Labour’s floor debates have been dominated by discussions on housing, described yesterday by Housing Minister, John Healey as being a “central campaign issue” in the run up to the next general election.
Despite being largely supportive, members were critical of the Government’s moves to divert funding for the decent homes programme towards new builds. However, as would probably be expected, much anger was diverted towards Hammersmith and Fulham council, who’s policy on housing was summed up by Jack Dromey at this month’s TUC conference:
“One of the Tories’ flagship councils, Hammersmith and Fulham has drawn up plans that involve the demolition of thousands of council homes and ending security of tenure, combined with a steep hike in rents to market levels.”
With predictions that by 2010 there will be 5 million people on the waiting list for social housing, it is clear that parties of all colours will be under sustained pressure to spell out clearly how they will ensure some of the most vulnerable in society will be accommodated in decent, 21st century housing.
Given the severe problems being faced by the private sector market, improving the provision of social housing will be of key importance to those who find themselves unable to get themselves on the housing ladder and who now face the threat of home repossessions. It is an issue that now demonstrates the ideological divide which has developed, with a Labour Party believing in the power of the state to intervene when the market fails people, against a Conservative Party whose ideological grassroots revolve around the market being able to provide resources effectively.
One example is the decision by Hammersmith and Fulham council to demolish council homes. This was followed by Shadow Communities Secretary, Caroline Spelman’s letter to Conservative MPs and Councils, in which she said:
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“I would encourage councils to say ‘no’ when the Government attempts to force the council to act at a speed which is not a binding legal necessity.”