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It’s hard to over exaggerate the housing crisis in Britain, which has deepened so sharply since the Conservatives came back to Government in 2010.
The Tories’ record here is one of failure across the board, from falling home-ownership, to a lack of rights of private renters faced with rising costs, to rising homelessness.
As Jeremy Corbyn has put it, “Britain faces a housing crisis, with runaway rents and unaffordable housing. The system is rigged, with housing treated as an investment for the few, not homes for the many.” Furthermore, with the Tories’ permanent austerity, growing economic insecurity means that those paying rent and mortgages can expect even tougher times.
One stark illustration off this is the homelessness crisis, which the fifth richest country in the world should be deeply ashamed of.
Under the Tories, child homelessness is up 71% and according to the DCLG we have seen a 43% increase in homelessness as a whole.
In a staggering statistic, rough sleeping has double since 2010.
The biggest cause of homelessness is the ending of short hold tenancy, yet the Tories have cut housing benefits for 18- to 21-year-olds, which the Charity Crisis has warned could have ‘disastrous consequences,’ as “for many young people, the support they receive through the benefits system to pay their rent is the safety net that stops them from becoming homeless.”
This is the sharp end of a broken housing system which needs fixing across the board.
The fact of the matter is that today, if you want to rent or buy a home – which many people can’t do as illustrated by the 400,000 increase in the number of 20 to 34 years olds who aren’t moving out of their family home – things have got more and more difficult, with affordable house-building at a 24-year low under Tory Government.
In terms of owning a home, there are 200,000 fewer home owners since 2010 and costs have rocketed in many places. To give just one example, the average house price to earnings ratio for first-time buyers in London was 3.7 in 1983. By 2016, this had become 10.4.
The number of homes being built for social rent now at the lowest level since records began, and, in terms of private rents, these have gone up £2,208 a year in a situation where the number of families renting from a private landlord has soared since 2010.
And this week we found out £800 million a month (£9.6 billion a year) in rent is going to bad landlords in England, covering 1.3 million private rented properties which the government classes as ‘non-decent.’ These are now home to 400,000 families with children.
Furthermore, research by Shelter in 2014 found that six in ten renters (61%) have experienced at least one of the following problems over the last 12 months: damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestations and gas leaks.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the Tories take so little action in this area as one third of their MPs are currently landlords.
In contrast to the Tories, who have weakened key legislation in this area and even voted down efforts to ensure that private rented homes were simply fit for human habitation, Labour has hit the ground running in the General Election campaign in the last week in this area.
This week we saw Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Housing Minister John Healey pledge that under a Labour government there would be a ‘consumer rights revolution’ for renters, starting by introducing tougher legal minimum standards for all private rented homes, empowering renters to call time on bad landlords who are letting out dangerous or sub-standard homes.
Specifically, a Labour government would consult with landlords and relevant professionals on new legal minimum standards to ensure properties are ‘fit for human habitation’ on specified criteria such as safe wiring and appliances, freedom from serious damp and vermin infestation, appropriate water and sewage facilities, appropriate facilities for the preparation and cooking of food and general good repair.
This will be backed up by new powers for councils to license landlords and tough fines for those who flout the rules.
In addition to this proposal for a consumer rights revolution for renters, last week Labour announced an ambitious programme to tackle one of the key reasons behind the housing crisis, namely that enough homes – and especially affordable homes – aren’t being built.
Under the Tories house-building has fallen to its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s, and the latest statistics from the Department of Communities and Local Government show that house building is falling, with just 140,660 new homes built in 2016, compared to 142,600 the year before.
Problems that the Tories have failed to get to grip with in this area include that there are not enough local authorities (especially Tory ones) planning for the homes they need; house building that is simply too slow; and a construction industry that is too reliant on a small number of big players.
In contrast to this, Labour have outlined plans to build a million homes, at least half of them council homes.
These specific commitments in terms of private renters’ rights and house building come alongside a commitment to create a dedicated Housing Ministry, showing how Labour will put tackling the housing crisis at the forefront of its priorities.
In the words of John Healey this will “deal with the extent of the crisis we face, capable of making sure that the rest of Whitehall, where needed, does what is required to support a big push, not just to improve the level of new house building, [but] the range of new houses and the standards and across the piece the experience of what it’s like trying to get somewhere affordable to rent or buy these days.”
These proposals are both radical and credible, not only would they help us all have a decent home, but they would boost economic growth and help us ensure a fairer society. In housing, as in so many other areas, you can only trust Labour to act in the interests of the many not the few.
- Matt Willgress is the National Organiser of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity. You can follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LabourAssembly and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/labourassembly.againstausterity/