THE BLOG

You Can't Trust the Tories When It Comes to Affordable Housing

08/12/2015 16:02 GMT | Updated 08/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Britain's cost of housing crisis means that for too many families and young people on ordinary incomes, a decent and stable home is simply beyond their means. This isn't a natural disaster. Housing is, as the ex head of the civil service Lord Bob Kerslake has said, "the biggest public policy failure of the past 50 years".

There was a time when Conservative politicians were committed to doing something about it.

Under Harold Macmillan, the Conservatives averaged over 100,000 publicly built homes a year.

Even under Margaret Thatcher, significant public funding was available for building affordable homes, and she re-affirmed the long-standing duty on private developers to do their bit to build low cost homes too.

But this Conservative government has torn up the idea that we should build houses to cater for all needs, and with it any hope of solving the cost of housing crisis.

They cut public housing investment by 60% after 2010, introduced a Housing and Planning Bill that undermines the obligation of private developers to build low cost homes, and in the spending review statement two weeks ago tore up a cross party consensus stretching back to the 1919 'Addison Act' that affordable rented homes should be part of the housing mix alongside homes for sale.

Now, to hide their failure, in a new proposal published yesterday the government are seeking to rebrand 'affordable housing' to include homes for near-market sale at up to £450,000. From now on they want this to be the official definition, and source of new government statistics. It's designed to deceive the public, and allow Ministers to trot out figures on the number of affordable homes divorced from any reference to ordinary household budgets.

The truth is that in the areas where housing costs are most acute and where low cost homes are therefore needed most, these near-market 'starter homes' will simply be unaffordable, requiring annual incomes of up to £100,000. What's more, the initial discount is lost after five years at which point starter homes revert to full market price.

It's why Labour is seeking to amend the Housing Bill to make starter homes more accessible to ordinary first time buyers, and to preserve the discount for the next wave of aspiring home owners.

But we also need to take on the Tories' extreme view there should be no public responsibility for ensuring a genuine mix of housing in our communities.

In the last years of our time in government, Labour put in the biggest public investment programme in a generation into affordable homes to rent and buy.

The Tories' slashed that back, which is why the number of low-cost homes to buy have fallen by 28% since 2010 and the number of homes for social rent fell to their lowest level in over twenty years.

Now the challenge is to resist the further huge loss of much-needed affordable homes, and the Tories disguising it by re-branding homes as 'affordable' when for many people they are simply not.

So if you're a young person, or a parent or grandparent and you think we need to build more affordable homes to rent and buy, and that homes of up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 outside it are simply not affordable for you and people in your area, why don't you let the government know - planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk?

John Healey is Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne, and the shadow minister for housing and planning