New Council House building is necessary to tackle the housing crisis

Swindon TUC Press Release October 6th 2008

Swindon TUC believes that in order to address the housing crisis (both locally and nationally) there needs to be a break with the policy which has been followed since Thatcher’s government and continued by New Labour under both Blair and Brown. The ‘right to buy’ and the effective ban on new Council House building have created a massive shortage of housing. It is no wonder as the Advertiser has reported that the waiting list for Council accommodation has risen from 3,000 in 1997 to over 8,000 today.

In fact this figure almost certainly underestimates housing need because many people do not bother putting their name on the list because they know they have no chance of getting accommodation. This is reflected by the article in the Adver in which a single parent was told she would have to wait five years. Couples without children and single people stand no chance.

Swindon TUC Secretary Martin Wicks said:

“Many people these days are forced to take out a mortgage they can ill-afford because there is no Council Housing available. For millions of people a mortgage is like an albatross around their necks. The current economic circumstances make their situation very precarious. The loss of a job can very quickly lead to a house being lost.

The reckless lending by banks has meant that people who cannot really afford to buy struggle to get by month by month. One of the things which brought Bradford & Bingley crashing down was the “self-certification” mortgage, which would be more accurately described as the “it’s OK you can lie to us about your income” mortgage. Northern Rock came a cropper partly because of its 125% mortgages. Many people re-mortgaged because they thought that prices would continue to rise.

For the sake of owning a house, millions of people have to work long hours and live a stressed and anxious existence. It’s instructive that only 4% of the population has savings of £35,000 or more.

Council Housing has been stigmatised, and the right to buy – giving away public assets on the cheap – has meant that only the poorest people live in Council accommodation, since no more are being built.

Council Housing should be provided as a social need. We agree with Councillor Steven Allsopp who said the government needed to be pressed to allow Council house building to start again.

In the context of a recession a Council House building programme would put to work the building workers and those in building supplies who are currently being laid off.

One of the ironies of the global financial situation is that huge sums of money have been found to rescue the financial organisations that have caused the crisis, yet we were told there was a shortage of money for genuine social needs.”

Swindon TUC is calling for:

• An end to the “right to buy”;
• Councils to be allowed to build Council Housing once again without being penalised;
• An end to the “reverse subsidy” whereby the government takes £9 million pounds of the rent money collected in Swindon. (See note)
• An end to the “equalisation of rent” which in practise means that Council House rents are being driven up to the level of Housing Association ones.

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786 394593

Note

Defend Council Housing reports that:

“Most local authorities have insufficient resources to manage, maintain, repair and improve council homes. The main reason is that government has been siphoning money out of council housing year on year.

This year (2008/9) the difference between the total rents tenants pay (nationally) and the amount that our council landlords receive from government in allowances is £1.7 billion. Total rents are £6.4 billion per year whilst councils only receive £4.7 billion in allowances. It’s outright robbery. It’s even more cheek that they then try and blackmail tenants to accept privatisation on the basis that there’s no money to fund improvements!”

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