27/01/2012 06:55 GMT | Updated 28/03/2012 06:12 BST

Getting Housing Growing Again

Earlier this month, Grant Shapps announced for the third time that the Government was intending to make the sub-letting of council homes a criminal offence.

Labour's position on this is clear. The subletting of council homes for financial gain prevents those in real need from getting a home and should be stopped. Labour is committed to ending this abuse and before the 2010 election we set out plans to make the unlawful subletting of social homes a criminal offence.

Rather than re-announcing it, I just wish the government would get on with it. But this pattern of re-announcing the same policy is nothing new. I've lost count of the number of times the same pot of money for empty homes has been re-announced or the government's initiative on public land.

It is true that some of the government's ideas have some merit but instead of implementing a real housing strategy that will tackle the growing housing crisis, they have taken to re-announcing the same few policies over and over again in the hope that people will be fooled into thinking that they amount to a serious strategy. But nobody is fooled.

This month, the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, accused housing providers in the social sector of a lazy consensus. And he's right, there is a lazy consensus on housing.

But it's not in the housing sector, it's in government. And the consensus is that housing doesn't matter and Grant Shapps is failing to convince his fellow ministers, the Cabinet, and the prime minister otherwise.

It is clear that housing is simply not central to the government's thinking. The pace of the spending cuts and tax rises, including those to housing have choked off our recovery, shrinking the economy and pushing up unemployment. And while the economy shrank by 0.2% yesterday, the construction sector was hit harder, shrinking by 0.5%.

Unlike the government we have a plan to kickstart the economy. And because we recognise the importance of housing to the economy, house building and the housing and construction sectors are a key part of that plan.

It includes a 5% VAT rate on home improvements, a NI tax break for SMEs taking on workers, a repeat of our bankers' bonus tax to help 100,000 young people to find work and build 25,000 affordable homes and bringing forward long-term capital investment, which would help get the economy, house building and the construction industry growing again.

But this is just the start and in the long term a serious housing strategy will be required to tackle the growing housing crisis. And this points to the need for all those who care about housing to win the argument for it. To ensure it is given the centrality it deserves.

Housing impacts on a whole host of areas. The economy, health, education, families, crime, anti-social behaviour, and community cohesion.

Construction accounts for 3% of GDP, generates £91 billion of economic output (2008) and accounts for over 1.5 million jobs. For every £1 of public money spent on house-building, studies have shown the economy gets £3.50 back.

As housing directly affects the economy so it does to health. The annual costs to health of poor housing have been estimated at £2.5 billion.

So within that context we're looking at what policies will make a real difference to the housing crisis. Everyone can see that the government's approach is failing. The New Homes Bonus isn't delivering. The Affordable Rent model is anything but.

Over the course of 2012, together with all those who want to get Britain building, I'll be working to put housing centre stage and setting out how we answer the fundamental question of how we meet housing need when there is less money to spend.

Housing matters, a decent home with security at a price you can afford.