Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Housing In The UK

This is a piece which will be published in a housing journal in the next few weeks - I thought you, dear reader, might also be interested....

Green Party housing policy: fairer and more sustainable

Matt Sellwood, Green Party national spokesperson on housing and parliamentary candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The Green Party believes that for too long housing has been treated as a speculative market, rather than as a vital human right. We would focus our efforts on reversing the marketising trends of the last thirty years, and in returning to an ethos which gives primacy to affordable, sustainable and well-designed social housing.

Truly affordable housing is clearly a vital component in any equitable and sustainable society. Not only does meaningful participation in a democracy necessitate a basic level of security and prosperity, but our current housing stock too often contributes to problems as widely varied as crime, climate change and ill-health. Any sensible government must invest massively in social housing, as one of the solutions to many other difficult issues.

Despite this, the current situation of social housing is dire, as the example of London amply illustrates. Social housing waiting lists have grown by around 80% over the last decade, while stocks of affordable housing have actually shrunk. 10% of households in our capital city are now waiting for a home that fully suits their needs. This is unacceptable.

Recent changes in government policy have made some small steps towards recognising the problem, but do not go anywhere near far enough in addressing its causes. The Green Party advocates bold action, including:

- The resumption of direct investment in Council and other social housing, at a scale far in excess of the current low levels on offer from the Government. Moves to allow local authorities to use receipts from sales to fund new accommodation must be solidified and accelerated. In particular, we would provide £4bn per annum to local authorities to expand social housing, mainly through conversion and renovation, creating 80,000 jobs.

- A programme of investment to ensure better use of the over 700,000 empty properties in the UK, and an immediate end to discounts and subsidies for empty and second homes.

- Steps to ensure that development is more evenly distributed across the whole of the country, so reducing pressure on housing in London and the South East in particular.

- Support to ensure that social housing tenants experience real democratic consultation, whoever their landlord, and that the cooperative model of management and ownership of housing is encouraged and supported.

- Support for a level playing field between all social housing stakeholders, including an end to the allocation of historic council housing debt to local authorities – whether under the current system, or under the proposed system of reallocation due to HRA reform.

This is what Green MPs would fight for in Parliament, and with party leader Caroline Lucas MEP tipped by bookmakers and pollsters to win the Brighton Pavilion seat in the coming general election, this is an approach we might hope to carry into the House of Commons in the near future. An increase in the Green vote nationwide will send this same message to the establishment parties in what may be a hung parliament.

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