Jeremy Corbyn must seize the moment, because Britain is ready for radical action to solve the housing crisis, says Alex Hilton
Ready for action
Less than a year ago Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party with an unprecedented mandate for an anti-austerity agenda. Today he finds himself under threat from MPs who oppose that agenda compounded by his own core team, incapable of building bridges and alliances beyond those who share their tribal mindset. High among the criticisms of Corbyn is that he refused to address the issue of immigration during the EU debate and I can see how, as a matter of principle, he would not have wanted to take the same path as other recent Labour leaders in reinforcing the myth that immigration is a problem.
“Polling for the report shows widespread demand for action on housing.”
But you can’t just tell people that their scapegoat is flawed. You have to show them where the flaws lie, where the responsibility truly belongs and, crucially, what you propose to do about it. You might get a liberal cheer for saying the problem’s really about austerity, inequality, housing and public services, but you won’t change people’s minds until they understand what you’re going to do to change things and believe you can do it.
I wrote How to Repair the Housing Market Quickly – A Crisis Response precisely to deliver such a message. Too much of the rhetoric around austerity is about bashing Tories or bankers (or ideally Tory bankers), and very little is about showing people what an anti-austerity Britain can look like and reassuring them that it can work and will be a better place to live than the fiercely unequal and divided nation that has been created since the 1980s.
This paper purports to be a comprehensive solution to the housing crisis that threatens to be overtaken, and yet also exacerbated, by both the EU crisis and the political crisis associated with it. I have taken the housing sector and identified simple major problems. First, that there is a harmful and unsustainable addiction to ever-rising house prices. Secondly, there are insufficient resources for the provision of large-scale public housing. Third, that housing standards cannot rise without a tough regulatory push.
Central to my proposal is a system of rent control associated with a rental income tax, designed to both raise revenue for investment in public housing and to lower house prices, without harming the private rental sector nor the wider housing market. I proposed further cuts to the tax subsidies enjoyed by private landlords beyond those announced in the last budget.
I also propose the use of tenancy deposits to capitalise a £35bn housing and infrastructure bank, the creation of a secondary, non-profit housing market so that people who can’t buy to invest can still buy to accrue capital and to achieve some housing security. Furthermore, I propose a range of tough housing regulations together with cost-efficient systems to enforce them. Not only would these measures bring down the cost of housing and residential land, but they would level the financial playing field between private and social housing developers.
I wrote this in the face of the National Housing Federation’s insistence that it will take a generation to fix the housing crisis, which seemed to me an abrogation of any responsibility to those suffering housing injustice today. So while I proclaim this to be the only existing plan (that I know of) to fix the housing crisis within a meaningful timescale, it’s certainly not the only plan that could exist, and I would urge people to improve on what I have presented.
Britain is ready for this agenda. Opinion pollster Survation kindly provided polling for the report that shows widespread demand for action on housing. Firstly, the majority of people think that house prices are too high, including a majority of people who own their homes. A majority of people, including of Conservative voters, believe that more taxpayers’ money should be spent on building social housing. Perhaps most stark is the public demand for rent control, supported by 64% of the population, including 62% of Conservative voters. By these measures, housing is an issue that could change the fortunes of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour for the better.
If Jeremy Corbyn wants to remain Labour leader and to become prime minister, he needs plans like these, not just in housing but in jobs, skills, education and health, that tie his anti-austerity worldview to a tangible picture of a better nation in which we can live. And only when the public buys into a vision of the future that makes sense, will they be able to let go of the scapegoats they have been trained for decades to blame.
Alex Hilton, writer and former director of Generation Rent