Fight for decent housing for all!

Author: 
Pete Gilman

Imagine you are a council tenant, and you have lived in your current house or flat for years.

You always pay the rent two weeks in advance and adhere religiously to every aspect of your tenancy agreement. You are then told you and your family are to be evicted in order to make way for someone “in greater housing need.”

This is the reality of Tory proposals to end security of tenure and impose “rotation”. Tenants removed from council housing will not be rehoused in other council housing and will be expected to move into private sector accommodation, in most cases paying double or treble the rent.

Britain is facing a massive housing crisis. There is an acute and growing shortage of housing for all those on incomes under £30,000. Homelessness is increasing. Private sector rents are soaring.

Thousands of people have been forced to move to cheaper parts of Britain because the cap on housing benefit means they can no longer afford to live in London and the South East.

High rents are forcing thousands of people, especially young people, into dependency. Repossessions have risen to nearly 30,000. Estate agents are ruthlessly ripping off their clients. The slum landlord has returned with a vengeance.

The response to all this from Labour’s front bench has been, in the words of one South London Labour Council leader, “a little inadequate.”

The Tories say the market will solve the housing crises, but the market only serves the rich, and only produces what is most profitable for big business.

The Tories plan to impose 80% of market rents on all social housing, this means rent increases of £200-400 a week, a catastrophe for huge numbers of people.

So far only one council, Islington, has refused to implement it. If all Labour councils were to follow Islington’s lead this Tory policy would be dead.

Labour should make a manifesto commitment that when they return to office they will immediately introduce a two-year moratorium on social rent increases, after which rent increases will never go above the rate of inflation, and the full restoration of all housing benefit.

Housing is a basic necessity for life, but to the Tories it is a commodity to be used for maximum profit. Thatcher virtually abolished the building of council housing in the 1980s, creating huge shortages for future generations and driving vast numbers into the private sector.

Thatcher also introduced “right to buy”, ostensibly to enable council tenants to become property owners by buying their council home but in reality as a means of depleting council housing stock.

The “right to buy”, compounded by the virtual end of council house building, was a crucial component of Thatcher’s ideological offensive against council housing.

Our number one priority must be to fight for a massive increase in the building of new social housing, the majority council housing.

During the period of the Blair government, both the National Housing Federation and housing charity Shelter called for the building of 100,000 new social housing homes every year.

With modern technology and the political will, this is an entirely achievable target. Indeed, it may be too modest.

In the private sector there is a desperate need for imposing a cap on all rents and strict regulation of what is a complete jungle.

We need to unite Labour activists, trade unions, tenants associations, anti-cuts campaigns, students and claimants, to fight the Tories’ inhuman housing policies.

We need to build a mass movement not only to stop the Tories but to mobilise in support of the policies to solve the housing crises once and for all.

We must commit a future Labour government to implement a programme based on meeting housing need, not serving the interests of the market.