Why can’t we build the public housing we need in the UK? While the higher-end homes sector continues to boom (despite a slight downturn in London), the solutions for achieving our dreams of tackling the crisis at the other end, mired in current thinking as they are, don’t feel fit for purpose.
Jeremy Corbyn, possibly the first 70-something Prime Minister for a while, recently announced at his party’s conference that, steeled by the horror of Grenfell, Labour would initiate a major review of social housing, including rent controls. However this doesn’t seem to touch on the nuts and bolts of building the half a million social homes that Labour has promised.
With council rent incomes being slashed as the Right to Buy continues to be offered to housing association tenants, those local authorities being asked to build thousands of new homes are strapped for investment cash. Surely a more fundamental, less piecemeal central taxation-based approach needs to be explored, if the country is going to seriously embark on a project to meet the housing need with new build.
Sometimes you need to look back to look forward, and Sweden is an interesting case in point, although a comparison between their tax levels and ours would probably have to be made to consider it as a model. Between 1965 and 1974, under the Million Programme the Swedish Government built a grand total of 1,006,000 homes. They weren’t messing about – most of the outdated existing stock was demolished at the same time, and the net addition of 650,000 homes to the nation’s housing stock provided affordable housing for the future.
More importantly, these were good quality buildings – often three-storey blocks with standard three-room apartments for families of four, surrounded by amenities such as schools and libraries. The government paid 66 per cent of the initial costs and this would be repaid by poorer residents over 30 years. The state also gave subsidies to builders for homes for demographics including blue collar workers and students.
Has the horse already bolted for such an initiative to be considered in the UK to accelerate our lagging social housing and ensure that it is of the right standard? I’d like to think not, however it requires a big effort of will on the part of the people as well as politicians to find the taxes required, in what could be an increasingly tough financial environment. This is what’s known as investing in the future.