Build council homes

Carol Hayton from the Labour Campaign for Council Housing reminds readers of the Labour Briefing collective why we still need to organise within the Labour Party to ensure we get the radical housing policies the Country needs. The article invites all Labour Party members who agree that council housing must be at the heart of Labour’s campaigns and policies, to join us.

We have a housing crisis, a health crisis and an economic crisis; surely now politicians should understand why we need to build more council houses.

Just over a century ago, legislation was passed that made housing a national responsibility and gave local authorities the task of building rented homes for working people. The founding principle of this legislation was the inability of the private rented sector, with its notoriously poor quality housing, to adequately provide for all those in need of decent, rented accommodation. State intervention, therefore, took place with the objective of ensuring that good quality, affordable housing was available to every citizen.

Contrast this with the approach of successive governments in more recent times, up to and including the current Tory administration. These have sought to marginalise the role of council housing in meeting housing needs and to rely more on the private rented sector and housing associations to provide homes for those unable to buy. The dramatic slump in the supply of new council housing, combined with the sell-off of existing stock, has been a significant contributory factor in the housing crisis which has seen house prices and rents in the private sector soar well beyond the means of many working people. The housing association sector has failed to make up the deficit in the supply of affordable housing and is increasingly focussed on building homes at unaffordable and ‘intermediate’ rents or for private sale. The lack of availability of council housing has resulted in an increase in the numbers of households living in poor quality, unaffordable, private rented accommodation that lacks the security of tenure around which they can build their lives. A situation not unlike that which provided the catalyst for government action in 1919, but, in contrast to 1919, there has, in recent times, been an appalling lack of political will as far as addressing the nation’s housing problems is concerned.

There has been no lack of desire amongst Labour Party members to see action taken to resolve these problems. For years the demand for a council house building programme of scale has been put forward by members and Party units, but our central policy and campaign agenda has been slow to respond. So in 2019, 100 years after the Addison Act was passed, The Labour Campaign for Council Housing was established. The campaign was set up by a group of Labour Party activists who believe that radical action needs to be taken to resolve the current crisis of affordability and to deliver decent rented housing. We saw the election of a Labour government with a radical policy programme as the means to deliver real change. We campaigned hard to ensure that the manifesto had a strong and appropriate message on housing. With help and support from all sections of the Party we achieved that objective and finally saw a real commitment in our 2019 manifesto to deliver council housing of the quality and scale we needed.

Unfortunately, Labour did not win the 2019 election, so the urgent action needed and promised by our manifesto can not be directly taken by a Labour government. That urgent action is, nevertheless, still very much needed as has been clearly demonstrated by the Coronavirus epidemic. The struggle that so many households have to maintain a decent roof over their head in the face of unmanageable housing costs has been exacerbated by reductions in house-hold incomes, brought about by waves of redundancies or reduced working hours. The detrimental impact on the health and well being of those living in overcrowded homes has worsened as so many households in these conditions are unable to effectively protect themselves from the virus. And yet the Government is offering nothing to improve the circumstances of those suffering these difficulties. As far as Labour in opposition is concerned, there is little clarity about the level of commitment there is to the progressive policies on housing contained in our manifesto.

Council Housing must have a central role in the resolution of the current housing, economic and health crises. We are, therefore, continuing to lobby the Labour Party at local and national level to ensure that council housing has that role in our policy making and campaigning. If ensuring that everyone has access to a decent , affordable home appropriate to their needs is as important to you as it is to us, please visit our Facebook page and website, support our campaign actions and share our messages. You can the join the campaign by contacting me at carolhayton@btinternet.com or labourcouncilhousingcampaign@gmail.com

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