Unite will join housing campaigners this Sunday (March 13) in opposing the government’s Housing and Planning Bill which, if passed, will annihilate affordable housing in the UK.
Demonstrators will assemble at noon in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London and will march to Parliament Square, where a rally will be held to send a clear message to the government that the controversial Bill will only further fuel the country’s housing crisis and help only a small, and largely affluent, few.
The Bill is now in the committee stage in the House of Lords.
Vanishing council homes
Through the legislation, the government aims to extend right to buy to housing association tenants, which is to be funded by councils being forced to sell their “high value” properties that become vacant.
The Local Government Association (LGA), chaired by Tory peer Gary Porter, estimated that this measure, coupled with existing right-to-buy policies, would mean that by 2020, nearly 100,000 council homes would disappear. Council housing waiting lists, where nearly two million people now languish, will spiral out of control.
More and more people living in council housing will be forced into the private rented sector through another measure in the Bill called “pay to stay”. Those who earn more than £40,000 in London and £30,000 elsewhere will need to pay the market rate rent to remain in their council accommodation – which could mean a hike in rent of up to 400 per cent.
The LGA has estimated that this measure will mean that 60,000 households will be forced out of their homes.
Secure lifetime tenancies in council housing will also be abolished, and will be replaced with two to five year tenancies with no right to pass on to children.
The LGA notes that, taken together, these measures will translate into a ballooning bill for the taxpayer. Because more people will be forced into the private rented sector, where costs are much steeper, the housing benefit bill, which now stands at £25bn this year, will further skyrocket.
The government has said that measures in the Housing Bill are designed to help ordinary people achieve their dreams of homeownership through their starter home scheme.
Under the scheme, starter homes, whose construction will be funded by both public and private money, will be sold to first-time buyers who are under 40 at a minimum 20 per cent discount – a discount which will be funded by the taxpayer.
The government has said these homes will be affordable, but their definition of “affordable” is up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 everywhere else.
In the capital, a household would need to earn at least £70,000 annually to afford these new starter homes – while the average wage in inner city London is only £34,000.
An analysis by estate agent Savills found that the starter homes will be out of reach for all people in need of affordable housing in 220 councils and for 90 per cent of people in another 80 councils.
For the very few who can afford these starter homes, they will be able to sell these homes within 5 years at the full market rate and so pocket the 20 per cent taxpayer-funded discount.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner called the Housing Bill a “shambles”.
“There is not one measure in this Bill that addresses the root cause of the housing crisis in the UK and particularly in London, which is getting worse and worse every year,” he noted.
“The main problem is a severe lack of genuinely affordable housing stock. This shortage of housing is what’s causing house prices to soar. Instead of addressing this dire need, the Housing Bill will destroy whatever affordable and social rent housing is left. Flogging off housing association properties and forcing already cash-strapped councils to pay for this sell-off is utterly absurd.
“Right to buy has already proven to be a disaster – nearly half of the council homes sold under the scheme to date have ended up on the private rental market,” he added. “To extend this scheme will only further exacerbate the shortage of affordable homes.”
“The government should be taking advantage of this period of historically low interest rates to embark on a mass council house building programme. We need at least 240,000 homes built each and every year to keep up with demand.”
“A housebuilding programme itself confers economic benefits beyond helping drive down housing costs – our research has shown that for every £1 spent on housing construction, an extra £2.09 is generated in the economy. Each £1 also generates a 56p return to the Exchequer.”
‘Disastrous’ private rental market
Turner slammed the UK’s light regulation on the private rented sector.
“The UK’s private rented sector is the least regulated in the entire EU. This light-touch regulation is another factor that has caused private rents to spiral out of control, even as the quality of accommodation deteriorates. It’s also why our housing benefit bill has become untenably large despite individual households still being punished by cuts to the benefit they receive.”
“The Housing Bill does nothing to address the disaster that’s become the private rental market in this country. But the solutions for this are clear — we must introduce rent controls which are standard in Germany and Sweden, abolish rip-off letting fees and ensure that private landlords are registered and licenced and that tenants’ rights are protected.”
“The Housing Bill as it stands now is, more than anything, an anti-housing bill,” Turner added. “A home is not a plaything in some twisted, real-life game of Monopoly – it’s a human right.
“We urge the House of Lords to reconsider the legislation that will only further intensify the housing crisis, and we call on all who agree to attend this weekend’s demonstration.”
London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan highlighted his committment to opposing the Housing Bill, noting that it would be particularly bad for Londoners.
“The government’s Housing Bill is an attack on affordable housing and council tenants – and it’s a particular attack on Londoners and the capital’s social mix,” he said.
“I am fighting the Government’s plans to raise rents for working families and to force the sell-off of council homes to highest bidder, which will lead to a hollowing out of the capital. I will continue to oppose the Bill in Parliament to try and stop it becoming law – we must all unite to put pressure on the government to drop this mean Bill.”