Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has produced this pamphlet analysing Labour’s Housing Green Paper and proposing some alternatives which we think are necessary to resolve the housing crisis.
Labour’s Housing Green Paper
Labour has published a Housing Green Paper, Housing for the many, which is a kind of draft programme for a Labour government. In the introduction Jeremy Corbyn said that the Green Paper “isn’t our final word, but rather the starting point in a conversation about how to fix our broken housing system, so that it works for the many, not the few. Now over to you…” We should take up the challenge. At the last Labour conference Jeremy spoke about the need for “a radical programme of action” on housing. It’s our contention that the Green Paper is no such programme. In this contribution we suggest the policies which we believe Labour needs to adopt in government if the housing crisis is to be resolved. It concentrates on the issue of council housing which we believe is the key to resolving the crisis.
“We have a housing crisis in this country that can only be solved by local government building more. Labour’s 2017 manifesto promised to build 100,000 council homes to ‘rent or buy’. It called for a ‘pause’ to the right to buy, and to lift the borrowing cap so councils could borrow to build more.
We need to be bolder. Don’t suspend the right to buy, end it. Don’t promise to lift the borrowing cap, cancel the debt.”
Doina Cornell, Leader Stroud Council
There is a gulf between the aspirations of Labour members and supporters in relation to council housing and the Party’s official policy. It appears that many people believe Labour is committed to building 100,000 council homes a year. They base this on speeches of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. However, this is not Labour’s official policy. Initially Shadow Housing Minister John Healey finessed the 100,000 council homes to 100,000 council and housing association homes a year (by the last year of the next Parliament) though with no indication of the balance between the two. Yet a further retreat was to follow. In the General Election Manifesto1 in 2017 Labour’s policy was declared to be 100,000 “affordable homes” homes a year for rent and sale . The Manifesto had just five pages on housing in a 126 page document and only four paragraphs on “council and social tenants”. It did speak of “the biggest council housing programme for 30 years”2. However, with no numbers this was merely a sop to those members and supporters who want a return to large scale council house building programme.
Labour also published an accompanying 20 page document just before the General Election, Labour’s New Deal on Housing. Very few Labour members were aware of it nor have read it. Yet this document made explicit what was implied in the Manifesto. New Deal counter-posed what the next Labour government would do to what the Atlee government did after the war. It stated that
“The post-war Labour government built long term affordable homes to rent, the next Labour government will build affordable homes to rent and buy.”
Labour’s “first housing priority” was said to be “Backing young people on low and medium incomes who want to buy a home of their own…”. Home ownership was, apparently, “part of the Party’s DNA”. To back this historically dubious claim it quoted one sentence in a 50 year old White Paper by the Wilson government which declared that
“The expansion of building for owners occupation…reflects a long term social advance which should gradually pervade every region.”
This was to say the least selective. New Deal conveniently ignored the fact that the Wilson government proposed that 50% of all homes built would be council homes; a target of 250,000 council homes a year out of 500,000 homes overall.
In New Deal council house building is subordinate to promoting home ownership. The policy overall resolutely clings to the corpse of New Labour’s housing philosophy and its worship of home ownership.
Theinadequacy of this housing policywas implicitly recognised when Jeremy Corbyn announced at the last Labour conference that there would be a ‘social housing review’. Unfortunately it wasn’t very widely publicised. There were only 80 submissions to it. As a result of the review Labour published the Green Paper which is the subject of this pamphlet.
Whilst the Green Paper makes some concessions to critics of Labour’s policy, there is no commitment to a specific target for council homes and no obligation on councils to build them. As one Labour council Leader recently suggested there is not much appreciation amongst Labour members and supporters of how little the Party’s housing policy has moved from that of New Labour. Anybody who thinks that Labour is committed to building 100,000 council homes a year will discover, if they read the Green Paper3 this is far from true. We want to encourage all those who believe that Labour’s first housing priority should be a large scale council home building programme to write in to the Green Paper consultation and demand that council housing should be the central means of tackling the housing crisis. A large scale council house building programme should be Labour’s first housing priority.
Martin Wicks, Secretary Swindon Tenants Campaign Group
To read the rest of the pamphlet you can download a PDF here greenpaperpamphlet
1See the Chapter Secure Homes for All in
2Only 16,000 council homes were built in England 30 years ago.