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Tories' £5bn for housing not enough
For a socialist plan of mass council home building
Suzanne Beishon, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
The Tory party conference made its play for our support by appearing to announce £5 billion for a mass house building programme. They gleefully pledged they will be the party to alleviate the huge burden of crippling housing costs on working people.
Chancellor Philip Hammond's speech even seemed to indicate a break from some of Osborne's austerity measures, splashing public cash for the greater good of trying to "solve the housing crisis".
But don't be fooled into thinking this vicious Tory government has suddenly softened up. Far from it.
It is still the same government that last year decided to opt out of legislation stipulating rental properties should be "fit for human habitation". It is still in the same parliament filled with landlord MPs - including 128 Tories, and 50 Labour MPs - who feast off renters to supplement their generous salaries.
So what does this new scheme really mean?
Of the newly pledged money, £2 billion will go on an 'accelerated construction scheme' to free up land for up to 15,000 new homes by 2020. The other £3 billion will go to the 'home building fund' to stimulate 25,000 more in the same timeframe, as part of a long-term plan for 200,000 homes.
The current council house waiting list in England alone is 1.24 million. That doesn't include people not allowed onto the list, and those who despair at even trying. 200,000 mostly private homes will not scratch the surface.
Social housing campaign Shout calculates that building just 100,000 social homes a year would save nearly a trillion pounds in housing benefit in little more than a generation, as well as guaranteeing more safe and secure homes. But the need is greater even than that.
It is only a socialist mass house building plan that is capable of solving the crisis. One that takes the wealth off the super-rich 1% - and uses it democratically to provide secure, affordable homes for all.
Minimum space standards
We were offered a hint of the much darker subtext of Tory plans when Housing Minister Gavin Barwell exclaimed he wanted the private sector to "innovate". But Barwell's unique innovation is that rules on minimum space standards - already the smallest in Europe - should be relaxed. So young people can afford to plunge their meagre savings - if they exist - on uninhabitable boxes.
Barwell even boldly attacked Jeremy Corbyn's pledge to build half a million council houses as being "the denial of people's ambitions and dreams"! He claimed, bizarrely, that it would increase inequality and "widen the divide in society".
These are just slurs aimed at undermining the idea that good quality social housing is a respectable place to live.
The Tories' plans mean developers are made to feel comfortable, building a paltry 40,000 homes over four years, safe in the knowledge the government will shell out for properties that don't sell. Meanwhile, the real and immediate problems of high house prices and soaring rents go untouched.
The government still ignores calls for rent controls. It refuses to block speculators snapping up properties - three in four new builds have gone to foreign investors in recent years. It allows empty homes to keep prices high, and takes no action against overcrowding, slum landlords and more.
It is still the same government that puts the welfare of ordinary people behind the profits of the super-rich. Because ultimately, that's not where Tory interests lie.
They don't lie with ordinary people trapped in a spiralling rental market that means they will likely never be able to afford to save a penny towards a deposit or feel secure in their homes. They lie with big businesses and banks that look to profit from desperate first-time buyers. They lie with landlords excitedly snatching up these new builds to enhance their lucrative rental portfolios.
Kick out the Tories and the Blairite shadows, acting for the big landlords and business owners. Build a party for the 99%.
In The Socialist 12 October 2016:
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