Thursday, 23 August 2012

Another squalid housing rip off

The ConDem government has released a report on the housing shortage in the UK today. The Montague report advocates the relaxing of planning restrictions and permission, allowing private investors to build on public land, the relaxation of affordable housing criteria and a voluntary code for what constitutes a reasonably constructed home. It represents a sick joke to the 2 million families that cannot find permanent accommodation in the UK at present.

There is a major housing crisis developing in Britain that is not being addressed by the ConDem government or the Labour Party in opposition. The end of the property boom and cheap mortgages has left the vast majority of people unable to afford to buy. Deposits alone are likely to cost £50,000 in most parts of the country. Private rents are soaring as a result with the average now being £722 per month, far too high for most families to even consider saving towards a deposit. The myth of the aspirant working class that can benefit from a ‘property owning democracy’ has been evicted.

Adding to the private rental rises is the capping of housing benefit that will leave a permanent shortfall in family incomes. This is driving families into desperate attempts to seek social housing from their councils only to find that the stock has dried up because no one is building council housing (apart from one or two notable exceptions) and private landlords are refusing to take housing benefit tenants now.

The combination of government policy and the bursting of the property bubble is a disaster for working people. The idea of allowing private property developers to have more latitude in the type of housing built is no answer to this crisis. It is as daft as giving the banks more money and asking them to loan it to ordinary people – which the government has done with the predictable consequences that speculation on food prices has increased but loans have not. Even in its current incarnation, the notion of affordable housing is ridiculous as the family income would need to be in the region of £90,000 per year to qualify.

It is no accident that the Montague report should fall so short in its solutions. Sir Adrian Montague works at 3i Investments, which owns £10.6 billion in assets including property. If you want to reform the banks, ask the bankers what they want while if you want to reform housing, ask the landlords....

Britain is desperately in need of sensible housing priorities. There are currently over 1 million empty properties in the UK. These should be renovated as part of a government public works programme, which creates jobs, and put under council or coop control in order to alleviate the housing lists. Private sector rents must be capped and forced down urgently. There should be a programme of affordable house building in the public sector to rebuild the council housing stock. These should be developed on brown field sites in the cities. The vicious cap on housing benefit should be abolished and poor families further supported with benefits to help them.

Such a programme requires politics that will stand up to big business and the warped priorities of the free market. These will not come from the major political parties. They can only come from a political force that refuses to obey the horrific consensus rotting British politics.