What will Labour do about Housing? It was difficult to get a word in edgeways when possible labour policies for housing were discussed at a South East region policy forum on 18th March. Eager participation from Sussex party members with backgrounds in planning, social work, trade unions and as councillors meant that there was an impressive depth of knowledge behind the discussion.
Almost universally we agreed that the “right to buy” should be ended, since it has continued to erode the housing stock which we cannot allow to continue with the housing shortage as it is. One member felt that it should be left in place, to meet the aspirations of those renting. This may have some support where it counts, as we learned that shadow housing minister John Heeley will take some persuading to repeal the right: food for thought as to how much influence these policy forums may have.
Our group challenged the emerging target of 1 million homes to be built by the next Labour government, with half of them to be Council housing. This did not seem ambitious enough, given the scale of the crisis. Of course, if we are to go for a bigger target then this will require land to be set aside and the number of skilled workers to be rapidly increased. We thought we had to aim for that and bring back compulsory purchase of land at its existing use value, so that Councils can build.
The lack of resources for local government and dire difficulties for Councils in housing the homeless were discussed. Solutions included greater rights to stay in a home being rented, with the majority taking the view that landlords’ powers to repossess should be much reduced: in particular, a landlord selling a property would not be permitted to evict tenants in the course of doing so, which seemed controversial to some present.
The forum offered an opportunity to brainstorm solutions, and there proved to be many heads to the housing crisis. If we are to find our way out of it, then much greater resources will need to be put into public housing and this would be funded through progressive taxation. This would merit a whole paper and discussion in itself.
In the meantime, have a look at the questions raised for discussion in the policy paper at http://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk and submit your comments on line. Alternatively make your local Labour branch aware of your views.