Article: Philip Burke
FORMER prime minister Tony Blair once described the site of homeless people sleeping rough on Britain’s streets, on park benches and in church yards as one of the most dramatic symbols of social exclusion.
“It is a scandal,” he once said, “that on the eve of the 21st century there are still people sleeping rough on our streets.”
Soon after the 1997 general election, the Labour government established the Social Exclusion Unit within the Cabinet Office, bringing together other departments from across Whitehall, which led to the creation of the Rough Sleepers Unit, which was tasked with reducing rough sleeping by two thirds from the estimated 4,500 people who were then having to sleep on the streets.
Hundreds of millions of pounds was set aside to tackle the problem. The RSU created Contact and Assessment Teams which, along with homelessness charities across the nation, worked with the Blair government to bring rough sleepers in from the cold and into night shelters and hostels so that they could be given a bed, food, a warm environment and access to drug and alcohol treatment programmes.
A target was set to reduce rough sleeping by two thirds within three years. The hostel accommodation across the nation swelled to bursting as the council stock continued to be sold off.
But 20 years later, the housing crisis has gone from bad to worse with an estimated 5,000 people sleeping rough on Britains streets, tens of thousands of single homeless people living in homeless hostels, plus five million people languishing on housing registers across Britain today.
The reality is that neither the Conservatives nor Labour have addressed the scale of the housing crisis since the house building programme of the 1920s and ’30s — even though the population has increased by millions since then.
In 1979, Margaret Thatcher introduced the right to buy, a policy which allowed millions of ordinary working citizens a chance to get their foot on the housing ladder with the help of huge discounts.
However, the policy has led to a depletion of the housing stock. In 2015-16, a staggering 12,246 council homes were sold to tenants under the right to buy scheme in England and just 2,055 replacements were started by councils.
Wandsworth Council has already sold off 25,000 properties through right to buy and 35 of those properties on a small council estate in Putney were sold to property tycoon, Charles Gow, the son of Ian Gow, the former housing minister within Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Charles Gow’s wife also owns another five properties on the same council estate, which are rented out at £1,600 per month. It is also believed that he owns hundreds of ex-council flats elsewhere.
Councillor Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration, planning and transport at Southwark Council said: “Right to buy is unsustainable in areas like London, where there is a huge shortage of affordable housing.
“Councils are struggling to build enough new affordable homes to replace those sold through right to buy and extending this policy to housing associations will only exacerbate the problem in London.
“We support affordable home ownership, but too many homes sold through right to buy are now being rented out privately, at a price that is unaffordable for the thousands of people on our waiting list.” Williams said that new towns were needed with easy access to London.
Southwark Council is the fourth largest provider of council housing in Britain, with 36,000 properties. Since the year 2000 just over 8,000 council properties have been sold off. The council also has one of the longest waiting lists with 11,788 households waiting for housing.
In Luton, Bedfordshire, 1,200 families are in temporary accommodation and a further 300 live in council-funded bed and breakfast accommodation.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has sold 2,750 council properties so far under right to buy and yet there are 1,843 households living in temporary accommodation provided by RBKC. The council has dispersed households across 38 local authority areas across England, including some of the most deprived areas such as Barking and Dagenham.
Sally Mulready, who is a member of the Disability Labour NEC said: “Not everyone can afford to buy their own home.
This policy by the Conservatives reveals an ugly ideological determination to rid our communities of any form of municipal housing. It will impact on poorer communities and destabilise family life all over the UK.”
As the crisis deepens, Barratts have launched a new development of apartments at Blackfriars Circus near Elephant and Castle with one-bedroom flats having gone on sale internationally for an eye-watering £800,000.
A spokesperson for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The mayor is committed to a long-term strategic goal of 50 per cent of all new homes being affordable, and is seeking to achieve this through planning, investment and the use of public land.
“But Sadiq has been honest with Londoners that fixing the housing crisis will be a marathon and not a sprint.
“The mayor and his team are developing new planning guidance to increase the numbers of new and affordable homes for Londoners to buy and rent in future developments.
“Sadiq has been very clear that it is Londoners that should benefit from this, so a range of options is also being considered about how to give them first dibs on more homes built in the capital.”
But Eileen Short of Defend Council Housing said: “This scandalous development of homes most people cannot afford in the heart of our city served by public roads, railways, schools and amenities paid for by us is what needs to end if we are to sort out the housing crisis. Sadiq Khan promised to act against this; that is a big part of why he was elected. Politicians have to make a choice. If its business as usual for developers then this is what happens.
If we want secure homes and stable communities most people can afford to live in, then we have to build council housing instead.”
As a former head of housing need in London, I believe that a Labour government needs to deliver a housing revolution.
The current situation is scandalous and out of control.
We need millions of low-cost, high- quality homes to house our essential key workers, such as nurses, teachers, police officers, firemen and others.
The term “affordable housing” is sinister because it specifically relates to a formula of 80 per cent of the market rate, which has priced the majority of citizens out of the housing market and into the hands of landlords, who charge exorbitant rents purely because they can.
With a burgeoning homeless population and hostels filled to bursting, now is the time to act.
Source: Morning Star
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