To end this housing crisis, Labour must adopt more radical policies

Labour conference marked a significant moment in the campaign to put council housing back at the heart of our party’s housing policy. Delegates voted unanimously in favour of a housing motion that includes all three policy recommendations that have been proposed by the Labour Campaign for Council Housing (LCCH):

  • Building 155,000 social rent homes per year, with at least 100,000 of these being council owned social rent homes (with immediate effect when in government). 
  • Pledging £10 billion for a housing grant per year, ring-fenced to build the homes (from an estimated cost of £100,000 per home). 
  • An end to Right-to-Buy. 

This motion puts Labour on the path to presenting the electorate with the most ambitious housing policy by any major party in the last thirty years. 

In the post-war era, both Labour and Conservative governments embraced an approach of serious investment in councils, enabling them to pursue large-scale house building programmes. Social homes were let at social rents, to ensure that housing was affordable for all, and tenancies were guaranteed for life, to provide security for tenants. Between 1946 and 1980, governments built an average of 125,861 social rented homes per year.

This all changed when Margaret Thatcher came to power. Instead of investing in council homes, the government chose to direct money to housing associations and to subsidising private landlords through housing benefit. 

Subsequent governments have failed to reverse this policy resulting in an average of just 27,209 social rented homes being built per year (1981-2017). Last year, council building fell to a post-war low of just 2,640 social rented homes. Alongside this, the disastrous Right-to-Buy policy has seen the sale of over two million council homes. Together, this has resulted in a severe lack of truly affordable housing. 

However, a Labour government can end this housing crisis. A recent report by Shelter, ‘A Vision for Social Housing’, has concluded that 3.1 million social homes (over 20 years) are needed to reverse the housing crisis. That is an average of 155,000 homes per year. 

Despite this, Labour’s current policy is only committed to building little over 15,000 council homes per year. Other ‘genuinely affordable’ homes will be for living rent or low-cost ownership – not social rent – and therefore unaffordable for those in the greatest housing need. To provide this, a national housing grant of £4bn per year has been promised – similar to what the current Conservative government is offering. This grant would not be ring-fenced for social rented council homes. The party also has not committed to ending right-to-buy, only to suspend it. 

Consequently, while Labour’s housing policy would provide the biggest council house building programme in almost 40 years, it still does not go far enough to address the current housing crisis effectively. It is also far from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign promise of building 100,000 council houses per year. The Labour Campaign for Council Housing, together with members, is helping to translate Jeremy’s ideas into party policy and to push Labour into rediscovering its radical roots when it comes to housing policy.

The housing motion passed at conference shows there is a will among members to put council housing back at the heart of Labour’s housing policy, but this is just the first step. Members cannot afford to be complacent. We’ve seen the leadership already dismiss other conference motions and there is reason to suspect that there will be similar opposition to our housing policies. In the compositing meeting for the housing motion, the shadow housing team were strongly opposed to including the yearly £10bn grant and have since been suggesting that this amount of investment is unrealistic.

We believe that John Healey and the shadow housing team should make an announcement formally adopting our policies at the earliest opportunity. With a general election imminent, it is crucial that the party formally adopts our policy recommendations. In this regard, the Labour Campaign for Council Housing will continue to campaign to see the policies passed at conference included in the Labour Party manifesto. 

Please encourage your CLP to pass our motion calling on the party to include our proposals in any future manifesto. Ask your Labour councillors, mayors and MPs to publicly support our campaign – because ending the housing crisis will rest on it.

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