Labour doesn’t need a housing policy yet

There seem to be some calls for Labour to have a worked out housing policy as an alternative to the government’s now.

That would be a daft move.

It’s four and a half years to the next election and the government is starting the most radical process of reform to housing in a generation. Whether these reforms are successful in their own terms or not, the housing system will be very different when Labour next has a chance to implement an alternative (I assume that the Coalition will run the course).

Writing a housing policy that’s credible now is unlikely to work five years on. And trying to write a policy for five years’ time requires too much guess-work and will sounds out of touch now.

Ed Miliband and Alison Seabeck are absolutely right to wait, think and develop their ideas.

So, in the long meantime, how do we oppose the government? Here’s what I think:

  • Firstly, we take the government at their word and hold them to it.

The government has some laudable rhetoric: to build more mixed communities, to build more homes and more affordable homes, to tackle worklessness in social housing, to make it easier to move within social housing. Let’s exploit the differences between their words and the effects of their policies.

  • Secondly, avoid falling into any elephant traps that we live to regret, especially promises to reverse particular measures.

Reinstate security of tenure? Cut rents back to ‘traditional’ social rent? Restore the duty to house the homeless in the social sector? They might sound great ideas now, but on entering office, they probably won’t be so attractive. The future businesses of housing associations are likely to be built on these measures, as will housing provision by local authorities.

Do we want to re-enter office with pledges that immediately threaten the basis of our main housing providers? No, we don’t.  And this path leaves us the defenders of a status quo which had some pretty serious faults. Needless to say that’s not a winning position.

  • Set out the principles of a Labour housing policy, and one which is not beholden to what we have done in the past.

That’s the hardest task. I’ll give my starter for 10 in my next post.

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5 Responses to Labour doesn’t need a housing policy yet

  1. Pingback: Principles for an early Labour housing policy | Red Brick

  2. Neil80 says:

    It is right that the Housing situation will be different in five years time, but really is it that hard to predict? After all Housing Policy has been going down the same road for three decades – a declining state sector (in terms of provision – but not funding) and the rise of Third Sector-ish (I qualify this as the prescence of private capital and the type of organizartional structures being adopted are pushing the sector more into the realms of the private sector)Housing Associations; which have been merging to form larger organisations with access to greater reserves of capital. Lastly we have the private sector.

    It’s a fairly typical case, same as social care; First local authourities funded and provided services directly, then they funded them and contracted the services, and now there are attempts through policies like Individual Budgets to increase the diversity of providers and encourage Third Sector and Social enterprise activity.

    The issues at stake are the normative ones. What should social housing be be… home for life, home for 10 years, or stop-gap, a saftey net to prevent homelessness? – Personally the idea of reducing state provision to a rump is a huge mistake, the result being stigmatised, transient communities for the poorest and most desperate…

    Or should social housing be about creating secure, vibrant, mixed communities where there is opportunity for all; something more like the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ imagined after the First World War

    This also feeds into the issues of democracy, who controlls housing, who shapes communities? Elected officials, Boards of Trustees, The banks financing schemes, Tenants groups…..

    The policy details are small, and only so much can be achieved by any government as they inherit a policy framework and housing stock, which unless there is a sudden burst of Post-War style house construction across all three sectors, or a desire to see the poor literally marching out of the centre of our major cities, will remain the roughly the same.

  3. I agree with Tony and with Monimbo. It was certainly a wild exaggeration of a headline in Inside Housing on Friday – ‘Miliband slated over 2 year housing policy vacuum’ – above an article by professor of political science at Bristol University Mark Wickham-Jones, a ‘Labour party specialist’, who wrote ‘There is a real likelihood that, over the next couple of years, the Labour party will be unable to offer a coherent and consistent alternative on housing.’

    Every Party reviews policy after an Election, even if they win, in time for the next one. It’s harder if you lose. David Cameron did exactly what Ed Miliband is doing (indeed Cameron is still making things up in government). He had to finesse his position on many issues whist he prepared to abandon cherished Tory shibboleths. In policy terms, Miliband has less of a mountain to climb than Cameron faced and leads a party that is ready and willing to engage in a serious conversation about what Labour governments are for.

    Having a review does not create a vacuum. Labour has a raft of policies and adopted a new comprehensive resolution on housing policy at Party Conference only 2 months ago that set out a clear basis for opposing the coalition. It can also rely on its core of values. There is such a wide gulf between Labour values and the coalition’s that the party will never be short of things to say that are both coherent and consistent.

    The bigger challenge will be to develop policies that are relevant to the situation when the next Election comes, not now, as both Tony and Monimbo say. Contrary to Prof W-J’s view, the now is easy, it’s the future that is hard. The coalition is introducing fundamental changes and is doing so recklessly fast and with little understanding of the potential consequences.

    So Ed Miliband is quite right to choose this course and take the time to do the review properly. Rest assured, Alison Seabeck will have plenty to say in the meantime.

  4. Thanks Monimbo.
    Good idea to flag that report. Shapps attacked Healey in opposition for failing to increase homeownership. Yet the government’s unspoken policy is to let prices stagnate and owner occupancy to continue a slow and slight decline.
    As you say, if only we had a better rental market, private and public, that may be no bad thing.

  5. Monimbo says:

    I very much agree with your post, Steve. Just thinking about housing need and supply and how things might change over the next five years, it’s clear that considerable pressure is building which is unlikely to be addressed by coalition policies. An important factor is the likely continued stagnation of homeownership. As a little publicised report from DCLG has shown (see, owner-occupation has fallen back to 67% and is likely to stay at this level (even though growing slowly in actual numbers) over the next decade. Given that social housing output is about to peak and then fall away, only the private rented sector can respond to the pressure. But landlords (and tenants) at the poorer end of the sector are about to be hit by the HB cuts. And what will the climate be for investment at the top end of the sector over the next few years?

    As you say, the changes the coalition are making look like a leap into the unknown, especially given the generally gloomy economic climate. The last thing Labour wants to do is to leap into the unknown themselves. They do, however, need to be very alert to the effects of the policies, and on the ball in making their criticisms of coalition policy hit home.

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