After years of New Labour government, it is easy to forget how bad the Tories are. Now the Daily Mirror has reminded us by exposing their plans for a savage onslaught on social housing.
At a secret meeting of senior Tories — including David Cameron’s adviser on housing Owen Inskip and Boris Johnson’s deputy Simon Milton — social housing was described as “a dead end”, and the Tories declared their intention of raising council rents to market levels. As market rents are between £150 and £650 per week — with many areas, such as inner London, at the top end of this range — this means colossal increases in council and housing association rents.
The meeting also apparently discussed “eliminating” housing benefit, abolishing secure tenancies, making tenants pay for repairs and “driving out council tenants from Tory controlled areas.” In other words, a vast version of Shirley Porter's infamous “social engineering” at Westminster Council in the 1980s.
Property companies and estate agents can expect to make a killing, but it will mean appalling suffering for millions of people. The interplay of market forces means that soaring rents will also drive up house prices for “first time buyers” on a corresponding scale, pricing them completely out of the housing market.
What will be the fate of the millions of workers whose income is below market rent levels, and the huge and ever-growing number increasingly dependent on housing benefit precisely because of high rent increases?
As long ago as 1997 some Tories were talking about getting rid of council housing in its entirety, and during the 2005 general election some Tory candidates talked, in a strangely vague and evasive way, of giving non-tenants the right to buy council property. Could they now want property companies and estate agents to buy occupied council property direct from Tory-controlled local authorities? Could it mean local authorities being compelled by law (and in the case of many Labour authorities against their will) to sell off (at bargain basement prices) occupied council properties to estate agents who can then increase rents to the full market level?
With the abolition of secure tenancies it will be much easier to evict those who cannot afford to pay the swinging rent increases. This is a recipe for massive numbers of people being made homeless. James Murray, a Labour councilor in Islington, stated “The Tories just don't care about social housing, and the goal of their plans is to eliminate social tenancies altogether.”
The labour movement and the tenants movement must unite and fight, and we must put housing at the centre of the agenda at the next general election, precisely to warn and to mobilise against these Tory plans. We must remember, whatever our criticisms of the Blair and Brown governments, the Tories are far, far worse. We have been warned.