Labour’s shadow housing minister has set out plans to deliver 100,000 social homes a year by 2020.
The former minster of state for housing, John Healy, has claimed in a new report that a “substantial and sustained programme of public house-building” is possible through the implementation of “a combination of tried and tested policy changes”. These policies could deliver hundreds of thousands of new social homes and bring down the UK’s housing benefit bill, which many argue has spiralled out of control.
Mr. Healey’s policies would serve to drastically increase the amount of social housing on offer, which has dwindled under recent Governments, and would offer the new homes for both rent and sale.
The proposals, which are intended to spark a discussion and are not official Labour policy, would represent a change from former leader Ed Miliband’s pledge to build 200,000 homes a year. However, in his report published by the Smith Institute, Mr. Healey claims the issues surrounding houses need a new approach.
He said: “My own party has done too little to reshape the housing debate and in opposition we were too timid about making these bigger arguments.”
He added: “Now more than ever the case for public housing must be made, both because of the pressing need for new affordable homes and the existential crisis now confronting public housing.”
Under the proposals, councils would be given freedom to borrow against their assets like a businesses in order to fund residential construction. Tighter obligations would be placed on developers to fund more new social homes through the planning system, while the Right To Buy scheme would be reformed to ensure properties are replaced on a one-for-one basis, which currently is not being delivered.
Other measures include making finance more affordable for housing associations and allowing private finance to be used by councils and associations.
According to Mr. Healey: “Together these policies could bring about a step-change in the number of public homes we build, and are all almost all tried, tested and ready to go.”
The report claims these new homes would pay for themselves as the upfront costs of construction would be offset by rents from tenants and a lower housing benefit bill. Mr. Healey estimates this public saving could total £6bn over a thirty year period.
He has calculated that Government spending on housing benefit will be £120bn over the next five years, almost £50bn of which goes to private landlords. Meanwhile, investment funding in grants for building new affordable homes over the next five years will be little more than £5bn.
Mr. Healy added: “After five years of failure with the Tories, it is time to think bigger and be bolder about how we could fix Britain’s chronic housing problems. I hope this report helps kick off the wide debate I believe is needed in the country about our housing costs crisis.”
Jeremy Corbyn made housing a high profile issue during his leadership campaign and since being elected to lead the party has made it one of his top three priorities.
Speaking at his first Labour conference as leader, Mr. Corbyn said: “Housing is an absolutely top priority policy; nowhere has the Tory failure been so complete and so damaging. In the last Parliament, at least half a million fewer homes were built than were actually needed.
“There is no answer at all to this housing crisis that doesn’t start with first of all a new very large, very active council house-building programme with new homes that are affordable to rent and buy. John Healy, our shadow housing minister, has shown that it could pay for itself by making the taxpayer a profit by cutting the housing benefit bill by having reasonable rents, not exorbitant rents.
“We need new ideas to tackle land hoarding and speculation. These are issues that are so vital to how things go forward in this country.
“I want a kinder more caring politics that doesn’t tolerate more homelessness, more upheaval for families in temporary accommodation. A secure home is out of reach for millions. John Healey has made a great start in that fundamental review of our housing policy and how we achieve that, and we’re going to achieve that; a decent home for everybody. That is our Labour pledge and our Labour aspiration.”