Corbyn poll lead - break with austerity in housing
Today’s news that almost four in ten homes sold through ‘right to buy’ are now in the private rented sector (Inside Housing this week here pay wall) shows the real impact of the policy. Now housing associations are supposed to become ‘agents of aspiration’ according to the housing minister Brandon Lewis as the government extends right to buy to housing associations.
So homes that were once let at a social rent with secure tenancies are let by private landlords on insecure ‘short hold’ tenancies at rents up to seven times the average social rent. Poor standards of repair are common; Citizens Advice say 740,000 households are living in conditions so bad that they constitute category one hazards. The landlords are getting £5.6bn a year in rent for those substandard homes – 1.3bn from the government in housing benefit.
Benefit cuts have squeezed tenants and it is no surprise that, according to another report today, evictions from rented homes have increased by nearly 50% in the four years since the changes were introduced.
Unite has conference policy – and our branch - have called for a cap on rents rather than benefits and a serious programme of council house building. We argued this would prove popular. But it would require a break with austerity. Labour kept to ‘austerity light’ policies in the general election and all but one of the candidates in the Labour leadership election argues that such a break would be seen as extreme and would put voters off. After the election the current shadow chancellor, Chris Leslie, ruled out rent control saying it was 'anti business' policies such as that which had led Labour to defeat. Labour had not actually supported rent control but was seeking to restrict rent increases during a tenancy and Leslie argued even that was damaging to Labour.
But the one leadership candidate who has promised a break with austerity is now ahead in the polls. According to the Evening Standard today he has more support among London public than nearest rivals, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, put together! YouGov found 46 per cent of Londoners with an opinion thought Mr Corbyn would make the best Labour leader.
No doubt Jeremy Corbyns housing policy which we report here will have been an important factor in the enthusiasm his campaign has generated. Ballot papers are going out over the weekend.
Unfortunately housing associations which, many cases were set up out of a concern for social conditions are now either meekly implementing government policy or actually encouraging government to go further as we report here. While some associations will not go as far as Genesis at this stage there has been a general move towards increased commercialisation accross the sector and it is significant that the National Houisng Federation now avoids using the term social housing in its material.
Unions such as Unite will need with tenants and others to build a mass movement to stop austerity and to defend social housing – the support for Jeremy gives an indication of how popular that can be. See the housing manifesto produced by our branch here.