After years of campaigning by the Defend Council Housing campaign and after securing overwhelming support at successive Labour Party conferences hopes were raised that the Government would at long last bring forward a housing bill which would tackle the housing crisis which has seen the number of homeless families double under New Labour since 1997.
The Labour Party conference policy is straightforward. It is the Fourth Option, allowing councils to access funds in the same way as housing associations so that councils can start building council houses again. This would enable us to launch the large scale housing programme that is desperately needed if we are to overcome the severe housing shortage which is causing such immense homelessness, overcrowding and the return of Rackman-like landlordism under the buy to let regime introduced by Gordon Brown.
Last night whilst many eyes were focussed on the latest party donations scandal the Housing Bill was debated in Parliament. The Government launched the Bill with a fanfare of claims announcing that we are to build 3 million new homes. Gordon Brown said in June "Councils will be able to build homes again."
This now looks as though it was just spin again. Our hopes have been dashed by the publication of the Government's new Bill. The Defend Council Housing Campaign has explained that the Bill means the Government will continue to discriminate against councils building new homes while offering public money to profit making private companies with little protection to either tenants or taxpayers. Profit making private landlords will be able to apply for social housing grants while councils cannot unless they set up arms length companies. At the same time councils will be pressurised to put public land into public/private partnerships that will build private not council housing. A new definition is also introduced for low cost housing which introduces for the first time in our history a means test for access to council housing.
Last night the Bill secured its second reading in the Commons only on the basis that backbench Labour MPs would be bringing forward amendments to the Bill which would reflect Labour party policy of supporting the Fourth option. The DCH campaign will be mobilising support in the Labour party, the trade unions, housing and tenants organisatiosn for the campaign to amend this bill, including a lobby of Parliament in the New Year. We all need urgently to get behind this campaign before it is too late and public housing is totally privatised. For further info look at the DCH website www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk