The UK is estimated to be short of 1.2 Million houses, at current building rates, it would take 15 years to deliver these new houses.

There are over 1 Million people on waiting lists for council or housing association accommodation. We need to build 340 000 homes a year to meet demand, 100 000 of which would need to be social rented homes. However the rate of social housing being built has slowed, houses that are being sold off under the ‘right to buy’ scheme are not being replaced.

Things are particularly difficult for young people, with housing costing an 7.8 times average annual income, and even more in the Meon Valley area. In 1980 a starter home was £18 000 in my home town of Bishops Waltham, the median average wage in 1980 was £6000 per year. In 2020 the same starter homes go for around £300 000 each, the median average income in 2020 is £30 000 per year, that means a starter home in the area is now 10 times 1 years wages, yet the same homes were only 3 times 1 years wages in 1980.

A Conservative Party change in the rules and language that’s used to describe rent charges has had the effect of creating higher rents and less housing benefit for claimants. Prior to 2010, social rents were set at a level that took account of average local earnings, people could typically afford to pay their rent without housing benefit. But after 2010, new Council and Housing Association ‘affordable rents’ were set at 80% of private market rents which sounds reasonable at first hearing, but this is no good if the private housing market is not fit for purpose.

In a globalised and hyper-commercialised world, some think it is fine that everything has its price. but just because something – in this case housing – is sold at the ‘market price’ that doesn’t mean it’s fair if that market is dysfunctional. The free market has to lead an economy yes, but we know from history that leaving the free market completely unregulated can create economic catastrophe. Instead, deft regulation when and where appropriate will create a sustainable and prosperous economy.

There are 4 Million privately rented homes in the UK, and whilst some of these homes are good, others have high rents and Crisis report that 1/3rd of Britain’s privately rented homes fail to meet government standards. Some private landlords are excellent, but in other cases if you complain or report repairs, you can become the victim of a revenge eviction. The housing charity Crisis are calling for 3 to 5 year minimum tenancies and rent increase limits for private renters.

On the 30th June this year, Boris Johnson made a speech where be pledged to ‘build, build, build’ with £12Bn to build 180 000 new homes to own and rent over the next 5 years. The pledged £12Bn is not new money: Keir Starmer pointed out these pledges are “the re-announcement of many manifesto pledges and commitments, so it’s not enough.” and the BBC’s economics editor Faisal Islam said that there is “nothing really new” in the pledges.

You have to question the Conservative Party’s sincerity on housing pledges. In 2014 the Tory government pledged to build 200 000 new affordable starter homes. But not one of these promised 200 000 homes was ever completed and the legislation to enact them was not even passed.

The Labour Party plan to build 1 Million genuinely affordable homes over the next 10 years. Labour also plan to “define new ‘affordable housing’ as linked to local income, and scrap the Conservatives” so-called ‘affordable rent’ homes priced at up to 80% of market rates’. As well Labour plan to “Stop the sell-off of 50,000 social rented homes a year by suspending the right to buy, ending all conversions to ‘affordable rent’ and scrapping the Government’s plans to force councils to sell the best of their homes” You can read more of Labour’s excellent policy proposals to end the housing crisis here.

Everyone needs a stable and affordable place to live, it’s of paramount importance for our well being and survival. What we need to do as a society is sustainably increase housing supply until it meets housing demand, this would have the effect of lowering prices so that houses are once again genuinely affordable. Once UK citizens are no longer spending an unrealistically high percentage of their income on housing costs, be that a mortgage or rent, disposable income would be freed up that could be saved or spent in the economy, this would stimulate economic growth and help us emerge out of the Covid-19 recession. When we all work together and with good housing policy, things can get better.

James Bickle

This blog article is the personal view of a member of the Meon Valley constituency Labour Party (CLP) and may not represent the official policy or views of the Labour Party.

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