Monday, 21 July 2014

Working Class Homes ; Let's Build, Build, Build!

Going back to the 1960s and 70s our council houses were homes to be proud of. Whilst not made of the costlier materials of private homes or to the grandest of designs, they were real homes. My mum was brought up in a lovely 3 bedroomed pre-fab house, put up quickly after the war with huge gardens front and back. My abiding memory is my grandfather tending the roses at the front and growing his vegetables at the back. Everyone worked in his road, everyone prided themselves on the neatness of their homes and gardens.

We need to return to this. Council homes that are built where tenants can be proud to live and proud of the community they belong to. Currently there are 4.5 million people on a council house waiting list. When Thatcher came to power in 1979, 150,000 council houses were built every year. When Thatcher left in 1990 only 1500 were built. Whatever we think about Thatcher, she was a clever woman. She sold us the aspiration of working class home ownership. "Buy your council house, live the dream, become one of us" she said and like fools we, the working class, fell for it.

 But for every council house sold under right to buy, next to none were built to replace them. Once Thatcher had got us hooked on the aspiration of owning a house, the drug lingered from one generation to the next, where renting was frowned upon and soon council and social housing was looked down upon as necessary places to "warehouse" the unemployed, single parents, the disabled, criminals and people washing up on the shores of the fringes of society. Early on working class low paid workers, shunned council housing entirely, going straight to home ownership with the lure of 100% mortgages. Many of course ended up, back on council housing lists when interest rates shot up in the late 80's and their homes were reposessed!

With the relentless rise in  numbers needing council housing and successive governments stubborn refusal to build, we have now reached a tipping point crisis, started by Thatcher and ramped up by Cameron. For the first time since records began home ownership is declining. Well done Dave! A family loses their home every 15 minutes under the ConDems. Private tenants  are on a merry-go-round of 6 month tenancies as landlords can evict so easily.

In London we have the great "buy to leave" crisis where oligarchs living abroad buy expensive London houses then leave them to stand to go up in price with no one living in them. The UK spends £20bn a year on Housing Benefit, plugging the gap for renters in the private sector whose rents are soaring under greedy landlords. Yet we spend £1bn a year building new homes currently. The ConDems  decided to point the finger directly at the poor as expected, and social cleansing of London is ongoing by setting a benefit cap, driving tenants often  hundreds of miles from the capital.

So what can be done? Ed Miliband is talking a very good start on the issue for the Labour manifesto. In Europe and even USA rent control is mainstream and expected. We desperately need some kind of rent control in the UK. The buy - let landlord needs curbing. Ridiculous photographs of "flats" with £700pm rents where you can't open a kitchen cupboard door as the bed is in the kitchen next to the sink is becoming the norm. Miliband recognises this and will move to bring in rent controls, a move decried by the Daily Mail as being "communist!"

Labour realises that Housing and the crises surrounding housing is a top 5 burning issue for people in the run up to 2015. Ironically housing hasn't even figured as an issue prior to the run up to 2010. But then the Tories hadn't been in power since 1997!  Ed  Miliband  has said Labour will build 200,000 houses every year of a Labour government from 2015. Admirable. He has a grip of the crisis. But we need to hear more on affordable homes and council housing. Letting local councils borrow to build social housing is a first move. Making sure these new homes have a mix of housing, green areas and a social mix of working, retired, disabled and unemployed people is also a key factor for new council houses fit for the 21st century. Let's not use the lowest common denominator as a starting point. Let's build housing that looks like the private housing around it ,so new council housing is not pointed at, ostracised and looked down upon as inferior.

Before we do this, we need to campaign to change the narrative. The Tories have bombarded the media with programmes on welfare and scroungers and have convinced swathes of the working class everyone is on the take and more cuts to social security are well past due and needed! Tosh! It's a media - newspaper and TV campaign to get their austerity message across and turn us on each other taking the heat away from them! The Tories are casting suspicion on charities like Shelter who are calling for more housebuilding and campaigning for the homeless as if homeless people are "undeserving" of a roof over their heads!

But look at our kids! I have a 25 year old son and a 22 year old son both are low paid. One is a care worker, the other on zero hours in a factory. My eldest moved out to a tiny 2 bed house with his partner which they rent privately at more than my mortgage! My 22 year old son  still lives  at home, renting out of his sphere of possibility. Zero hours, agency employed on poverty wages.. That's our kids lot in life and a new generation of renters and kids staying at home well into their 30s is what is happening in 2014. We can't meekly sit back and see the next generation far worse off than our own. We need decent social housing and we need it now! Join with me and tell a future Labour government : It's time to build, build, build!