The government’s Housing White Paper released on 7 February, is called ‘Fixing our broken housing market’. We welcome the admission that the housing situation needs ‘radical’ action. But what the White Paper really says is ‘We know what we’re doing doesn’t work, but we’re going to carry on doing it’.
The Prime Minister’s preface says ‘our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today…particularly for ordinary working class people’. But this government is attempting to push up rents, end secure tenancies and force councils and housing associations to sell-off social rented homes. The proposals in the White Paper would accelerate the privatisation of housing and the domination of property developers and speculators.
The government’s housing policy is in chaos. Under pressure from the campaign against the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, ministers are trying to introduce another wave of housing legislation and backtrack on significant aspects of the 2016 Act less than a year after it was passed (though mostly still not implemented). That Act remains a threat and the White Paper only adds to the layers of confusion and uncertainty.
These contradictions undermine the government’s suggestion that councils will be allowed to build homes again. We want to see this happen: it requires serious, long-term investment and all the threats in the Housing and Planning Act to be repealed. The main reason we have a housing crisis is that we’ve stopped building council homes and instead looked to private developers to build so-called affordable homes. This approach has failed miserably, but the White Paper continues to see the private sector as the solution.
There is one thing in the White Paper we fully support. It explicitly states that the housing crisis is NOT the result of immigration or because the country is ‘full’. We hope this will stop politicians using racist scapegoating to justify the lack of genuinely affordable and secure homes.
Below are some more detailed points from the White Paper.
Responses by 2 May 2017: email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The government says ‘Housing associations have been doing well’ and confirms a £7.1 billion budget for HAs to build ‘affordable’ homes, on top of the £23 billion they’ve received since the early 2000s. But HAs have not been building the homes we need. Throughout the 1970s, local authorities consistently built over 100,000 council homes a year. In 2015/16 HAs built 40,000 homes, but only 14% (5,464 homes) were for social rent. The remainder were ‘affordable homes’ at up to 80% of the market level (18,592) and shared ownership (8,767). HAs built more homes for private sale (5,205) than they did for social rent!
They’ve moved away from their founding ethos as ‘social’ landlords and increasingly resemble private developers in their culture and practice. The White Paper will continue that trend. It confirms that HAs will now be regarded as part of the private sector and will allow them to charge higher rents to existing tenants from 2020. This comes on top of the changes in the Housing and Planning Act which make it easier for HAs to switch between social and private housing sectors, weakens the level of regulation and ends the requirement for them to have local councillors on their Boards.
Local Councils, public land and regeneration
The White Paper says it wants to ‘encourage local authorities to build again’, but gives no commitment to the money needed for them to do that. It does say that £45 million will be available through a ‘Land Release Fund’ to build 160,000 homes on public land by 2020, but alongside the clauses in the Housing and Planning Act about the use of ‘brownfield’ sites, this could mean allowing private developers to use faster planning permission to build on public land homes that are unaffordable to most people. The White Paper also gives only vague commitments to protect the interests of residents living on estates ear-marked for large scale regeneration projects, where experience shows they are at risk of losing their homes.
The government says it wants to make renting fairer for tenants, but the White Paper gives no indication of how. It talks about ‘encouragement’ for longer tenancies, but there’s nothing specific to guarantee renters security or rent controls. The government is stalling on its commitment to end lettings fees, talking about ‘consultation’ instead of immediate abolition.
Private Investors and Developers
While it’s vague on commitments to protect tenants’ rights and build the homes we need, the White Paper says it wants to create ‘a long-term framework for investment’ for property speculators, particularly in the private rented sector. This opens the door to the kind of large scale institutional investors who dominate the housing market in the USA and elsewhere. The government says it wants to ‘diversify’ housing provision, but in fact it’s allowing big developers to control housing policy.
The Planning System
The White Paper suggests the slowness of the planning system is the main reason we have a housing crisis, but its own figures show that even when they have planning permission, private developers often don’t build. There are lots of ways the planning system could be improved, by making it more transparent, democratic and insisting that targets for social rented homes are met.
For the White Paper itself, click here.
For the consultations associated with the White Paper, see Housing Law Consultations.
For a House of Commons Library briefing in respect of the planning aspects of the proposals in the White Paper, click here
For the response of the Local Government Association, click here
For the response of Shelter, click here
For the response of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, click here
For letters to The Guardian in response to the White Paper, click here
To Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
Act to control rents and secure homes for all
We welcome your promise to fix the housing crisis. London and the UK are increasingly unequal and divided. Housing pressures in London are pushing up costs throughout the south. Most people are paying more for less security, worse conditions and fewer rights, with a rising proportion of income going on rent, alongside growing overcrowding and homelessness.
Recent policies have made the situation worse; the latest example is the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
If implemented, the Act will push up rents,reduce security of tenure, lead to market sell-off of thousands of social rented homes, increase displacement and the break-up of communities while doing little to improve the situation for those condemned to exploitative private renting and homelessness.
This is already driving ordinary people out of communities, hitting women and ethnic minorities hardest. A broad alliance, including tenants of all tenures, trade unions,housing professionals, academics, faith leaders, councillors, MPs and Lords, are calling on the government to think again. We want you to add your voice to this opposition. The pressure has already compelled ministers to abandon the ‘Pay to Stay’ tenant tax, and pause the extension of Right to Buy and the market sale of council homes to pay for it. Some government funding has been restored for rented housing, and letting fees are to be scrapped.
The secondary legislation needed to implement the rest of the Act has not yet been introduced. But the Housing minister wants to persist in plans to end secure tenancies. We call on you to reject Government moves towards time-limited and means tested housing stratified by income.
‘Affordable’ rent up to 80% market rates, Starter Homes and scrapping of lifetime secure tenancies are disastrous for our communities. Less security of tenure results in more social cleansing, with entire neighbourhoods stripped of vital social networks and character as people on average and low incomes are priced out.
- A decent, secure, affordable home should be a right, not a short-term privilege. We need to protect permanent tenancies for council and housing association tenants and extend security further: scrap six-month Assured Short hold Tenancies in the private rented sector.
- So called ‘regeneration’ schemes that threaten 80-plus estates in London must be suspended, with a residents’ right to vote on proposals and an option of no strings attached investment in new and existing council housing at social rents with secure tenancies.
- Private property developers should be prevented from using secret ‘viability assessments’ to get planning permission so they can build homes few can afford, many of which stand empty. We call for full publication of viability assessments on all developments.
- Public land must be used to launch a programme of new council house building. At the now-unused Holloway Prison site at least 400 genuinely affordable homes could be built.
We call on the Mayor of London and all our elected representatives including other city mayors, councillors and MPs to publicly oppose the Housing and Planning Act and support the campaign to replace it with action for controlled rents and secure homes for all.
To sign this letter, please fill out the short form below:
” The government is now consciously using hunger as a weapon. Because if you’re hungry you can’t fight back; you can’t do anything – you’re just desperate… “
– Ken Loach in conversation at Axe The Housing Act’s special screening of ‘I. Daniel Blake’ February 2017
Thank you to everyone who attended, helped organise and donated generously to the Axe The Housing Act campaign’s special screening of ‘I,Daniel Blake’ at London’s Genesis Cinema with a Q&A with the film’s director Ken Loach. Many left the screening feeling passionate and angry about the current socio-political climate and are ready to fight back.
Axe The Housing Act and Unite Housing Workers Branch have organised a meeting open to all housing association residents and workers to develop a network for greater campaigning strength.
As with public services, to defeat the Housing and Planning Act and the austerity agenda, workers and service users must come together united in a common cause.
The meeting will discuss how to:
- Defeat the remaining parts of the Act
- End ‘social cleansing’
- End the cuts to repairs and maintenance services
- Demand decent pay, conditions and training for housing workers
Meeting to be held on Monday January 30th, 6.30pm at:
Diskus Centre, Unite HQ, 128 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8TN
Workers, residents and service users from across a range of housing associations will meet together and plan to fight together for better pay, terms and conditions, and services in social housing. Open to all who work for a housing association, their residents and service users.
Welcome to a busy new year already in the campaign for homes.
The Housing Act is still stalled, with no move yet to pass the necessary regulations needed. Government have dropped the threatened Pay to Stay tenant tax, and postponed further Right to buy and sell off of council homes for at least a year.
But the Act remains a threat, until we get it all scrapped.
Ministers still want to end secure tenancies, and replace homes for rent with un-affordable mortgages. A new Housing white paper is on the way, so now is the time to demand policies to control rents and secure homes for all.
Come to our open organising meeting this Saturday 14 Jan 11.am at:
Unite Offices, 128 Theobalds Rd London WC1X 8TN.
We’ll catch up with plans, and welcome new ideas. All invited – email any reports or suggestions if you can’t make it.
Please sign and circulate our open letter to Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, imploring him to oppose the Housing and Planning Act and support our campaign for controlled rents and secure homes for all: