Terrace housing. Photo: James Emmans/CC
Terrace housing. Photo: James Emmans/CC

Paul Kershaw, Enfield and Lee Valley Socialist Party and Chair, Unite housing branch

Despite headlines coming out of the Labour Party conference about the biggest boost to building affordable homes in a generation, it failed to measure up to Britain’s housing emergency.

It agreed a target of building 300,000 homes per year, but also specifically pledged not to invest in building new houses because of Labour’s self-imposed ‘iron-clad fiscal rules.’  Given the scale of the crisis, the overall target is inadequate. Just last year about 233,000 houses were built – the target represents an increase of less than 60,000 homes. But it is not just the number built; crucially they need to be affordable. Government investment would be essential in order to build genuinely affordable council homes at social rent. No wonder there is no target for how many of the new homes would be ‘affordable.’

Inside Housing magazine is campaigning for the construction of 90,000 social rent homes per year, but Labour shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook specifically rejected this modest figure. A study from University College London estimates that investing in social housing could actually save £1.5 billion per year in costs linked to homelessness. But evidently big business has more influence with Labour than academics, think tanks or people struggling to pay their rent!

Rents have never been higher and would-be renters face fierce competition to find a home. The Tory benefit cap means that rents are unaffordable for many families, meaning children go without the basics. Sir Keir Starmer has earned the title ‘Kid Starver’ after refusing to lift the cap.

No wonder new research found that renting, as opposed to home-owning, accelerates biological aging. The impact of private renting is greater than the impact of experiencing unemployment or being a former smoker vs a never smoker. Yet the Labour leadership has firmly opposed rent controls.

Starmer has said he will back developers against planning restrictions. A Guardian columnist commented that this policy seemed to be the “result of a good lunch with the construction lobby.” Developers want to build wherever they can to get the biggest-possible profit without having to pay for infrastructure or meeting social need.

More than twice as many big business representatives were present compared to last year; the Financial Times jokingly dubbed Labour conference the ‘Liverpool Davos.’ Business leaders have welcomed Labour’s housing proposals.

Labour’s pro-big business policies will continue the developer-friendly policies of the Tories and offer no hope to working-class communities or young people.

Tenants across the country are organising against bad conditions and rent and service charge increases. In some cases, housing association residents have refused to pay these increases and won reductions. A new mass workers’ party could make the case for a socialist housing policy including a mass programme of building truly affordable, high-quality and sustainable council homes at the next general election. Its clear none of the establishment parties will!

The Socialist Party demands:

  • Slash the rents – introduce rent controls now!
  • Compulsory licensing of all landlords to ensure decent housing standards
  • A mass programme of council home building. Councils should fight the cuts, by setting no-cuts, needs-based budgets as part of building a mass campaign for the funding they need
  • Nationalise the large building companies, land and banks, under democratic workers’ control and public ownership, to ensure enough good-quality council housing and cheap mortgages
  • For socialist planning to end the housing crisis and ensure a decent future for all!