Jeremy Corbyn has said that there is no convincing solution to the housing crisis that “does not start with a new, very large, very active council house building project”. On this issue, as on so many others, there is now clear red water between Corbyn’s Labour party and the Tories The Tories’ new Housing and Planning Bill claims to be a way to help people without homes to find them, and for those living in sub-standard housing to find better ones. But nothing could be further from the truth.
It represents yet another attack on the number of council homes available at rents affordable for working-class people. It aims to force the sell-off of even more of the 2.2 million properties rented from local councils, and goes on to force the sale of those built by Housing Associations.
Repeating the mantra of home ownership, like Thatcher’s original “Right to Buy” scheme, its aim is to leave the entire field of accommodation open to the mercy of market forces that have put decent housing beyond the means of millions in cities and towns all over the country.
From 1945 to 1979, governments and councils, Conservative and Labour, built a large number of council houses every year. The number of new builds peaked in 1953 at 220,000. And that was under the Tories!
Thatcher represented a radical break from this policy, as on so many others. Council housing was “socialism” and had to be got rid of. Her advisors came up with the idea of giving council tenants the “Right to Buy” their homes at well-below market prices, with 100 per cent mortgages.
As a result, 1.6 million council homes were sold off between 1979 and 2013. And a large proportion of them did not remain owner-occupied, but were quickly sold on to property developers who gouged rents out of their new private tenants, who now had no hope of ever getting a council home.
In 1979, 42 per cent of the population lived in council homes. Today the figure is just under 8 per cent. And this figure is set to fall again as Cameron has threatened to demolish 100 “sink” estates where “poverty is rife”.
But who was it who drove them into poverty? Where will these broken-up communities live in the meantime? And how many of them will be able to afford the supposedly “affordable” homes that he will replace their homes with? David Cameron was completely unable to answer any of these questions when Jeremy Corbyn put them to him in the Commons.
January 30 is a national day of action with local demonstrations against the Tory Housing Bill taking place across the country