This week Vince Cable warned of “inequalities caused by the housing crisis”, fueled by government policies like Help to Buy and Right to Buy. Yes that’s right, fueled by government policies. His government’s policies. The policies of the government which he is a part of.
If attacking the inequality caused by your own government seems a bit ridiculous (as the Lib Dem’s own former press spokesman recently said “if the Lib Dem’s didn’t exist, who would invent them?”) , talking about ways to tackle the UK’s housing crisis makes perfect sense. For many voters housing is a key issue for next year’s general election.
Labour’s National Policy Forum in Milton Keynes agreed some really strong policies on housing. This included a commitment to building at least 200,000 homes a year, a commitment to replace each council house sold under Right to Buy by with a new council house in the same local area, removing Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap for councils, stopping retaliatory evictions and reinforcing tenants’ rights in the private rented sector.
We all know the story. For parts of the UK experiencing the housing crisis most acutely, a combination of high private rents and high house prices mean owning a home seems like an impossible dream many young people are giving up on. Meanwhile those unable to buy, or access affordable social housing, have little choice but to rent privately. Some private landlords are good. Others are not so great. The same goes for letting agents.
The current government has shown little interest in regulating the private rented sector. In contrast, Labour have a range plans to make the private rented sector work better for tenants.
It is hard to emphasis enough how important it is that Labour now gets the importance of sorting out the private rented sector. For too long mainstream politics neglected the issues faced by transient communities of predominately young people in the private rented sector (particularly as they did not always vote in elections).
As a founding member of a local private tenants association, we were constantly asked by potential funders and other voluntary sector organisations “if you can’t afford to live in the area, why don’t you just move somewhere cheaper? Why does it matter that you can’t afford to live here anymore?”
I am from the place where the term “gentrification” was first coined. Parts of Islington today are totally unrecognisable from the borough I grew up in. These days of course the same goes for most of central London, as well as many other parts of the UK.
There is nothing wrong with an area improving – quite the opposite. It is a good thing for an area to become a nicer place for its residents to live. In local government Labour continuously works to make life better for our local communities.
The problem with gentrification, however, is that it displaces people, forcing one group out to make way for another, more affluent group. This can be very corrosive and can significantly contribute to a range of complex social problems.
The NPF commitment to replace homes sold under Right to Buy with new council houses in the same local area is an important recognition that Britain doesn’t just need brand new garden cities. When we are building those hundreds of thousands of new homes, we need to make sure we are building them where people want to live. We need to be building some of the new homes in areas where long-term residents are being priced out. By doing this we will strengthen our communities and keep families and support-networks together.
Of course every local area has a different housing need. Various housing initiatives should match the requirements of their local communities. The key thing is that Labour now gets it on housing. We have policies that can positively and dramatically transform our communities. All we need to do is win next year’s general election and get on with it.
This blog first appeared on Labourlist.