Today, Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Housing Minister John Healey pledged a Labour Government would build a million new homes in five years, with at least half a million council homes, as part of Labour’s public investment strategy for a better Britain.
Such an approach is exactly what we need to tackle the housing crisis, boost economic growth and win votes for Labour.
Labour’s alternative in this area could not be more needed – figures from autumn 2016 showed levels of affordable homes for social rent had fallen to the lowest level since records began.
In a different way, the scale of the housing crisis was also starkly highlighted last year when Shelter published research highlighting the fact that millions of working people are struggling to afford sky-high housing costs — a problem that many of us in London know.
Here in the capital, the average house price to earnings ratio for first-time buyers was 3.7 in 1983. By the second quarter of this year it was 10.4.
Since Margaret Thatcher stopped building council homes for rent, house prices have soared beyond the means of most Londoners, and our children and grandchildren are forced to rent homes that cost more than half their take-home pay. Vast swathes of London are seeing families who have lived here for generations forced to leave the city in a devastating tide of social cleansing.
In the 2000s, as London mayor, I was proud to put my London Plan to use by requiring 50 per cent of the capital’s new homes to be affordable. But then we saw Boris Johnson become mayor and the Con-Dems come in at Downing Street.
Now, with Boris thankfully gone from City Hall, Sadiq Khan is introducing some great policies in the area, and having a central Government committed to real action to tackle the housing crisis could also help him and Labour councils in their work to provide more affordable homes to rent and buy.
It’s important to understand that for ideological reasons the Tories are both against greater public sector building and see planning policies that “interfere” in the market negatively. It was therefore no surprise when Johnson abolished this 50 per cent target for affordable housing in 2008.
But in no way is the escalating housing crisis constrained to the capital. To give one illustration, 2016 figures showed 1.24 million households on council waiting lists in England.
The aforementioned Shelter report revealed that a fifth of working parents face the prospect of being immediately unable to pay their next rent or mortgage payment if they lose their job. The survey questioned 8,381 adults, including 1,581 members of working families with children.
Furthermore, 37 per cent would be unable to cover their housing costs for more than one month with no job and 48 per cent of families named the cost of housing as the biggest drain on their budget.
This crisis should not come as a surprise and has been getting worse for years, especially with the Tories total commitment to ideologically-driven austerity. Now, if the Tories get another five years in government there can be little doubt it will get even worse, as illustrated by the content of their much criticised Housing and Planning Act, even if public opposition did have to step back from introducing a “tenant tax” to increase the rent for many social housing tenants to unaffordable levels.
Key policies set to be pursued by Tories when it comes to housing are forcing councils to sell off high-value council dwellings, further reducing stocks of social rented housing, scrapping permanent, secure, social housing tenancies and replacing the planning requirement for social rented units with that for unaffordable starter homes.
As Labour Party Conference put it last year, Tory housing policy “is an exercise in social cleansing, gerrymandering and a threat to all except landlords and developers making money from the housing crisis.”
Labour’ commitment to investment in new genuinely affordable homes today and a new Housing Ministry is another popular set of policy solutions based on Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to investing in our future to create a Better Britain for the many not the few.
With the further announcement today of a plan to create a dedicated housing ministry, it is also clear that a Labour Government would play a lead role in working with local councils and Mayors to end insecurity for private renters, secure tenancies and improve private tenants’ rights.
If you want to solve the housing crisis, we need to make sure June is the end of May.