There is a huge crisis in the UK due to unaffordable housing costs. ‘The affordability crisis is caused by financial policies that aim to keep housing costs high and by a failure to build enough housing.’ (Leeds Tenants Federation)
Defend Council Housing (DCH) has led the fight back against shortage of supply and privatisation for the last 18 years. DCH is recognised as one of the most successful campaign groups over the years in terms of breadth of support - involving cross party MPs, trade unions, housing professionals, academics, tenant federations and tenant and resident groups, trades councils etc. DCH’s basic demands are for:
- A mass programme of new council housing for all who want and need it, making first class council housing a tenure of choice
- A moratorium on further stock transfer, sell offs or Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs)
- Protect existing secure tenancies & low rents
- Stop the robbery – reinvest all rents and receipts into council housing
However, to date, the Tories’ answer to the housing crisis is to cut Housing Benefit, shelve many new-build housing schemes, abandon targets for new affordable housing, and threaten to do away with secure tenancies and uproot families after 5 or 10 years, or when a tenant gets a job.
Take the 2 main Tory proposals:
- Cap HB where rents are high (in the private sector in costly areas)
- Set Local Housing Allowance rates to the lower 30% of rents rather than the median
- Cut HB by 10% for claimants on Job Seekers Allowance after 12 months
Why is the Housing Benefit bill so high? Council, housing association and private rented property rents have soared in the last 20 years. Thatcher starved councils of funds in the 1980s leaving them unable to build new housing. It was then Housing Associations (H.A.s) who were encouraged to build up their housing stock. H.A. rents were inevitably higher than council rents because H.A.s have to borrow from the private sector. Councils were then pressed by central government to ‘converge’ their rents in line with H.A rents. Added to this, are the increasing numbers of people forced to live in the private rented sector, due to the chronic shortage of council housing. Rents are double the cost of an equivalent sized council house.
‘Who...would choose to funnel so much (public money) to private landlords? Public spending has shifted from building homes at reasonable rents to funding private homes at sometimes dizzying levels….Improving the supply of affordable homes is central to any realistic and non- punitive attempt to reduce benefit expenditure, as of course is a strategy of full employment and a living wage.’ Karen Buck, MP for Westminster North
Inside Housing, the housing profession’s weekly journal, has already started a campaign against proposals to cut Housing Benefit They believe that the government’s current plans will risk driving thousands of vulnerable people from their homes and into poverty.
Housing costs are already forcing millions into hardship with Shelter pointing to the 2 million families who already spend 50% of their income on housing costs. Leeds Tenants’ Federation calls for more affordable housing not less Housing Benefit.
On 3 August, Cameron announced a sudden U turn in policy that could see new social tenants (council & HA) lose lifetime security of tenure. He stated that he wanted to see ‘a more flexible system of tenure’.
His comments renege on promises made to tenants in April when he told Inside Housing that the Conservative party would protect and respect future tenants’ rights.
Opposition MPs and charities are warning that social housing faces becoming a tenure of last resort and that tenants are desperately worried about the future of their homes.
Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, has said that this could be the start of the ‘removal of social housing as a tenure entirely’ and that ‘it’s not even the housing of last resort; it’s not really housing at all, it will be temporary accommodation.’
Settled and sustainable communities can only develop where people are able to put down roots, make connections, contribute to local organisations, and benefit the local area and environment. Social problems develop where there is a high turnover of people because of private rented accommodation and short term tenancies.
There is also the issue of Right to Buy –‘ this was Thatcher’s vote winner but it has spooked housing policy ever since, with the Blair/ Brown leadership never daring to challenge this holy cow. ‘ Denis MacShane Rotherham MP. Scotland and Wales are legislating to abolish the Right to Buy on any new build. This is a policy that should be enacted in the rest of the UK.
These recent dangerous Tory proposals have re-activated many local DCH groups. The scale of the potential destructive outcome has also galvanised councillors, academics, charities, housing workers along with tenants. We need to mobilise public opinion before real damage is don to huge numbers of people. Decent affordable housing is key to everyone’s lives.