THE BLOG

The Government's Housing Plans Are a Mess

14/04/2016 09:31

On Wednesday, the government was forced into more partial climb-downs - and yet another defeat -in the House of Lords on its half-baked housing plans. This time it was flawed proposals to force councils to sell off local homes to the highest bidders, including buy-to-let landlords and overseas speculators.

Peers from across the House backed Labour's argument that this will lead to a devastating loss of low-cost homes at a time when they've rarely been needed more. Shelter predict 180 000 will be lost across the country over the next five years.

This was only the second day of the latest crunch stage of Housing and Planning Bill, but already Ministers are in a mess. Twice on Monday this week they failed to convince Peers and were defeated by big majorities of nearly 100 votes. Yesterday they were forced to concede again.

For some time, the government have been losing arguments on the Bill. Now they are also losing votes.

The detail of the defeats matters less than the draining confidence - including among Tory Peers, MPs and council leaders - that Cameron and Osborne are making the correct calls on housing. They seem more concerned with political message than good housing policy or a sound long-term plan to fix the housing crisis.

Conservative credibility on housing is shot after six years of failure. Since 2010 home-ownership has fallen - with a third of a million fewer young homeowners - homeless rough sleeping has doubled, private rents have soared, housing benefit costs have ballooned, and during the last parliament fewer new homes were built than under any peacetime government since the 1920s.

The plans in the Housing Bill for this Parliament do little to fix the causes of this failure, and in many areas they will make the problems much worse.

So-called 'starter homes' costing up to £450,000 will be out of reach for families on ordinary incomes, and extreme plans to sell off council homes and end longer tenancies for council tenants will make it so much harder to provide the mix of good homes that the country needs.

The truth is that this Bill is fast becoming a totem of Tory policy misjudgements and political bluster but, above all, incompetence on delivery.

No balanced plan to build more good new homes of all types. Little on home-ownership beyond short-term sweeteners and nothing on new affordable rented homes whatsoever.

Nothing on getting to grips with the causes of policy or market failings over the last six years, so nothing to give people hope that the housing pressures they face will get any easier.

This is the root of the government's problems in parliament yesterday, and this is why they'll face more difficulties in the days to come.

As Labour continues to expose and oppose the worst elements of this Housing Bill, Ministers face losing more votes, But much more damaging is the public losing any confidence that the government is competent to fix this housing crisis.

John Healey is the shadow secretary of state for housing and planning, and Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne

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