IN EARLY DECEMBER 180 PEOPLE, from all over the country, attended the Homes for All campaign summit at the National Education Union’s HQ. Brexit wasn’t mentioned once. For council tenants fighting estate demolitions, housing association tenants resisting rent hikes, private tenants bullied by slumlords and many others, our broken housing system has an impact now and beyond 29th March.
As the political establishment decomposes, we’re still locked in a neo-liberal housing death-grip. This distracted government has run out of ideas, but Labour is still failing to fill the void adequately. Instead too many Labour councils persist with the failed policies of the past. In London, Sadiq Khan has pledged to build 11,000 new council homes, but with significantly higher rents than tenants currently pay. Nationally the party still lacks a clear, ambitious, unambiguous strategy to persuade people it has an answer to the defining social policy question of our time.
Council housing, linked to wider reforms, can be the cornerstone of a more successful economy and a more progressive society. It can also cut across the racist scapegoating that underlies some of the Brexit debate. But we can’t just sit back and wait for the next election. It’s essential to build and link up local, grassroots housing campaigns that can contribute to returning a government committed to radical reform.
In 2019, we need clarity and action on housing. Here are ten New Year’s housing resolutions for the labour movement:
1. Stop using the deliberately misleading term ‘social housing’.
2. Fight for more and better council housing.
3. Make sure it’s real council housing, publicly owned, with permanent tenancies and rents at existing levels.
4. No more estate demolitions unless there’s been a ballot of residents.
5. Call out the housing associations behaving like private property developers.
6. Demand immediate action to improve the rights of private tenants, like the campaign to scrap no-fault, ‘Section 21’ evictions.
7. Campaign for council housing on public land.
8. Take action on empty homes.
9. Insist the government honours its promise to pay for essential safety works to tower blocks.
10. Help build a national campaign for safe, secure homes for all.
Unless Labour sharpens up, there’s a real danger the Tories will outflank them on housing. Under pressure, Theresa May has already announced measures that should lead to a revival of council house building. We can expect more of the same as the Brexit crisis continues or if and when there’s a general election.
The housing crisis isn’t going away, whether we’re in or out of the EU. Labour must reach beyond Brexit and convince working class communities we can build a society in which everyone can afford a place to call home.
Bad housing and bad health are linked. On 30th March the Homes for All alliance is bringing together housing and health campaigners to discuss how we can work together. 11am, Unite the Union, Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB. More details from firstname.lastname@example.org
Unite Housing Workers branch and Defend Council Housing (personal capacity)