General Election: Labour vows to bring social housing back in from the cold

THE Labour Party is promising a “housing revolution”, pledging the largest programme to build council and social housing in decades, if it wins the election.

On paper, the party’s manifesto seemingly answers a lot of the sector’s prayers insofar as it brings social housing in from the cold, after the tenure being all-but ignored – or outright dismissed – by ministers for much of this decade.

Labour is all set to formally launch its manifesto later today, but it is offering to invest £75 billion over five years to build 100,000 council homes a year by the end of the parliament. On top of this renaissance in council housebuilding, the party’s plans include an added 50,000 “genuinely affordable” homes a year built by housing associations over the same period.

This would represent the biggest overall affordable housebuilding programme since the 1960s, it says.

The construction of new social housing virtually collapsed when the 2010 coalition government slashed grant funding for social housing. Instead, over the ensuing years, ministers shifted emphasis and threw the State’s resources at schemes to boost homeownership, and the Affordable Rent programme, which set rents at a up to 80% of local private market rents.

Labour says it will scrap the Government’s “bogus” definition of affordable if its wins the election. Instead, it will introduce a definition that links affordability to local incomes, including social rent, which it says works out to around half the level of market rents. It will also introduce a new living rent and homes for low-cost home ownership.

“Housing should be for the many, not a speculation opportunity for dodgy landlords and the wealthy few,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will say, when the manifesto is launched.

“I am determined to create a society where working class communities and young people have access to affordable, good quality council and social homes.

“Everyone knows someone affected by the housing crisis. Labour is offering real change to fix it.”

The launch follows the release of the latest official affordable housebuilding figures yesterday by the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government. These show that in the year 2018-2019, out of 57,485 homes classed as “affordable” only 6,287 were for social rent.

Funding for Labour’s social housebuilding programme would come from its Social Transformation Fund, with around half of it allocated to housing.

The new homes would not only be genuinely affordable, the party claims, they would also be built with the climate emergency in mind. Taking its inspiration from the award-winning Goldsmith Street council development in Norwich, it says the new homes would be built to “cutting edge” green design standards.

“The next Labour Government will kick-start a housing revolution, with the biggest investment in new council and social homes this country has seen for decades,” said Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey.

“Labour’s transformational housing plans will mean thousands more genuinely affordable homes for people on ordinary incomes in every area of the country.

“Our modern council and social housing will be built to cutting-edge design and green standards providing a long-term investment in our country’s future.”

Of course, it all rests on the results of the election on 12 December. There’s also the question of land, rebuilding the necessary capacity within councils, and the skills crisis in the construction industry to address, but the proposals have scored a provisional welcome from the National Housing Federation (NHF).

“These proposals would be a real game-changer for social housing,” said the NHF’s chief executive, Kate Henderson.

“The housing crisis is having a disastrous effect on millions of people in England, and we need to build 145,000 new social homes every year if we are to end it. We can fix the housing crisis, and this is the level of investment that will be needed.

“Whoever forms the next government, they must invest in the social housing that the country needs. Housing associations are essential to delivering this, and stand ready to work with local and national government to fix the housing crisis for good.”


Main Image: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at an election rally in Liverpool earlier this month. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.


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