The Tories are presenting their new Housing and Planning Bill as a way to help more people find homes. Its real effect will be to make the housing crisis worse.
The bill is currently going through its final stages in parliament.
It contains a wave of attacks on council housing and housing associations that could transform our towns and cities after it takes effect next year (see right). Tenants will be pushed out, homes sold off, and private developers given more powers to grab valuable land for profit.
The bill will also make it harder for Travellers to get planning permission for sites.
Simon Elmer from the campaign Architects for Social Housing told Socialist Worker, “The bill is a social engineering programme that has zero to do with building homes. It’s using housing as a weapon in class war.
“It is explicitly designed to drive people not just out of their homes but in particular out of London.
“They want the land—it’s some of the most valuable in the world. And they want to take back London, getting rid of the people who make it a Labour heartland.”
So far the bill has received relatively little coverage in the media. But Simon said, “There’s a lot of people affected by the bill but they don’t know about it.
“In London there are around 3,500 housing estates with 350,000 homes and an average of three people per home. So that’s a million people living on a knife edge.
"There are another three million across England. And it’s not just about them. This will drive people into already overheated rental markets. Rents will go up for all renters. It is designed to create slum conditions.”
The rhetoric from the Tories is that the bill will get people out of “Generation Rent” and into “Generation Buy”.
Simon argued, “It’s a false justification. People often do want to buy their own homes because they are sick of the insecurity of the rental market.
“The way to give people security is through council housing.
“But the homes they want to build aren’t affordable for what the Tories call ‘hard working families’, only to investors. They want to build commodities—whether people live in them is irrelevant. They are deposit boxes in the sky.”
Simon added, “When they call it a ‘housing crisis’ it suggests something that’s out of control. In fact this is something that’s under control and is enormously benefitting some very rich people.”
Simon believes there is “one glimmer of hope”, however. “Everyone needs a home. This is a unifying bill—it affects such a wide range of people. The task is to mobilise those people.
“The housing movement and trade unions have to build resistance on the estates. This could be far more destructive than the poll tax, we have to turn it into a victory for us like the poll tax.”
Campaigners prepare for national March for Homes
Resistance to the bill is growing, in an alliance that stretches from grassroots campaigners to large parts of the Labour Party.
Some 200 people attended a protest outside parliament on Tuesday of last week, followed by a meeting inside hosted by Defend Council Housing (DCH).
In Camden, central London, the Labour council opposes the bill. It is set to call a summit to coordinate campaigning next month.
Liz Wheatley is a Unison union rep in housing and a council tenant in Camden.
She told Socialist Worker, “If there isn’t a big campaign people could panic and put in for a Right to Buy rather than pay higher rents.”
Other initiatives have already been called, including a national March for Homes in London on Saturday 16 April.
A similar summit for Yorkshire has been planned in Leeds and campaigners in south London plan to march on 30 January.
Eileen Short from DCH is helping to organise the national demo. She told Socialist Worker, “The aim is to build a confident, determined opposition.
“We need to build the biggest possible unity to defy it.”
Beating the bill will take a much bigger campaign than currently exists right now. But Liz explained there is potential to do just that.
She said, “Housing is something the Tories are potentially weak on as people become aware of these attacks.”
What the bill will do:
Force councils to sell off “high value” housing. In London this applies to a huge amount of existing housing.
- Phase out secure tenancies and replace them with tenancies lasting as little as two years. This move will also hit the children of tenants who die and any tenants whose estates undergo redevelopment.
- Make tenants “Pay to Stay”. So-called “high income” tenants will be charged higher market rents. These are those with a total household income over £30,000 in England and £40,000 in London. Even very low paid workers and many benefit claimants would be hit.
- Extend the Right to Buy to housing association homes. There is no plan to replace homes sold.
- Grant planning permission for any redevelopments on “brownfield land”. The Tories now include housing estates in this category, which previously referred to former industrial and commercial land.
- Scrap bosses’ obligation to build some homes at lower “social rent” in every new development. Instead they will have to build discounted “starter homes” for sale at up to £450,000 in Greater London and £250,000 across the rest of England. But to afford a £250,000 home would require a household income of at least £60,000 a year.