England needs to embark on the biggest council house building programme in its history if millions of people are to avoid living in unsuitable, cramped or dangerous homes, a cross-party commission has warned the government.
The year-long commission, launched following the Grenfell Tower disaster, told the government that 3m new homes for social rent need to be built over the next 20 years if England’s housing needs are to be met.
Its commissioners included former Labour leader Ed Miliband, former Conservative treasury minister and Goldman Sachs chief economist Lord Jim O’Neill and former Conservative party chair Sayeeda Warsi.
The programme proposed by the commission, set up by the housing charity Shelter, would offer council homes to millions of families who do not qualify under the present system.
Under the current government housebuilding in England has dropped to around 130,000 a year – the lowest level since the Second World War and far below the Tories target of 300,000 homes a year.
Severe housing crisis
As a result England is facing a severe housing crisis, with almost 280,000 people homeless, low income renters spending an average of 67 per cent of their wages on rent and half of all young people permanently prevented from getting their foot on the housing ladder.
Ed Miliband said, “The time for the government to act is now. We have never felt so divided as a nation, but building social homes is a priority for people right across our country.
“It is the way we can restore hope, build strong communities and fix the broken housing market so that we can meet the needs and aspirations of millions of people.”
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail welcomed the proposals, saying that the only way to tackle the housing crisis and “the associated misery it bring millions of individuals and families” is to build more council housing.
Cartmail said, “We all know someone paying extortionate rents or who are forced to reside in substandard and dilapidated accommodation or live in fear of losing their homes because they are denied a long-term tenancy.
“Genuinely affordable, decent housing is a pipe dream for hundreds of thousands on waiting lists and out of reach completely for the country’s young generation.”
Common sense and decency
Cartmail added that the plans speak to “common sense and decency” but that the Tories will never adopt them.
“The Conservatives equate housing with markets and money, rather than what it actually is: A basic human right. We won’t change the attitude of the present government in regards to the purpose of housing, so we need to change the government.
“Only Labour can deliver the bold and ambitious change needed to end the housing crisis and get our country building again.”
Unite’s national officer for housing Siobhan Endean highlighted the economic benefits of large scale council house building programmes.
She said, “As well as creating economic benefits by lowering housing costs and increasing individual spending power, our research shows that for every £1 spent on building houses an extra £2.09 is generated in the economy. Every £1 spent on housing construction also brings a 56p return to the treasury.”