s the change that we need. But it’s clear that instead, we have a government that offer no real investment or ideas that would give everyone the chance of a decent home to live in.