Labour’s housing policy will help lead the country out of the ‘turgid economic trough’ being created by the Tories, Ken Livingstone told a packed London Labour Housing Group conference on Saturday. ‘Investment to create 100,000 new homes would create three-quarters of a million jobs’ the mayoral candidate told the conference, called to debate housing policies for London to be included in next year’s manifesto.
Describing the fight for the mayoralty as a ‘mid-term election’ Ken argued that Labour needed to redefine housing policy as a key part of economic policy as well as being important in itself in meeting the housing needs of low and middle income Londoners. One of the jobs of the new mayor will be to draw up a major programme of housebuilding ready for the return of a Labour government.
The Tories have abandoned the idea of mixed communities in London, he said, but Labour will always build a mix of homes for a mix of people on a wide range of incomes, just as it had done in the past. Ken also reminded the conference that effective campaigns on housing had forced major u-turns from both the Heath and Thatcher governments and could do so again with the coalition.
Karen Buck MP, shadow minister for welfare reform, told the conference that the Tory government’s policies in the Localism and Welfare Reform Bills would have a huge impact on London and could force tens of thousands of people to move – all searching for cheaper areas. The policies would also be counter-productive – leading to higher rents in all tenures and far greater homelessness – making it impossible for them to make their savings.
Karen said that the policies directly contradicted the Tories’ claim that they wanted to incentivise people to get back to work. They had almost completely forgotten that housing benefit is also an in-work benefit – over 40% of people receiving local housing allowance were in work in some boroughs – the losses would make it impossible for many of them to remain in work.
Setting the context for the conference, Nicky Gavron AM, Labour’s housing and planning lead on the London Assembly, said that more and more people were seeing housing as a key battleground for the mayoral election. The difference between the two mayors could not be more stark. Ken’s legacy was strong, Nicky argued. There was a strong planning framework, the best housing record since the 1970s, the highest level of capital investment ever and a massive land bank ready for development. Johnson had squandered this inheritance and virtually all his housing claims could be dated back to Ken’s administration. He was undermining the planning system, scrapping Ken’s targets especially the 50% affordable target and the emphasis on social rented homes. The government’s own inspector had criticised Johnson’s polices, saying his targets were too low, he should keep the 50% London-wide affordable housing target, and should support social rented housing provision. Johnson caved in to his Tory friends in the boroughs, allowing them to cut affordable housing. Only the Labour boroughs are keeping London’s affordable housebuilding going.
The conference, with representatives from all areas of London, inner and outer, debated a series of detailed policy proposals for the manifesto, including policies to increase housing supply, to meet the needs of the poorest and most socially excluded households, to help the ‘squeezed middle’, and to guarantee the future of social housing in the capital. The policies will be developed further before the manifesto is published.