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The future of council housing under a Labour government


By Vanisha Solanki

This week Lisa Nandy, shadow minister for levelling up, housing and communities laid out her vision for housing when she addressed the Labour Party conference in Liverpool.

This came at a pivotal time after Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced his mini budget which has sent shockwaves across the country. While the mini budget included an energy package to reduce bills, it was clear this would only be a temporary solution and residents would have to take the brunt of the costs. The package did not address the ever-looming root of the problem which is insulating homes which many families will worry about, as we approach the winter period. The mini budget also said little about the delivery of truly affordable homes, which is worrying for many.

To make matters worse this week the Bank of England raised interest rates to the highest they have been since 2008. The fears of a financial crisis are looming, and it is safe to say we are heading into another recession. This only sparks further worry as several lenders have temporarily halted mortgage offers for new customers. This mini budget was an opportunity for the Conservatives to make a mark, but it is clear that Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini budget has done very little to reassure families and voters.

We often forget that at the heart of any change are ordinary residents, who have to live with the consequences. While ordinary residents were left out of the mini budget, handing power back to the people and rebuilding the country from the ground up was at the heart of shadow minister Lisa Nandy’s speech. She made it clear that it was her priority to tackle the housing crisis because nothing is more important than a home. She said: “The Tories have turned housing into a racket incentivising speculation and profiteering while millions languish on waiting lists in cold, damp homes. We will mend the deliberate vandalism of our social housing stock, because the idea for a home for life handed in common ownership to future generations is an idea worth fighting for.”

The shadow minister went on to announce that Labour will be the first government in a generation to restore social housing to the second largest form of tenure. The emphasis was very much on “council housing, council housing, council housing.”

It is important to note that the private rented sector overtook social housing as the UK’s largest tenure in 2011-2012. Currently, an estimated 4.5 million households are renting privately, which equates to around 20% of all households.

The proportion of households occupied by social renters from 2000 to 2021 decreased from a share of 19.5% of households in 2000 to a share of 16.6% of households as of 2021. This is a decrease of almost 3% in a period of over 21 years. In 2021, the social housing sector accounted for 4 million households.

This pledge of restoring social housing to the second largest form of tenure would mean that a Labour administration would need to deliver more than 400,000 homes. This is no easy task and will require partnership working with local councils and communities so that home ownership is opened up to millions more.

In the 2021/22 financial year, 4,964 City Hall backed council homes were started, we have to remember this only includes London. Admiral Home Insurance analysed which parts of England had seen the most and fewest new homes being built. Their analysis revealed that 89% of local authorities failed to complete a single new build council home by Q3 of 2021.

These statistics are damning and show that there is a long way to go in terms of social housing becoming the second largest form of tenure. The delivery of council homes lies with local authorities, they will need autonomy as well as funding to help deliver more council homes, notwithstanding closely assessing the impacts on the Housing Revenue Account.

From the shadow minister’s speech, there is no doubt that social housing will be at the forefront of a future Labour government. It will be interesting to see how the plans unfold and how they adapt to the ever-changing challenges ahead.

The future of council housing under a Labour government