Forget Natalie Bennett’s interview from hell, here’s the real problem with housing

The disastrous LBC interview changes nothing - we need to turn the heat back on the government that caused the housing crisis


Natalie Bennett should have been better prepared. That’s really all there is to take from her interview with LBC yesterday, in which she crumbled under scrutiny of her housing policies. It’s not that the whole Green Party is discredited, or that she is stupid, or that she has her sights set on ‘the economy being wrecked and much-loved traditions destroyed’.

We need a bit of perspective. The Greens have some bad policies and some good ones; as Zoe Williams writes in the Guardian today, Bennett’s main mistake was in trying to answer a question rather than describe her vision. Most politicians skirt around the questions they are asked in interviews, instead reiterating the part they are proudest of again and again. It is certainly not uncommon for interviewers to be unable to get hard figures out of their subjects.

The difference is that normally these evasions are delivered smoothly, and most speakers have been extensively polished by PR teams so that they know not to incriminate themselves with coughs and pauses. Natalie Bennett somehow missed this training and she’s paying the price in jeers from all sides.

But voters should not let the circus distract them from housing policies that desperately need changing.The Conservatives have many policies and plans for housing which ought to be bigger news than the Green leader forgetting her figures.

For example, the vacant building credit that the government introduced in December 2014, exempts any housing developer who turns an empty building into private housing from paying to build further affordable units. So even if the developer is making good profits, they do not have to contribute to affordable housing.

Super-rich investors will profit from the change; among the first to do so are the redevelopers of an apartment block in Mayfair that was bought in 2013 by Abu Dhabi’s investment fund.

And what about Iain Duncan Smith’s plans to ‘gift’ recent benefit claimants with council house as a reward for being in work for one year? There are around 1.7 million people on the social housing waiting list. These are all people badly in need of a home. IDS’s proposal not only lets these people down, but it assumes that unemployed people choose to be so, and that all they need is a financial incentive to get back to work – as if the promise of a steady income and not having to use food banks was not enough.

There is also David Cameron’s proposal to scrap housing benefit for school leavers in a misguided attempt to improve the work ethic of young people. Again, this proposal overlooks all the complex economic reasons people are out of work and assumes the unemployed just can’t be bothered. Anger about this policy came even from within the prime minister’s own party – Health Committee chair Sarah Wollaston told the BBC:

“I would not support personally taking housing benefit from the most vulnerable. I would not personally support taking away housing benefit from the very young.”

House building is also at its lowest level since 1924. Since the last election, an average of just 201 social and affordable homes have been built in each Conservative-held local authority, according to research obtained by Shadow Local Government secretary Hilary Benn, compared with 403 in Labour-held councils.

In London the problem is especially bad, despite the capital’s growing population. According to the last census, London needs at least 40,000 new homes every year just to keep up with this growth, yet in 2010/11 less than half of that number were built.

All over the country people are finding it harder than ever for people to pay their rents, and home ownership is a laughable dream for a whole generation. Worse, homelessness charity Shelter reports that the number of homeless children is at a three-year high. So let’s take the heat off the Green leader for a second and start holding the government who have actually caused these problems to account.

Natalie Bennett apologised for her interview which, to be fair, hasn’t actually hurt anybody. The same cannot be said of the Conservatives, or of the policies they have introduced.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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112 Responses to “Forget Natalie Bennett’s interview from hell, here’s the real problem with housing”

  1. The Orbital Garden

    I think we need both brownfield and greenfield. This is not a one or the other argument we need to use all sensible options to get the build numbers up.

    The current system is far too much focus on protecting the greenbelt instead of the needs of the residents.

    If you taxed to hold planning permission the land owner will hold it empty or in low usage until they are ready to sell. Instead of bring it forward earlier to be planned properly and correct infrastructure built to support it.

    I wish there were simple answers which would deliver what is needed. Unfortunately their are not, so real solutions always will have negative consequences. Most of the suggestions by all parties are simply politics and may sound good but either has no long term impact or have negitives consequences a little further down the road.

    I have tried to answer the question which I replied to; so has jumped around depending on the statement I am responding to. Sometimes it is less clear the order of responses on the discussion chain (sorry for that).

    I am also not arguing against some of the policies suggested, just questioning their long term impact which happens a long time after the politician has claimed victories; even though the original problem has not been resolved.

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    You can’t not allow the mansions, I get it. There are not enough builders, but you’ll split them anyway!

    You keep talking about the need for more mansions, and no, it means that companies are going to lobby for allowing zero objections, since it’ll be expensive for them – and they’ll always rush through steps like consultation.

    There are tried and tested policies from other countries. None of them resemble your suggestion.

  3. Kevin Stall

    You said you wanted to put the poor in a new slum. Medium density housing. Of course on methodical council land. I’m sure every council has acres of council land in their inventory ready to build on. Or are they going to buy it and make some property own even richer.

  4. Kevin Stall

    Strange , in other countries people are willing to do it. New York and Washington D.C. people commute from up to 2 states away. Mexico City also have people who travel hours, as do most cities around the world. Concentrating a high population in a small area is a guarantee recipe for disaster. It is preferred to commute and have a better life outside the concentration of people.

  5. Kevin Stall

    Yes social housing is for the poor. The rich do not need social housing. Middle-class usually also do not get social housing. Don’t understand the concept of social housing, do you?

  6. Kevin Stall

    What type of socialist are you? Wanting to allow someone to make obscene profits off the backs of the poor. That sounds like something a Tory voter would say.

  7. Kevin Stall

    You would build something needed now not in a years time. And build it so that in 100 years it is a run down slum where you are keeping the poor in substandard housing. Unless you want to put them into a tower block and let the gangs take over.

  8. Kevin Stall

    If our current methods are so cost efficient, why is housing cost higher here than it is else where. I’m talking about housing that will not still be around in 200 years. Housing for now, that fits our current needs. Not something in the future that has to be retro fitted just to be made liveable. Building to last just means you have an abundance of old housing.that really isn’t fit for purpose, but needs to be adapted just to make it useable. The lifetime cost will be higher than rebuilding the cheaper units from scratch several times. And each time they are rebuilt they will meet modern standards. Instead of having the equivalent of 100s of thatched cottages that you are forcing the poor to live in in 100years.

  9. Kevin Stall

    The thing I hate about modern housing development is the density of them and lack of privacy.

  10. Kevin Stall

    Your the one who wants to pay the outrageous price for the farmland.

  11. The Orbital Garden

    Most modern sites are not very desirable; they have cramed in the homes to make the site viable; so the developer can afford the site.

    Its not supprising that most people who can afford to choose their new homes select a existing homes. Only about 10% of sales are of new housing. Without making new housing more desirable this percentage is unlikely to improve.

    With the only true solution to the housing crisis being building homes we either need to do one of two things:

    Increase private building making it more desirable to buy a new home, make easier to get planning permission and land. Designing areas the middle classes prefer over existing housing. They are only group large enough and have the resources to pay for the homes and infrastructure privately.

    Alternatively build 1-2 millions of council homes over the next decade. it is a realistic possibility but cost are staggering and unlikely in the present financial climate.

    The Greens have put a pleadge together which could go someway towards this. The green leader used a figure of £60,000 per home and 500,000 homes in the next parliment; would cost of £30,000,000,000.

    The cost per home looks a little low; probably just the homes cost and not including the infrastructure but they are at least trying and the ideas should not simply be dismissed.

  12. The Orbital Garden

    I would prefer that every tenth house is gifted to the council; The balance has to right. You are correct that I did not discus it the original document. I did not discus a lot of practicalities it is a basic concept.

    I was too focused on making the agreement about how to make the site viable and desirable; in the hope of speeding up building and creating a realistic solution to the housing crisis.

    Gifting homes to the council answers the questions; how to tax land, how to get a balanced amount of social intergration, and pay for it.

    By gifting the homes, their is no need to fund it from the council – the social rent is income; not paying off the debt used to fund it. No complex funding, negotiations on funding with housing authorities or paying for it.

    The second concern is the plan calls for an end to the crisis. The cost of private rents will be low, due to no supply vs demand issue. The cost of building is so low that homes will be affordable for most without tax payer assistance. We will not need as many council homes; if we resolve the crisis.

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