Housing Despair

I despair over housing. It has become a desperate problem, particularly in and around London where I live, but one with a simple solution which no government will adopt. We need a crash programme to build more council housing.

Of course it is the disastrous legacy of Thatcherism, though carried on since by successive governments including Blair, Brown and the coalition, although the 2016 Housing and Planning Act is set to take the housing crisis to an entirely new level.

It’s appropriate that the image at the top of this post should feature Class War standing in front of Parliament, because the 2016 Bill is quite clearly an act of class war by a dogmatic Conservative goverenment, aimed at getting rid of our remaining social housing.

Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing (ASH) heckles the Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing

Less appropriate was the participation in the protest of some of the leading Labour councillors in London boroughs who are so involved in the selling off of public land for private development and the uprooting of existing council estates.

Richard Livingstone, Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing spoke at the rally before the march, not that far from the site of the former Heygate Estate, an award-winning development which Southwark Council spent some years deliberately running down and employing PR consultants to denigrate so they could sell it off for demolition with the loss of over a thousand socially rented homes – with many of those who lived there being forced to move well our of the area or even outside London in a deliberate act of social cleansing. It was done so incompetently that the council failed to benefit financially as it had hoped, though some individuals and the developers grew rich.

Its a policy that Southwark are currently extending to other estates, including the neighbouring Aylesbury Estate, a process bitterly opposied by the majority of residents, and where the government minister recently rejected the council’s application for a compulsory purchase order to get rid of some of the leaseholders on the main ground that it would be “a disproportionate contravention of the leaseholders’ human rights” as well as having “considerable economic, social and environmental dis-benefits”.

When even a Conservative minister thinks a council is screwing its residents, something is very seriously wrong. Southwark’s response hasn’t been to try and find an acceptable solution, but to announce they will appeal the decision. The Aylesbury redevelopment will mean a loss of almost 800 socially-rented homes, though the number may well rise as developers lodge the usual faked accounts against having to provide social housing.

Jasmin Stone of Focus E15 Housing For All campaign

Class War were only one of many housing campaigns on the march, including Focus E15, but they did inject a little interest into the march which took a rather curious back-street route towards Westminster (I think to go past a Lambeth estate threatened with demolition) which also took it past a branch of Foxtons, where Class War led others in peeling off for a short and noisy protest outside.

It was Class War too who took the march on from Parliament to finish with a protest outside Downing St, where the Housing Times set up a picture with the woman above posing in a t-shirt with the message ‘The Conservative Government has declared WAR on Social Housing’.

Government policy is currently to give huge subsidies to landlords through the payment of Housing Benefit which has hugely raised market rents, as well as vast amounts in various incentive schemes to enable people with middling incomes to buy their own properties. If these huge subsidies were instead put into the building of council housing the housing crisis would soon be eliminated.

Though there is another government-created problem. The closing of many of the apprenticeship and training schemes through succesive underfunding of vocational education and furtther education in general means we have a massive shortage of skilled workers who could build the new homes we need. And Brexit is likely to make it harder for workers from central and eastern Europe to continue to fill the gap.

Housing and Planning Bill March


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