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The Housing Crisis Won’t be Solved by Tinkering

23rd April 2015

The Housing Crisis Won’t be Solved by Tinkering

By Andrew Fisher

The Tories’ proposal to extend right to buy to housing association homes united almost every policy commentator in opposition, including the CBI and Telegraph columnists, alongside housing associations and homelessness charities. (the Telegraph headline was ‘Extending the Right to Buy is Economically Illiterate and Morally Wrong’.)


Outside of this unity stood the Labour Party which insisted, “we support right to buy”, but criticised the Tories’ proposal for being “uncosted, unfunded and unbelievable”. This approach implies depleting the residual level of social housing stock is acceptable if the sums add up.

Labour’s affiliated unions oppose right to buy, as does its youth wing (Young Labour), and Welsh Labour will dump right to buy in Wales from next year as it is “forcing many vulnerable people to wait longer for a home”. Why is the UK Labour leadership so timid?

Labour’s contradictions exist not just in opposition to Tory policies but within their own manifesto too. In the first section they state:
“Our sons and daughters have been shut out of the housing market and too often they are forced to leave the communities where they were brought up”
Yet they also support the benefit cap which has forced sons, daughters, mothers and fathers out of their communities in much the same way as the bedroom tax that Labour is pledged to scrap. But Labour is scared of not being seen as ‘tough on welfare’, so capitulates to this nonsense.


The Labour manifesto pledges to build at least 200,000 homes a year, which will go beyond this government’s dismal record which has averaged only around 145,000 homes a year. They may also eclipse the insufficient 190,000 that the last Labour government averaged.

Labour is pledged to keep the Help to Buy ISA, but will also ensure that money invested in the ISAs is used to build new housing.

While Labour is not backing a Land Value Tax, it is taking on land speculation by giving local authorities powers to force developers to build or confiscate the land. However, the compulsory purchase powers relating to empty residential properties are underused by local authorities, so a cultural change will be needed too.

Labour also pledges to “get the public sector building again”. It will do this “by prioritising capital investment for housing and by reforming the council house finance system”. Unlike the overall 200,000 homes a year pledge, there is no figure pledged for the numbers of council homes Labour would build.

While the Tory manifesto was silent on private renters, Labour pledges three year tenancies as standard with caps on rental increases within those tenancies, and banning some letting agency fees. There will also be a register of private landlords.

There’s a lot that’s good in Labour’s manifesto, but it’s hard to see what would be truly transformative. Labour pledges only to ameliorate the housing crisis, not to solve it.

From the Left Economics Advisory Platform at

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