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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