In 1991, almost four million local authority dwellings were in use in England alone. By 2007, that figure had halved and remains desperately low today. This doesn’t reflect a fall in demand (there are over three million people in the UK on council house waiting lists) but rather a deliberate neglect of crucial low-cost housing by New Labour and Conservative governments.
The National Housing Federation has estimated that private landlords make a £9.4bn profit from housing benefit due to more benefit claimants being forced into the private sector. Corbyn’s pledge to invest in housing is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. If Labour is genuinely willing to wage war on the private landlords real progress could be made in solving the housing crisis.
Rather than building low-cost homes, we have seen suburbs explode with expensive houses for the upper-middle class, and been told that the country is full – “too many immigrants, not enough space”. To be absolutely clear, the housing crisis is not caused by immigrants but by the super-rich property developers who refuse to build affordable homes.
There are enough homes already built to house the country’s population, but many are kept empty by private owners, landlords or agencies who are waiting for a hike in value. On top of that there are over 66,000 hectares of brownfield sites (spaces of derelict development) in the UK. As if this was not enough, the Queen’s land ownership has expanded recently to 340,000 acres, not including private estates such as Balmoral. With the private estates included, the Royals’ land ownership matches that of the Ministry of Defence, at 600,000 acres. The ruling class refuse to build good quality, low cost homes on the pretence that there is not enough room, whilst sitting on huge swathes of land and houses.
To access this locked-down land, to develop the brownfield sites safely and productively, and to implement a worthwhile social housing programme, we must expropriate the property of the ruling class. They won’t use it except to make a profit by building houses that no-one can afford. Why should they get to waste this land to satisfy their own greed when hundreds of thousands of working class people are struggling to find a place to live?
Without radical action we will be forced to wait until our thirties to buy a home of our own, or pushed into the snakepit of the private rented sector. We want affordable and plentiful council housing now. And to guarantee decent homes for all, ultimately we call for a socialist housing policy in a socialist Britain.
by Frankie Toynton, Newcastle Marxists