Labour promises to redefine ‘affordable housing’ and to rekindle council housing

In a very ambitious set of promises, the Labour party is vowing to build one million genuinely affordable homes over ten years, including the biggest council housebuilding programme for over 30 years.

‘Housing for the Many’ is the party’s Green Paper on reviving the social housing sector and dealing with the affordability crisis facing the nation’s youth, with young adults struggling to buy or to pay their rent. It’s arrival fills a policy gap with the Government’s own promised Green Paper being delayed. In a set of eye-catching proposals within the 40-page document, Labour says it will:

  • Redefine affordable housing – doing away with “affordable rents” at up to 80 per cent of market rates and replace them with genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy linked to local average incomes;
  • Suspend the right-to-buy, arguing it jeopardises the supply of social housing; • end all conversions of existing social rent homes to the much higher “affordable rents” and scrap plans to force councils to sell their most valuable homes;
  • Transform the planning system with a new duty to deliver affordable homes, while setting up an English Sovereign Land Trust to make more land available more cheaply;
  • Lift the cap on borrowing by local authorities, to allow councils to build more social housing; and
  • Set up a new Department of Housing and an independent watchdog to assess the Government’s housing policies and to make sure promises are delivered

As the Green Paper was written in the post Grenfell period, it is no surprise that the opposition say they want to make affordable homes “a best choice, not a last resort” with fire safety being given a high priority – becoming the first standard in a new Decent Homes definition and works programme, as well as committing to the fitting of sprinklers in all high rise tower blocks.

New rights

It also proposes ending any institutional indifference or failure to respect tenants by granting a new set of rights for affordable housing residents, including tenants on boards, consumer rights standards and a vote on estate regeneration schemes. It also wants to promote security for families and stability for communities by scrapping the laws to end long-term council tenancies. John Healey, the Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “We will build for those who need it, including the very poorest and most vulnerable … and for those in work on ordinary incomes. This is the ‘just coping’ class in Britain today, who do the jobs we all rely on – IT workers, HGV drivers, joiners, warehouse managers, lab technicians, nurses, teaching assistants, call centre supervisors, shop staff.” While the announcements were welcomed by many working in the housing sector, some commentators were critical of the Green Paper for its near exclusive focus on social renting, saying that it also needed to address issues in the private rented sector and housing for sale market. Some also felt that not enough focus was given to the positive contributions that housing associations could make. A Conservative spokesperson said: “Labour would kick away the housing ladder from everyone living in council houses by taking away their right to buy, just as Labour did in Wales. Under the Conservatives, we are investing £9bn to build more good-quality homes that people can afford and have seen the highest number of new homes being built for a decade.” Healey responded by saying: “The housing market is broken and current Conservative housing policy is failing to fix it. We have to build more affordable homes to make homes more affordable.”

By Patrick Mooney, editor