In the last 24 hours, housing professionals and charities like Shelter and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have joined Labour in responding to the Government’s Green Paper on social housing by asking ‘where exactly is the social housing?’.
After months of consultation and preparation, the best this Government can offer is that those already in social housing can compare their landlord to other landlords. While important, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of doing what needs to be done to start resolving the crisis for the 1.2million people parked on council waiting lists and 1.7million in unaffordable private rental properties – which is to build more council and social homes.
Last year, the number of new social rented homes built fell below 6,000 – the lowest level on record. The housing minister admitted to the Today programme that this number won’t increase next year either. Contrast this with the 50,000 council homes that have been lost to right to buy in the last six years, or the 150,000 homes for social rent that have been lost in the last five years. Meanwhile, the loss of private tenancies is now the main reason for homelessness, with 120,000 children now living in temporary accommodation.
There is an urgent need for the Government to revise its lacklustre approach to social housing. It has had eight years, eight housing ministers and months of consultation to show the country its solutions. Yesterday it published its long awaited Green Paper and managed, remarkably, to commit to absolutely no new homes. No lifting of the borrowing cap to allow councils to get building. No slow down on right to buy. No restoration of funding for social rent. Just more questions, further consultation and kicking an urgent situation into the long grass.
We know we need to build at least 100,000 social rented and other genuinely affordable homes each year to deal with the back log and new demands for homes, a far cry from the fewer than 18,000 built last year.
This is what happens when there is a Government with no ambition, no fresh ideas or drive to resolve a situation that they would rather resolved itself. Eight years of a hands off approach has resulted in a reliance on private developers and housing associations largely building without Government support. It is simply not a sustainable solution.
Labour has taken the lead on the considerable challenges faced in the housing sector and in our own Green Paper ‘Housing for the Many’ we not only committed to building the one million genuinely affordable homes the country needs over the next ten years, but also to ensure that council housing and social housing will be central to meeting the real needs of the people of this country and solving the housing crisis.
Labour will define a new ‘affordable housing’ as linked to local income; stop the sell-off of 50,000 social rented homes a year by suspending the right to buy, back councils and housing associations with new funding, powers and flexibilities to build again at scale and transform the planning system with a new duty to deliver affordable homes.
Labour understands the importance of people’s homes as a foundation stone of their lives. To tackle the scourge of homelessness, support resilient communities and resolve the housing crisis it is only a Labour Government willing to deliver.
Melanie Onn is the Labour MP for Great Grimsby and a shadow housing minister