The Centre for Labour and Social Studies, otherwise known as Class Think Tank, launched its election guide on housing in Newcastle today. Following on the heels of the launch at the weekend of the new Labour Housing Group North East (@LabourHousingNE), it is good to see such a strong interest in housing in the north.
Speaking as someone born and raised in Newcastle who has lived in London for more years than I care to recall, it has always intrigued me how often I have had to challenge stereotypes of the north when in London and stereotypes of London when in the north. Trying to convince some northerners that many of the most deprived areas in the country are in the capital – indeed some are in Westminster, where the streets are more likely to paved with gold than almost anywhere else – is sometimes a hopeless task. Almost as hopeless as trying to convince some Londoners that there is a need for new build and new affordable homes in many parts of the north – not every home is available for sale for £1, and foreign investors have evidently been busy snapping up property in Newcastle (led by the luxury student apartment sector) as well as in the smoke. In London the Mansion Tax and the overall benefit cap are hot issues; in the north it’s hard to get beyond the Bedroom Tax and increasingly punitive DWP sanctions on claimants.
Clearly the challenges are very different, and it is increasingly important to take a regional view on housing and related issues. With another surge of devolution on the national agenda, especially to regional cities and regions, it is important to ask where housing should sit within the new vision.
Although being largely about the country as a whole, and containing all of the key statistics that any election campaigner could need, the Class publication identifies some of the distinctions between the regions:
“The crisis is not the same across Britain and every area faces different challenges. Grossly high rents and unaffordable house prices are displacing poorer households in London and the South East, while in many parts of the North poor-quality, private rented homes, derelict empty houses and policies like the Bedroom Tax have had a devastating impact.”
The Class policy prescription can be summarised in two parts:
- Regulate the private rented sector, including longer tenancies
- Control spiralling rents in the social and private sectors
- End the bedroom Tax and remove the regressive overall benefit cap
- Ban ‘buy to leave’ investment properties
End the housing crisis in a generation:
- Build more housing
- Protect and expand social rented housing, including ending the right to buy
- Lift the borrowing cap on councils
- Reform planning and ensure local involvement
- Reform land and property taxation
- A new programme of new towns, garden cities and urban extensions
It’s a powerful agenda and, although I would add a few caveats, it is one that most progressive people with an interest in housing could support.
In his introduction to the Class pamphlet, Tom Copley AM, puts the basic case for getting housing policy right:
“Home is the centre of people’s lives. It’s the place most people wake up in the morning and the place we return to after work or school. The quality and affordability of housing has a huge effect on health, both mental and physical, and children’s education. The stress of worrying about paying high rents, or illness caused by poor quality housing, can ruin lives. It is for this reason that we have got to get housing right, and why it is a tragedy that for so many years we have not.”