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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 August 2018

Tories fear housing anger... but offer no solutions

Housing demo, London, 13.3.16, photo James Ivens

Housing demo, London, 13.3.16, photo James Ivens   (Click to enlarge)

Paul Kershaw, chair, Unite the Union housing workers' branch

The government's latest policy document on housing is a much-delayed response to mounting anger at the Grenfell Tower fire and the deep housing crisis, with unaffordable homes and increasing number sleeping rough.

The Tories promise a "fundamental rethink of social housing in this country." But there is no new thinking, and no new money for building new council and social homes, or supporting rough sleepers.

Housing agencies say at least 90,000 social homes need to be built each year to meet demand. That figure is too low anyway - but last year just 5,900 were built, the lowest on record. Housing minister Kit Malthouse was forced to concede that building would remain at a record low.

Such is the social disaster created by decades of attacks on council and social housing, and reliance on the private sector, that even the pro-capitalist Financial Times conceded:

"The lack of subsidy for construction means sub-market-priced housing will continue to be subsidised through rents in the inefficient form of housing benefits. So the state will still be paying off the mortgages of private landlords, rather than investing in the construction of an asset owned by either the state or a non-profit landlord."

The few concrete proposals are u-turns on policies introduced in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government under Cameron.

The coalition's plan to force social landlords to offer only fixed-term tenancies, rather than lifetime tenancies, is ditched. So too are plans to force councils to sell off their most valuable housing. These represent significant victories for housing campaigners.

In words, the green paper responds to growing concern at the treatment of social tenants, raising the idea that the role of the regulator and complaint mechanisms should be strengthened.

One of the first acts of the coalition government in 2010 was to announce that the agency regulating social housing was toast, and regulation would be largely restricted to protecting the interests of the banks. But now another general election is on the cards, "there is a powerful case for strengthening the regulator so it not only focuses on the governance and financial viability of housing providers, but also on how residents are treated"!

Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn was right to say that "social housing is not like choosing a doctor... You can't just up sticks and move if your housing association gets a low rating. Much more is needed to put power in residents' hands."

The green paper suggests a mix of the measures used in schools and the NHS: league tables, inspections and so on.

Accountability

What is really needed in social housing is democratic accountability to tenants, and more openness. It is a scandal that some social housing residents still cannot see fire risk assessments for their homes, for example.

But that would run counter to the current model of social housing providers reliant on running up huge debts with banks - and then giving top priority to keeping them happy.

The Tories have no answers. Neither does Labour's right wing, which also advanced neoliberal housing policies.

Jeremy Corbyn must have Labour decisively break with the neoliberal polices of recent decades, from parliament down to councils. They must campaign instead for a mass programme of council house building, rent caps in the private sector, and strengthening of residents' rights across sectors.

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In The Socialist 22 August 2018:


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