Tory-instigated housing crisis needs Labour’s radical solution

Creating a dedicated housing ministry tasked with building a million new homes in five years, including half a million council homes, is as realistic as it is necessary, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

Theresa May’s housing speech showed that the Tory government still has no proper plan to fix the crisis.

As John Healey MP, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for housing, said, “We’ve heard hand-wringing on housing from May before, but there’s nothing new here that will make a difference.”

This is hardly surprising, as to do so would involve admitting that Tory policies have created the housing crisis.

Under eight years of Tory failure the housing crisis has deepened on many fronts.

Crucially, the number of new homes being built still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels and, specifically, the number of new homes built for social rent has fallen to the lowest level since records began.

And with people unable to get a council home, private renters face extortionate costs alongside a lack of the most basic rights.

Alongside this, home ownership has fallen to a 30-year low with, on average, house prices now more seven times people’s incomes — double what they were in 1997.

It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that we have seen a 400,000 increase in the number of 20 to 34-years-olds who aren’t moving out of their family home.

Additionally, rough sleeping has more than doubled in what can only be termed a national disgrace.

Official figures show that homelessness has increased over the last consecutive seven years, with around 4,751 people sleeping outside overnight in 2017.

This homelessness crisis was highlighted tragically when on February 14 a homeless man who was seen frequently at the tube entrance of Westminster died near the Houses of Parliament.

Here in London we see different aspects of the housing crisis in the headlines literally every day.

The truth is that, ever since Margaret Thatcher stopped building council homes for rent, house prices have soared beyond the means of most Londoners and our children and grandchildren are forced to rent homes that cost more than half their take-home pay.

Vast swathes of London are seeing families who have lived here for generations forced to leave the city in a devastating tide of social cleansing.

In the 2000s, as London mayor, I was proud to put my London Plan to use by requiring 50 per cent of the capital’s new homes to be affordable, but then we saw Boris Johnson become mayor and the Con-Dems come in nationally, with Johnson abolishing the 50 per cent target in 2008.

Now that Johnson’s thankfully gone from City Hall and Labour is committed to tackling the housing crisis, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour councils should be encouraged in their work to provide more affordable homes to rent and buy.

The escalating housing crisis is not constrained just to the capital — 2016 figures showed 1.24 million households on council waiting lists in England.

A Shelter report from 2016 revealed that one in five of working parents face the prospect of being immediately unable to pay their next rent or mortgage payment if they lose their job — 8,381 adults, including 1,581 members of working families with children participated in the survey.

Furthermore, 37 per cent would be unable to cover their housing costs for more than one month were they to lose their job and 48 per cent of families named the cost of housing as the biggest drain on their budget.

As the cost-of-living crisis has worsened since these figures were compiled, the deepening housing crisis should not come as a surprise to May.

It has clearly been getting worse for years as the Tory ideologically driven austerity weakened economic growth and deepened the cost-of-living crisis.

Now, with the Tories committed to a permanent cuts agenda, those paying rent and mortgages can expect even tougher times.

In contrast to “too little, too late” from the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn pledged that a Labour government would build a million new homes in five years — half a million of which will be council homes — as part of Labour’s public investment strategy for a better Britain.

Labour in government will also create a dedicated housing ministry to work with local councils and mayors to end insecurity for private renters, secure tenancies and improve private tenants’ rights.

Such an approach will not only tackle the housing crisis but also boost economic growth at this uncertain time for Britain.

First published by the Morning Star.