It was disappointing that, while Ed Miliband was prepared in the BBC leaders’ debate last night to oppose the new Tory wheeze to grant housing association tenants the right to buy, supposedly financed by further syphoning from the dwindling council housing stock, he was not prepared to condemn the original Tory rip-off or its continuation under Tory and Labour governments. A recent study found that a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher are now owned by private landlords, many of them resident in off-shore tax havens. Another study found that in one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants. Anyone gullible enough to think that Tory politicians do not feather their own nests should reflect on the fact that Charles Gow, son of Mrs Thatcher’s Housing Minister who drove through the policy, now owns with his wife at least 40 ex-council houses. As Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB, said about this outcome: “You couldn’t make it up”.
Neither Labour nor the Tories has any coherent idea on how to address the housing crisis. While both speak about building more houses, both would lack the means to ensure this actually happens. Instead of direct public investment in housing, the government spent £35 billion in 2012-14 on Housing Benefit, a subsidy paid directly to landlords which ensures that house prices stay high. The cost of this support has risen a third under the coalition and will continue to rise as our kids increasingly find that the choice facing them is staying with Mum and Dad into middle age or renting in the private sector. Yet neither party has an alternative. Not so the Communists. Only we appear to be clear sighted enough to recognise that there is a need to de-couple people’s need for a secure home from their desire to invest and accumulate even when this accumulation tends to be at the expense of those who do not own their homes and tends to benefit the banks even more than the borrowers. What would communists do? Invest in council housing, albeit with more democratic control than has applied in the past – for example no more bedroom taxes! Our Economic Commission has called for the implementation of Land Value Tax, initially at a low level so that it simply replaced Council Tax, but with a view to raising the rate over time so that, in effect, land would become a socially owned asset. Communists would end the scandal of 80,000 young people experiencing homelessness every year when there are one million empty or second homes out there.
Impracticable? We don’t think so. Visionary? Unapologetically!