THE GOVERNMENT’S GREEN PAPER - “A new deal for social housing”- comes against a background of abject failure. Since 2015, we’ve had one major piece of housing legislation, the Housing and Planning Act, that disintegrated under campaign pressure, two inconsequential white papers and four housing ministers. This green paper is further proof that the government doesn’t know what it’s doing. But it’s also fundamentally dishonest. Behind fake post-Grenfell sympathy, the Tories are fashioning a new stick to beat council housing with.
There’s 74 pages of tired old policies and rhetoric. But there’s no genuine commitment to invest in truly affordable, non-market rented homes. Instead, there’s a thinly-veiled threat of more of the privatisation that created the housing crisis.
Introducing landlord league tables, while simultaneously cutting funding for services, is a gimmick we’ve seen used to undermine public education and health services. Doing so in the name of improving “accountability” after Grenfell is rank hypocrisy and cynicism. It’s the pro-market policies of this and previous governments that have created the “stigma” of tenants the Tories are now claiming to care about.
Their true intention is revealed on page 38, referring to a “new stock transfer programme” under the guise of “empowering residents”. We’ve seen it all before. New Labour used the same disingenuous language, while giving away 1.3 million council homes to housing associations (HAs) between 1997 and 2010. Many promises were made to tenants to persuade them to transfer: very few were kept. The results were higher rents, weaker tenancies and longer waiting lists. HAs, even those claiming to be “community-led”, have proved to be less accountable - and increasingly business-oriented - landlords.
As Defend Council Housing has said: “After Grenfell, the government needs to put right a lethal legacy”. This green paper won’t. Once again, the door is wide open to Labour. Its conference needs to decisively reject privatisation and firm up commitments to invest in council housing, including fully funding safety works.
Truly independent, properly funded, tenant organisations are vital for rebuilding the trust lost before and since Grenfell. Above all, an incoming Labour government needs to ditch the failed market dogma that’s causing so much housing misery. The green paper shows this government will never do that.
Labour needs to be bold and ambitious, with a plan based on decent, secure, genuinely affordable, energy-efficient and safe homes for all.
Unite Housing Workers branch and Defend Council Housing (personal capacity)