Mass council house building programme needed
Nick Auvache, Camden and Haringey Socialist Party
Local councils going ‘bankrupt’ was once unthinkable but now increasing numbers are saying, they will need to stop all non-essential spending. A recent report in the Guardian newspaper identified a number of local authorities at risk. A further report revealed that 99% of councils had missed the deadline for publishing their annual accounts. Late reporting normally indicates that there are outstanding financial concerns.
While this is alarming, it is not surprising. Councils have been starved of cash for years and many have reached breaking point. For many councils, on top of a decade of cuts, the massive rise in homelessness caused by unaffordable rents and house prices has exacerbated the situation. Councils are currently spending 20-50% of their budgets in an attempt to deal with the issue.
Hastings council has seen the money it spends on providing temporary accommodation rise from £750,000 to £5.6 million within five years, and Basildon has gone from £7,000 in 2017 to a staggering £2 million last year! The number of people in need of temporary accommodation and the cost of housing have both increased. Crawley council has seen the number of people in temporary accommodation double over the last two years, in Hastings it has triple, and in Havant it has increased ten times!
Clearly the situation is unsustainable but none of the establishment parties have any answer. The Socialist Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which it is part of, have been virtually on their own in calling for rent control coupled with a mass council housing programme to build more homes to deal with the crisis. Now even some Tories have been forced to consider some kind of rent control.
But the Tories fail to address the main cause of the current crisis – a massive hike in evictions caused by a combination of low wages, a reduction in housing benefit and rocketing rents.
Even if some limited rent control were to be adopted, it would be wholly insufficient to deal with the depths of this crisis, unless this was coupled with a huge expansion in building more safe, good quality, affordable council housing. The refusal to do this is something that continues to unite Tory and Labour councils, which is why we need an alternative.
The only effective way to safeguard local authorities is to fight for a system which no longer relies on solutions involving the private sector. We need to fight for a mass council house building programme, the nationalisation of the banks, construction companies and all those that dominate the capitalist economy. To achieve that we need a new mass workers’ party armed with a socialist programme.