Housing in Crisis: Resisting the Bill & Building Alternatives

“It’s clear the Tories are destroying the welfare state and we have to do whatever we can to stop them,” said ILP chair David Connolly as he drew the organisation’s well-attended Unbalanced Britain seminar on the housing crisis to a close in Leeds last weekend.

Connolly’s cry for action came at the end of a day of discussion about all aspects of Britain’s hideously unequal, market-driven approach to housing, which unpicked the details and implications of the Tory Housing & Planning Bill, examined the impact of current policy direction on the poorest and most vulnerable, and looked at what can be done both to resist the Tory onslaught and promote alternatives.

UB Housing- QB smallDr Quintin Bradley, senior lecturer in planning and housing at Leeds Beckett University, gave a forensic presentation on the Bill which is currently making its way through the House of Lords, placing it in context of housing policy over  the last 40 years and a dominant ideology that has “re-jigged the idea of fairness” so that the market is the accepted measure of someone’s housing needs and where they ought to be allowed to live.

The logic of this approach, he said, is that “if you can’t afford to live somewhere, that means you shouldn’t live there, so whole areas of the country have been closed to people on below average wages or benefits”.

The Housing Bill, he said, is based on the notion that home ownership is the only secure housing choice. It changes the definition of affordable housing to effectively mean no more affordable homes can be built, promotes segregation by income and prioritises the re-distribution of public resources to those who already have the most means.

It will also reduce the stock of social housing significantly, he added, and confirms the long-standing idea that social housing should only be provided on a temporary basis.

Bradley pointed out that many of these ideas had been around since the 1970s when 30% of the population lived in council housing, a figure now reduced to 17%. “Council housing provided an affordable home to at least four generations of working class people,” he said. “It gave them stability and the basis for education and social mobility.”

Now, council housing is disappearing, while an entire generation is locked out of home ownership by our incredibly polarised housing market and locked into an inflated rental market.

Counter culture

“The left needs to counter the cultural common sense around the notion of the fairness of the market,” he concluded, adding that we also need to think about alternative approaches to social housing, such as providing it on a co-operative footing, built to the highest energy standards, and founded on a culture of belonging and care, not market value.

UB Housing- FH & SJ smallThat baton was picked up immediately by the second speaker, Labour’s Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton, who outlined the ideas in his recent report, Building Homes For Britain, researched and written with Simon Jose and warmly received by Labour’s shadow housing minister, John Healey.

The report makes the case for so-called ‘passive housing’, built off-site to high standards to fit specific brownfield sites in towns and cities where social housing is needed.

Together with ‘regional public housing authorities’ and a ‘national housing investment bank’, a policy for passive house building would not only go against “the current trend for privatising everything”, said Hamilton, but could also “bring back the importance of local government” as a provider for local people.

UB Housing- Ellen Robottom small2Finally, Ellen Robottom from local the campaigning organisation Hands off our Homes talked about her organisation’s emergence in opposition to the Bedroom Tax and their first-hand experience of that policy’s impact on 13,000 of the most vulnerable people in Leeds.

Building resistance to these policies is difficult, she said, because the people most affected are society’s most dispossessed – those without resources, networks, resilience or knowledge. Opposition to the Bill must be at the top of the Labour Party’s agenda, she added, but we also need a mass social movement with active tenants’s groups in every neighbourhood.

Articles from the three speakers at the seminar are available here:
‘The Housing Crisis Weaponised’, by Dr Quintin Bradley, is here.
• ‘The Housing Crisis and the Struggle for Affordable Homes’, by Ellen Robottom of Hand off our Homes, is here.
• ‘Rethinking Housing’, by Simon Jose, is here.

Click here to read former Labour MP Harry Barnes’s report on the day’s events.

Click here for more on Fabian Hamilton’s report, Building Homes for Britain.

Click here to download the ILP’s leaflet about the event, Unbalanced Britain: Housing in Crisis.

Click here to read about previous meetings in the ILP’s Unbalanced Britain series.


1 Comment

  1. Ernie Jacques
    13 March 2016

    Social Housing – Tory End Game
    Dr Quintin Bradley, did indeed give a forensic presentation on how the Tories are rigging the housing market and are shifting billions in public subsidies from social housing to the private sector, and from poor and vulnerable UK citizens to those who can afford a mortgage of £450,000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere in the UK.

    Under Cameron, the whole concept of what constitutes housing need and fairness has changed with public subsidies now being reallocated to the relatively well off and those with incomes of £100,000 per year and above. So those on below average earnings, minimum wages and zero contracts are increasingly being excluded from desirable and regenerated areas and ghettoized on sink estates, in houses of multiple occupation, Rachmanism slums and in places where most people would not choose to live – miles (sometime hundreds of miles) from the communities they love, grew up in and away from work, family, friends and support networks.

    In contrast to Tory plans kill off council housing, Fabian Hamilton, MP spoke elegantly and with sincerity about Labour plans to build 300,000 social houses annually utilising council-owned land and factory-manufactured flat-pack technology and materials, designed to be energy efficient and built to high standards, focussed on the needs of local people who, he emphasised, should be centrally involved in the building of these estates and how homes are allocated.

    Far less convincing, to me anyway, was the idea that these social houses would be a public / private partnership between local authorities and financial services, when he said that having talked to insurance companies, like AVIVA, they are prepared to invest in social housing because, in addition to being awash with money, social housing is thought to be a good long term investment.

    Public, Private Partnerships
    Well we’ve had plenty of experience of Labour’s involvement with PPI and PPPs and the outcome vis-à-vis hospitals and schools and housing is usually good news for the private sector but a rip-off for the taxpayer and public purse. And let’s not forget that it was Labour Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, Caroline Flint, who in 2009 prefigured the Tories via her so-called “commitment contracts”, telling the nation that if you want a council house, go find a job.

    But when Fabian Hamilton was reminded that Labour had been in office for 13 years and had an abysmal record on building social housing, he responded by saying that the party was under new management. Well let’s hope he’s right about this.

    And while Fabian was honest about possibly needing to go beyond 300,000 new builds, the elephant in the room is surely the EU free movement rules which could mean houses needed for a million new citizens and an unprecedented squeeze on public services and in poor areas not the English shires or gentrified and posh estates. Well, a building programme equivalent to the combined cities of Leeds and York, every year into the foreseeable future, will be some challenge and that’s before the army of middle class NIMBY’s campaign against the concreting of greenbelt and obstruction of their countryside views.

    Hands Off Our Homes
    Ellen Robottom concluded by giving a victim’s account of how the bedroom tax and benefit cap is impacting 13,000 vulnerable and atomised Leeds tenants. She and two colleagues from Hands Off Our Homes are angry about the way Labour controlled Leeds City Council, while undeniably caught between a rock and a hard place, slavishly execute government policy by resorting to court action and the use of bailiffs, with some council officers threating and bullying defaulters.

    They were particularly scathing in their condemnation of Leeds Labour MP and rising star, Rachel Reeves, who was said to be incapable of understanding the desperate circumstances of constituents and tenants at their wits-end who are struggling with unmanageable debt and facing eviction and homelessness.

    But despite past mistakes and failures, and I’m mindful that Labour habitually over promises and underperforms (and during the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, Labour did so spectacularly), we do now, in the words of Fabian Hamilton, “have a party under new management”.

    And because Jeremy Corbyn is not in the pocket of big business or the establishment, we do have reason to hope and expect (if against all the odds Labour wins a general election again) a renaissance in social housing and moves towards a more balanced, fair, inclusive and social democratic society.

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