by Glyn Robbins, from Unite housing workers, Defend Council Housing and ‘Axe the Housing Act’
The partial U-turn on ‘Pay to Stay’ is very welcome, but it’s not enough. The Housing and Planning Act remains a threat and must be repealed. Instead of imposing rent hikes on council tenants themselves, the government is letting local authorities do it instead! We must be very wary of councils using the legislation to fill funding gaps and push out tenants they think should be paying more for their home. The same applies to housing associations (HAs), so-called ‘social’ landlords the Act is enabling to behave even more like private developers.
The delay in extending the Right to Buy to HA tenants – and therefore the envisaged sell-off of empty ‘high value’ council homes – is further evidence that the ill-conceived Act is falling apart.
But until the Act is axed, there’s still the danger that thousands of social rented homes will be lost, at a time when we need thousands more. Although the Tories have done some back-tracking on Starter Homes, they still want them to replace genuinely affordable homes on new developments. Likewise, the statement announcing the retreat on Pay to Stay indicates that the government will push harder to abolish secure tenancies for future council tenants – a massive threat to the stability of working class communities. More council estates are still at risk of being broken-up by being re-designated as ‘brownfield’ sites.
But the fact that the government’s housing policy ‘flag ship’ is sinking is testament to the accumulated pressure of a united, concerted campaign against it. Certainly, other issues have been factors, not least Brexit. But this weak, divided government isn’t ready to take on the opposition to the Act, either inside or outside Parliament. It’s announced a housing White Paper before Christmas, a sure sign – along with the concessions in yesterday’s Autumn Statement – that it’s feeling the heat on housing.
With the Tories’ housing policy in disarray, it’s vital that campaigners develop a real alternative. That’s why the Axe the Housing Act alliance has produced its own Autumn Statement. Even if the entire Act was dropped tomorrow, we’d still have a massive housing crisis, the product of an ideology that sees a home as a commodity. We need to unite around the core demands of controlled rent and secure homes for all and build a broad, cross-tenure movement to demand a fundamental change in housing policy.