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Theresa May: no solution to housing crisis

JANUARY 21, 2020

Housing association chiefs gave Theresa May a standing ovation for her speech to the National Housing Federation on Wednesday.  There can’t be many audiences in the UK where she could expect that. 

Not many tenants feel they have anything to stand and cheer; nor do housing workers.  Perhaps the assembled housing association leaders were intoxicated by the inflation busting average 4.3% pay increases their organisations gave them last year?

So what did the housing boss’s have to cheer?  There was a ‘non-announcement’ of £2 billion for housing.  That might sound a lot to most of us but from the small print it only arrives in 2022, and it isn’t clear its extra money at all.   It is dwarfed by the extra £10 billion to prop up the housing market through the misnamed ‘help to buy’ programme announced in October last year.  Even industry commentators described that as a ‘monumental mistake’.  As one estate agent tweeted “Help to Buy winners are property developers. Prices kept artificially high. First Time Buyers don’t ever own whole property. FTBs subsidising developers.” 

Theresa May is fond of making speeches that talk of addressing ‘burning injustice’ but as the Tory Spectators commentator, Isobel Hardman, observed, “there isn’t enough money coming forward to solve these ‘burning injustices’, nor enough room for those who want to think radically about housing policy… to do so.”

The response Geeta Nanda, chief executive of Metropolitan Housing Association quoted in Inside Housing was typical “I think it [the speech] was fantastically rousing, actually, and absolutely what people wanted to hear in the audience.” But what substance was there? Warm words flattered them and gave a promise that their organisations would be favoured in future and May got a few rare positive headlines.  Even the Tory head of the Local Government Association said the proposals missed the point.  This was a combination of naivety and narrow self-interest on the part of housing association tops.

The Daily Mirror pointed out that every year since 2010 there have been further cuts to the number of social houses let, according to the report by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  By 2016/17, there were 70,000 fewer new social rent homes available compared to 2010.  In total, there have been 213,501 fewer cheaper houses since the Tories came to power.

A response from Labour’s John Healey stated “Theresa May’s Tories are making the housing crisis worse by selling vital social homes for families on ordinary incomes. A runaway housing market and growing demand means there’s rarely been a greater need for more low-cost housing.  The number of new social rented homes is at a record low and Tory austerity means investment has been slashed.”

Using the governments figures, the Chartered Institute of Housing have shown that housing associations were responsible for a loss of 46,972 social homes between 2012 and 2017.  For housing associations only a small proportion of that loss will be a result of right to buy; primarily this loss is a result of independently determined policy.

Jeremy Corbyn has argued that there can be no solution to the housing crisis that does not start with a mass programme of council house building.  That is the urgent task; we need a labour governemnt committed to the radical policies set out by Jeremy.  Surveys show that housing association staff feel their organisations have increasingly lost their social mission.  Housing staff work hard to make a difference but often feel ignored by management – scandalously some associations have moved to muzzle the voice of their staff by derecognising unions. Given they are in receipt of huge amounts of public money and beneficial land deals they must be made accountable to local communities and forced to concentrate on social need. 

This blog was written by Paul Kershaw and published on 21 September 2018 on



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