Socialist Party
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5 October 2011

Tories plan further destruction of social housing

Paul Kershaw

The Tory conference announcement that they will increase the discount for 'right to buy' council house sales is a cruel trick on people suffering on housing waiting lists and council tenants looking for a way out of council housing.

Its real role, along with the other new housing policies, is the destruction of 'social housing' in Britain.

Unfortunately Ed Miliband used his Labour Party conference speech to state that Labour's opposition to Margaret Thatcher's policy of selling off council housing had been a mistake.

He prepared the political ground for the Tories instead of launching a fight back. He also argued that the unemployed should be disadvantaged in the queue for social housing. This at a time of rising unemployment due to the crisis and Con-Dem policies.

From the 1980s the Thatcher government led the sell-off of council housing to sitting tenants. This depleted the stock of council housing, particularly better quality homes, contributing to the crisis faced today.

It is easy to see why it had a popular response given rising property prices and under-investment in council housing.

But rising house prices were part of a bubble created by capitalist financialisation and the right-wing, neoliberal policies pursued by the Tories and continued under Labour.

Both parties seem to forget that these policies resulted in the financial crash. New homeowners today face falling house prices, falling wages, insecure jobs; and reduced support if they lose their jobs.

Many 'right to buy' owners found themselves in difficulty when they lost jobs or became sick, but the prospects are far worse now.

Along with measures to hand public land to developers on a 'build now pay later' basis, the Con-Dems' approach is aimed at lining the pockets of their friends in the construction industry and in big business.

The government claims that funds raised from discounted sales will be used to replace sold housing with new social housing on a one-for-one basis.

But because of deep cuts to the social housing capital budget the replacement homes will have far higher rents, at up to 80% of the market rate.

They may call this 'affordable' housing but in areas of central London for example, an annual household income of over 50,000 would be required to rent accommodation built on this basis if the residents were not able to claim any housing benefit.

Many of those who can claim some housing benefit would also not be able to afford this housing, as the benefit is often insufficient.

The government claims these measures will result in 200,000 new homes and 400,000 new jobs.

Tellingly, the Financial Times supports the policies because they will help builders' profits but says that the figures are "optimistic verging on the farfetched". If you are on a housing waiting list you might use stronger language!

With rocketing rents in the private sector we need the reintroduction of rent controls, and the new housing benefit caps must be scrapped, but Labour doesn't call for this and actually had its own plans for harsher benefit caps when in government.

We also need a massive programme to build truly affordable public housing. Working class organisations such as trade unions and anti-cuts campaigns will have to fight for this, understanding that Labour has placed itself on the other side.