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The right to a decent home
The Socialist Party is fighting for:
High-quality, affordable homes
A high-quality, affordable home is one of the most crucial elements of a decent standard of living.
If effects every aspect of our lives.
Recently, a research programme compared the health of the residents before and after a major renovation of an estate in Hackney, London.
Just having their existing homes refurbished meant that residents’ health improved and they made 30% fewer visits to the doctor.
Yet a high-quality, affordable home is a right now denied to most of us.
A growing minority literally has no home – a total of 166,760 households were found to be homeless by councils in England – that is half a million individuals.
But the problem is not limited to those who are literally homeless.
There are now more than a million adults who are still living with their parents – even though they are approaching 40! As house prices soar, it is impossible for many young people to stretch to a mortgage – on average, the lowest-paid quarter of the population would have to earn five times their current wages to buy a property.
Nor is a home assured for those who are paying off a mortgage.
If, as is most likely, house prices fall sharply, hundreds of thousands will face repossession.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, half a million people lost their homes this way.
Private sector renting is all that is available to increasing numbers of people.
Millions of people are being forced to live in sub-standard, overcrowded private rented housing – a return to the Rachmanite landlords of the 1960s.
And private sector rents are following house prices into the stratosphere – they increased by 15% last year alone.
We campaign for the reintroduction of rent officers with the power to force landlords to pay a fair rent.
Stop the sell off – defend council housing
What would be the solution to the housing crisis? For affordable, secure, good-quality public housing to be provided for all those who want it.
After all, from 1949–54 an average of 230,000 council houses were built per year.
The Socialist Party is campaigning for a programme on a similar scale that would refurbish existing stock and build enough new homes to genuinely solve the housing problem.
We also demand that the big banks and insurance companies, building societies and finance houses to be taken into democratic public ownership.
Every mortgage holder in the country pays their bank or building society tens of thousands of pounds in interest.
Interest payments to the banks
Local councils also pay vast sums in interest payments to the banks.
If the banks were in public ownership they would be able to cancel all local authority debts and offer individuals interest-free, or very low interest, loans.
The result would be far cheaper mortgage repayments and rents.
Of course, socialists would take the protection of the environment into account when building housing.
At the moment the big housing companies build purely for profit without little concern for the environment, or the standard or affordability of the housing.
A mass house-building programme
A mass house-building programme would mean careful planning to ensure the protection of green spaces.
In many cases, it would be possible to build on fully decontaminated brownfield areas (land that has been developed for industrial purposes, polluted, and then abandoned).
However, part of having a decent environment is having pleasant, safe homes for all.
In complete contrast to a socialist policy New Labour is hell bent on worsening the housing crisis.
They are attempting to systematically sell-off what remains of council housing.
Although they haven’t yet met their target of selling off 200,000 homes a year, they have succeeded in selling off more council houses in the seven years they’ve been in office than the Tories managed to sell off in 18 years!
Voted to stay with the local authority
If they had got their way far more housing would have been sold off, but in many areas – including Birmingham, Stockport and Camden, London – tenants have ignored New Labour’s bullying and have voted to stay with the local authority.
This is because tenants understand that, however much New Labour disguises it with quangos like an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO), their agenda is privatisation.
And privatisation, even if housing is sold to a ‘registered social landlord’, means higher rents and less rights and democracy for tenants.
Registered social landlords’ (RSLs) rent levels are higher than the cost of buying a home in 55 local authority areas! And even though tenants are usually offered rent guarantees during privatisation campaigns, once the guarantee expires (usually after five years) rents rise fast.
For new tenants no guarantees exist – for example, in 1998/1999 new tenants in recently privatised housing suffered average rent rises of 16%!.
Yet the Labour Party - "New Labour" - has done everything possible to try and force tenants to vote for privatisation.
In Camden, for example, tenants were bribed that the government would give them £283 million to repair their homes but only if they voted yes for transfer to an ALMO.
Housing minister, Keith Hill, has told MPs that he is ‘tearing up’ tenants rights to a decent home if they vote to keep their council landlords.
As bribery and threats haven’t worked – New Labour is now moving to abolish tenants’ right to vote.
Only eight out of the 21 councils who applied to set up ALMOs so far have held a ballot of any kind.
New Labour’s policy is not primarily about saving money.
An extra £6.5 billion available
The government happily handed over £276 million to local councils to solve their ‘negative equity’ problem (where the value of the housing stock sold is less than the council’s housing debts).
£25 million has been paid to consultants and public relations firms to ‘sell’ housing sell-offs!
Handing over tax-payers’ money by the bucket-load is no problem – provided it is to fuel the privatisation mania, rather than to provide decent local services.
If the government changed their own regulations and completely lifted the Tories ‘ring-fencing’ (the Tory policy which prevented local authorities from spending the money from council house sales on social housing), this alone would provide an extra £6.5 billion to spend on social housing.
Even the 25% of this money that New Labour has legally released from ring-fencing would be enough to create at least 100,000 new or refurbished homes.
The Socialist Party is fighting for: