In the week that was, Labour trumped up rent controls as the best thing since sliced bread and the Conservatives rolled out Right to Build. Neither really solve the problem of an inadequate supply of housing but both make good sound bites. However, as the well thought out and deliberately chosen title of this blog suggests, we do seem to be going round in circles when it comes to policy offerings on housing from our political parties. Because after the inevitable political handbags have been put down and the dust settles it should be noted that far from being dynamic new policies both Right to Build and rent caps are very much throwbacks to decades past.
In the guise of Right to Build the Tories have stuck with a tried and tested method. F@*K the other sectors, it’s home ownership that counts. It harks back to the 1980s golden era for the Tories. As with it’s (almost) namesake Right to Buy, Right to Build hopes to use Councils as a springboard for private ownership. This time it is land rather than existing housing stock that is the key. The basic principle is the same in the two policies. Home ownership is God, deplete public sector assets to ensure private home ownership. Unlike Right to Buy there is some hope that Right to Build may actually earn Councils some dollar rather than just removing much need social housing. If managed carefully this could be mutually beneficial policy for all involved. Land that is otherwise vacant is used for housing. Councils make money by leasing the land, more housing is built for us unlucky sods who would give a small body part for a home to own. Despite the potential positives I’m not holding my breathe, especially as it appears to be a slightly re-jigged version of the Right to Reclaim Land policy announced by Michael Green, sorry – Grant Shapps, back in 2011.
Labour aren’t doing a lot better, digging deep to revive a policy that is probably older than the poor researcher tasked with coming up with something to throw at the Tories. The idea of rent controls went out in the late 1970s/80s when someone decided Keynesianism/social democracy/policies that don’t just serve the few was old news. Von Hayek and Milton Friedman were the people to follow. Well their ideas on the miracles of the free market at least. This hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. Neo-liberalism has dominated all aspects the political landscape, housing included. The throwback to a pre neo-liberal era is welcome, as is reform of the private rented sector. As someone who has lived in it on and off for over half a decade it could use a tweak or two. But it is hardly new stuff. Anyone remember Rachmanism, the outrage and the response?
Shelter and KPMG’s offering ‘Building the homes we need – A programme for the 2015 government’ has at least brought some sensible, thought-out options to the table. For excellent analysis of the report and thoughts on Housing Policy post 2015 visit Messrs. Alex Marsh and Colin Wiles.
With just under a year until the 2015 general election it is a little depressing that the big political parties have just rehashed old policies. I’m sure further important policy announcements will be made as the main parties (and the Lib Dems) vie for the spotlight and for votes. And with around 80 parliamentary seats potentially being decided by people being forced to rent as they cannot afford to buy housing should creep up the policy importance ladder. If not the consciousness of the electorate. But really this is a poor effort by both parties and shows their inability to understand what the hell is going on. More frustratingly social housing is still conspicuous by its absence from the national debate. It is the dirty little secret only shown daylight via hatchet jobs like Benefits Street and How to Get a Council House. This needs to change.
Alas in the meantime we appear doomed to repeat our past failures. With another housing bubble potentially set to burst it could be an expensive one for all concerned. Almost makes you glad not to have a mortgage.