Socialist Worker

Gordon Brown's housing policy won't solve this crisis

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2061

The government's much heralded green paper on housing was finally released on Monday. Behind ministers' talk of new homes and 'social housing', the reality is the same reliance on the market and private finance that created the housing crisis in the first place.

The proposals read like a property speculators' charter. Plans involve taking power from elected councils and handing it over to private developers.

Public land will be used to build houses in 'partnership' with the private sector. The paper proposes the relaxing of planning regulations, with clear indications that the government intends to override local authority planning powers, while keeping taxes on developers 'to a minimum'.

More 'affordable' housing is promised, but what is currently defined as 'affordable' is beyond the reach of ordinary people.

The government says it wants to create new financial products for those who are currently 'disadvantaged' in the mortgage market.

This will increase the likelihood that some will to get into enormous debt problems as interest rates and inflation rise.In the run-up to the green paper, there had been speculation that it would signal a change of attitude towards council housing.

But as Defend Council Housing (DCH) says, the green paper 'falls a long way short of meeting the expectations of supporters of council housing'.

The proposals talk a great deal about 'social housing' rather than 'council housing'. Actual concrete proposals on council housing are extremely vague.

The green paper briefly hints at a possible return to direct building by councils 'where it provides value for money' – a condition not placed on the private sector.

The green paper discusses allowing councils to retain the income from tenants' rents and sales of council houses – and talks about the possibility of allowing councils to build new council homes.

But it limits this to 'pilot schemes', with councils required to set up a 'local authority company' – yet another way of getting the private sector involved.

The Independent newspaper has calculated that even if the proposals in the green paper went ahead, it would take 32 years to clear the current council housing waiting list.

DCH chair Alan Walter said that the discussions around the green paper offer a welcome opportunity to convince ministers that the best way to solve the housing crisis is for councils to be allowed to improve existing council housing and to build and maintain new council housing.

He said, 'The fact is that direct investment in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing is the cheapest and quickest way to address housing need today.'

Campaigners need to use the arguments around the green paper to force the government to provide proper investment in council housing and real choice for the thousands of people who currently bear the brunt of the housing crisis.

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Tue 24 Jul 2007, 18:14 BST
Issue No. 2061
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