TUSC stands 100% against cuts and council tax increases. Photo: Paul Mattsson

TUSC stands 100% against cuts and council tax increases. Photo: Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Dave Murray, Essex Socialist Party

Essex Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is meeting on 1 February to discuss what services people need locally, especially council housing, and how to fight for this at the local elections in May.

The government’s measure of housing need is heavily biased towards the interests of property developers. So it is very difficult to assess the real position.

In Basildon, Essex, official figures say 17,109 new homes need to be built by 2034. But there’s no indication from these numbers of the kind of housing we actually need – that is, genuinely affordable council housing.

Official homelessness statistics are not very reliable. They add the number of people sleeping rough, which is done by body count, and the number of people in temporary accommodation arranged by local authorities.

In April 2020, Essex Live compiled the figures and came up with 5,246 homeless people in the county. This does not reflect the number of people sofa surfing or living in insecure or unfit housing, who do not qualify for help under homelessness legislation.

Local authority housing registers are also extremely unreliable. Since 2011, councils can restrict people’s ability to apply for social housing, allowing them to dramatically shrink waiting lists without providing any additional social housing. Basildon’s housing register has less than 2,000 people on it – a gross underestimate of the need for council housing.

The average price of an Essex house is £410,187. The official definition of ‘affordability’ is 80% of the market rate.

This means that a house costing £328,149 is considered affordable, even though it is roughly nine times the local average salary. Of course, most people earn less than the ‘average’ £38,000.

In Basildon, both Labour and Tory administrations have invested in a commercial housebuilding operation, Sempra, which is doing nothing to meet local housing need. Councils of every political colour have got into bed with the property developers.

TUSC, which the Socialist Party is part of, says:

  • Large-scale building of local authority rented housing at rents comparable to existing council tenancies – roughly 50% of the rent level offered through the private housing racket
  • Use existing council powers for rent control and proper enforcement of standards in the private sector
  • Extend local authority powers to act against land hoarding and profiteering through harmful commercial and residential developments
  • Use council financial reserves and prudential borrowing powers to address the housing problem, and restore and extend essential services that have been killed by austerity