Labour should pressure the government to make a U-turn on council house funding

The Labour Campaign for Council Housing is asking Constituency Labour Parties to write to Labour’s Leader and Deputy Leader calling on them to demand that the government funds a new council house building programme now, as a matter of urgency. Can you also ask your Labour MP to contact the leadership to press them on this.

The election of the Tory government obviously meant that the radicalised housing policy of the last Labour conference and the Manifesto could not be implemented directly. However, we cannot passively sit back and wait for the next general election, in the hope that Labour is elected. The acute housing crisis which has been in large part the result of right to buy and failure to build new council homes, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has shown the dire health consequences of over-crowding and poor quality housing.

Although the moratorium on evictions has been extended for a month, when it ends it is likely to lead to a spike in them. Local authorities have a homelessness duty but have insufficient resources to handle a big increase in the number of people for whom they have a legal duty. They have a fixed sum of money to spend on placing homeless people in temporary accommodation rather than money for each case as under the previous system. The shortage of available council housing means that councils have no choice but to put people into temporary private accommodation, at great expense. During the first quarter of this year there were 93,000 households in temporary accommodation.

Worryingly we have heard of possibilities of Labour’s new leadership rowing back on housing policy. For instance Thangam Debonnaire suggested that Labour might call for 100% receipts for RTB sales rather than ending them. There is no mandate for such a change of policy. It is important than members oppose any watering down of Labour’s policies.

Resolving this crisis cannot await the election of a Labour government. It is critical for the Labour Party to make demands on the government to address the housing crisis now and to build pressure on them. This is more so the case in the current situation since events have driven the government to do things which it would never have considered a few months ago. Even a 22 year old footballer has managed to force the government to U-turn in relation to school meals in the summer. We need to work for a U-turn on funding existing council housing and new build.

In a letter the Labour Campaign for Council Housing sent to Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner (Local government’s existential crisis) we wrote:

“…we think that Labour should demand of the Tories now, what it committed to in its Manifesto, that they should provide £10 billion a year grant for new building of social rent council housing. This will not only address the housing crisis but will put back to work people thrown out of work as a result of the pandemic and the lock-down.”

Even the LGA with a Tory majority recognises that the housing crisis cannot be resolved without a large scale council house building programme. David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association and Conservative leader of Swindon Council, recently said:

“Housing must be a central part of the national recovery from coronavirus. Now is the time for a genuine renaissance in council housebuilding that reduces homelessness, gets rough sleepers off the streets for good, supports people’s well-being and is climate-friendly.”

Labour’s role is surely not just to criticise the government and await a future general election. It should be mobilising its supporters, the trades unions and tenant organisations, to demand the government

  • invests £10 billion a year in grant for building 100,000 new social rent council homes annually, and
  • ends Right to Buy to stop the decline of stock numbers (there are less than 1.6 million council homes left in England).

We say social rent because Labour was committed to ending “affordable rent”. Although some grant from Homes England is now available for building social rent council homes, they comprise only 5% of “affordable homes” built.

The Labour Manifesto also included a commitment to review council housing debt. We called on Labour to cancel that debt which is bogus, the result of financial manipulation by the Treasury, which has long fleeced tenants. This would give council Housing Revenue Accounts at least an extra £1.25 billion a year towards the maintenance and renewal of their existing stock. It will help out with the backlog of work which has built up during the pandemic. Labour should be demanding that the government do this.

In relation to the private sector Labour should be demanding not just a continuation of the moratorium on evictions but an end to Section 21 evictions which the government had previously committed to ending. The government says it will end section 21 evictions after the pandemic. We need them to end now. There should also be an end to mandatory possession (if tenants are 8 weeks in arrears a magistrate has to grant possession to a landlord) in Section 8 cases.

The quality of housing is also a key issue. Only one in five homes built under ‘permitted development’ are in line with national size standards. They are building new slums with appalling living conditions. New council housing should be built to Passivhaus standards as some Labour councils have already built, both for environmental reasons and because it provides the best quality for tenants and much lower heating costs.

The Labour Campaign for Council Housing is asking CLPs, MPs, councillors, trades unions and tenant groups to write to the Labour Leader and Deputy Leader asking them, as a matter of urgency, to campaign to pressure the government to provide adequate funding both for existing council housing and to build on a large scale new, high quality council housing, without which the acute housing crisis will not be resolved.

The current crisis provides us with possibilities that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. But the government will not be shifted by Parliamentary tactics and verbal criticism. It requires a campaigning movement which connects up with the needs of millions whose lives are going to be disrupted even further by the pandemic, as mass unemployment rises.

Please email them and copy us in. Indicate you are contacting them in their capacity as Leader and Deputy Leader. If you receive a response we would be grateful if you could forward it to us. See the model letter below which you can use if you wish, or, of course, you can do your own text.

keir.starmer.mp@parliament.uk

angela.rayner.mp@parliament.uk

MODEL LETTER

Labour should pressure the government to make a U-turn on council house funding

You can download a PDF of the model letter here

Dear Keir and Angela

The loss of the general election obviously meant that Labour could not implement its housing policy directly. However, we cannot just criticise the Tory government and passively wait for the next general election. The pandemic has underlined the scale of the housing crisis and the consequences of over-crowded and poor accommodation.

The current crisis provides us with possibilities that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. Under the impact of events the government has executed a series of U-turns including the moratorium on evictions. But it will not be shifted by Parliamentary tactics and verbal criticism. It requires a campaigning movement which connects up with the needs of millions whose lives are going to be disrupted even further by the pandemic, the end of the moratorium, and fast increasing job losses. We believe that Labour should demand of the government what we committed to at our last conference and in the Manifesto:

  • £10 billion annual grant to fund building 100,000 social rent council homes a year, and
  • Ending Right to Buy to stem the loss of council homes (there are less than 1.6 million council homes left in England).

The Labour Manifesto also included a commitment to review council housing debt. We called on Labour to cancel that debt which is bogus. Tenants have paid more in rent than the historic costs of borrowing for building programmes. Cancellation would give Housing Revenue Accounts at least an extra £1.25 billion a year towards the maintenance and renewal of their existing stock. It will help out with the backlog of work which has built up during the pandemic. Labour should be demanding that the government cancel this bogus debt.

There is a growing consensus on the need for the government to focus on funding social rent homes. The House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government committee says that “A social housebuilding programme should be top of the Government’s agenda to rebuild the country from the impact of COVID-19.” It has called for £10 billion annual grant to fund 90,000 social rent homes a year. Even the Tory dominated LGA has called for a renaissance of large scale council house building.

“Housing must be a central part of the national recovery from coronavirus. Now is the time for a genuine renaissance in council housebuilding that reduces homelessness, gets rough sleepers off the streets for good, supports people’s well-being and is climate-friendly.”

If Labour organises a campaign which brings together all those organisations that recognise the need for a large scale council building programme, including the growing tenants movement, it is possible that we can force the government to make a U-turn on funding for existing council housing and new build.

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