THE BLOG

The Unaffordable and Unworkable Housing Bill Will Do Absolutely Nothing to Address Britain's Chronic Lack of Affordable Housing

02/11/2015 00:12 GMT | Updated 01/11/2016 09:12 GMT

Of all the back of a fag packet wheezes that Lynton Crosby's war machine coughed up during the dog days of the general election campaign, the Tories' proposals to extend 'Right to Buy' to housing association tenants must rank as one of the most ill-considered. That is why I'm going to call on the Government to think again when we debate the Housing and Planning Bill in the House of Commons later today.

Slapdash legislation; numbers that don't add up; a statist assault on independent housing trusts - from every angle this policy falls short. Add to that a disregard for some of the social impacts and it truly represents British politics at its short-term, headline-chasing worst.

First, the money. Expecting an auction of expensive council homes to compensate housing associations, fund a £1billion Brownfield Regeneration Fund and replace the homes that have been sold is simply not credible. Indeed, the housing charity Shelter has suggested it will rip a staggering £2.45billion black hole in the public finances over the next four years. As sure as night follows day, corners will be cut. And you do not need an excess of cynicism to work out where the axe will fall. The original right to buy scheme saw a massive depletion of our social housing stock. Its successor is certain to do likewise. No wonder Tory mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith is in revolt.

Second, the authoritarianism. There are numerous layers to Britain's housing crisis but I am yet to find anyone who seriously believes the refusal of councils to sell off 'high value' social housing numbers is amongst them. This is another example of aggressive statism from a government that claims to believe in localism. For all the guff about new powers for combined authorities, yet again this is the Treasury telling our communities what to do.

Alas, if only the negative consequences ended there. But as it stands there is also a very real worry this Tory shambles could exacerbate concern about immigration. Government statistics show a significant (and increasing) number of tenancies for social homes are given to people from outside the UK. In Stoke-on-Trent, where my constituency is, the figure stands at well over one in ten for housing association homes - a fact that was highlighted to me recently by the chief executive of a local housing association.

The Government must be sensitive to the potential effects of this. Because even though I believe that Britain is stronger because people from other countries have chosen to come and live and work here, we cannot ignore the fact that public concern about immigration is at an all-time high. And one of the best ways to ease concerns about immigration is to ensure that the British people feel they are being fairly treated. But with huge discounts on housing association properties being offered to people who may have been paying taxes in the UK for just a few years, this Tory policy will only reinforce the already widespread sense of injustice.

Of course, in the long-term, we need to calm fears about immigration by relieving the pressure on public services and rebuilding trust in the fairness of the welfare state. Reintroducing a stronger contributory principle - as called for by the TUC, among others - would certainly help, and in the case of social housing there is a clear case for more public investment. As Labour's shadow housing minister John Healey has shown in his report for the Adam Smith Institute, if we took the long view on housing policy then building 100,000 new council homes could easily pay for itself simply through reducing the housing benefit bill. But with the approaching EU referendum intensifying the focus on immigration, the Government must also be sensitive to the social effects of its policies. At the very least it should reconsider the eligibility criteria for extending right to buy.

But better still it could call the whole thing off. For this unaffordable and unworkable policy will do absolutely nothing to address Britain's chronic lack of affordable housing. And there are far better ways to boost home ownership and give the young and less privileged the peace of mind that comes with a secure home - a goal I fully support. The Tories have already received one well-deserved bloody nose in the last week. If they want to avoid another one, they should junk this policy now.

Tristram Hunt is the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central