Labour Campaign for Council Housing AGM: campaigning for policies that can resolve the housing crisis

Without ending the disastrous Right to Buy policy and funding a large scale social rent council house building programme, a Labour government will not resolve the acute housing crisis

Our campaign’s AGM will take place by zoom on February 4th at 2 p.m. We will be discussing what Labour’s housing policies are, what we want them to be, and setting priorities for our work over the next year. We will also have guest speakers Peter Apps and Emma Dent Coad (see below).

On TV recently Lisa Nandy said that she agreed with Michael Gove that Right to Buy was “sustainable” if homes sold were replaced “like for like”. She said Labour agreed with the “principle” of RTB. This stands in contradiction with the decisions of the 2019 and the 2021 Labour conferences. They voted overwhelmingly to end it. So our campaign around the statement calling on Labour to commit to ending RTB is key to mobilising support in the Party and the trades unions to implement that policy. Given the likelihood of funding being provided on a parsimonious scale by Rachel Reeves, the advantage of ending RTB is that it is cost-free. It would stop the loss of homes and mean for the first time since 1980 that new council building would increase the available stock instead of councils trying (and failing) to keep up with the number of homes lost from RTB.

Shadow Housing Minister Matthew Pennycook has said that Labour will stick to the 100,000 target for new building, but not all the funding will come from the government. Where will it come from then? Here’s where the talk of ‘partnership’ with business raises alarm bells. We saw ‘partnership’ under New Labour with the disastrous, and expensive, PFI policy.

Could they be thinking of promoting the local authority private building companies which have sprung up? Some of them have collapsed, in the case of Labour Croydon, dragging the authority down with it. Where these companies do build new homes, usually private funding means that they do not provide ‘social rent’ homes, and the scale of building is puny.

We want a commitment to build at least 100,000 social rent council homes. That will only happen with government grant rather than more expensive private borrowing. With Keir Starmer saying that a Labour government won’t be “getting out the cheque book” we will have to fight for the funding required to build beyond a small scale.

However, it’s now clear that the Labour leadership’s first housing priority is home ownership. At the September conference Keir Starmer announced a target of 70% home ownership. It would be funded, apparently, by a ‘mortgage guarantee scheme’. Lisa Nandy referred to it as a ‘government backed mortgage’. Recently on ‘twitter’ Lisa Nandy posted a video which focused on ‘helping people onto the housing ladder’.

Based on the tenure breakdown in March 2021 reaching the 70% mark would require more than 1.5 million houses extra homes for sale. At the conference Lisa Nandy pledged that Labour would turn ‘social housing’ into the second largest tenure. That would require 800,000 more ‘social’ homes just to catch up with the 5 million private rented sector.

Insofar as these two commitments constitute a policy it doesn’t add up. Are they going to fund more than 2.3 million homes? It is unfeasible. The more funding that goes to mortgages the less will be available for council housing.

In campaigning for council housing we have to strive to improve the standard of existing homes and living conditions of tenants. The scandal of some councils and housing associations allowing tenants to live in conditions unfit for human habitation (e.g. Croydon and Rochdale) has been highlighted in the media. The death of Awaab Ishak has shown the deadly consequences of damp and mould. Landlords are beginning to address this problem under threat of being highlighted by the Ombudsman and legal action. But resolving the problem in non-traditional stock will often require external wall insulation.

Whilst this issue has to be addressed immediately, the best means of improving the quality of homes and the living conditions of tenants will be retro-fitting of all council housing, including the replacement of gas boilers with non-carbon heating. Although some councils are carrying out work retro-fitting existing stock it is on a very small scale. Unless Labour commits to funding the retro-fitting of all council housing it will simply not happen.

In the light of the turn away from the policy decisions of 2019 and 2021, in the run-up to this year’s conference there needs to collaboration between organisations, including the trades unions, to try to ensure that housing makes it through the priorities ballot, and get’s on the agenda of the conference (which it failed to do last year). This would at least give us the chance to reaffirm the policies of 2019 and 2021.

The trades unions will play a key role in the Manifesto process. In 2019 the FBU convinced the trade unions to support our demand for cancellation of council housing ‘debt’. Whilst John Healey did not agree with this he did make the concession of a review of the debt. This underlines the clout they have if they use it. We will be writing to all the affiliated unions to stress the need to defend the policy decisions of 2019 and 2021.

Without a return to large scale social rent council house building programme and ending the disastrous Right to Buy, a Labour government will be unable to resolve the acute housing crisis.

Guest Speakers

As well as discussing these issues our AGM has two guest speakers.

  • Peter Apps (Deputy Editor Inside Housing) who has written the brilliant book, Show me the bodies – how we let Grenfell happen. Peter has carried out a forensic examination of the deregulation and privatisation which created the conditions in which a fire like Grenfell was inevitable. His book shows the culpability which New Labour shared with the Tories for Grenfell.
  • Emma Dent Coad (Labour Group Leader of Kensington & Chelsea Council, and MP there from 2017 to 2019). Emma has written One Kensington, Tales from the frontline of the most unequal borough in Britain. She was recently excluded, on spurious grounds, from the list of potential candidates for the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the seat she was elected to in 2017. The Grenfell Tower fire occurred shortly after she was elected as MP. She is a staunch campaigner for the local community and the Grenfell survivors.

Are you attending?

Members and those on our email list will automatically receive a link to our zoom meeting. If you are neither of those but would like to attend email us at labourcouncilhousingcampaign@gmail.com and we will send you the zoom link.

Become a member

Even better why not come along as a member? Individual membership is just £5. You can find details of how to join here: membership-form-1.pdf (wordpress.com)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s