The UK housing crisis in numbers

Public spending cuts could put 1.25 million more people on waiting lists for affordable housing

As the two main political parties compete to say who can cut what fastest, the National Housing Federation (NHF) has joined the chorus of voices calling for their sector to be protected. It warned today that the government will fail to meet even half its target of building a million affordable homes by 2020 if the housing budget is not exempted from public spending cuts.

So just what is the story with the housing crisis?

Well, to start at the beginning, the UK has a severe housing shortage. Even during the boom, we were unable to build houses at the rate they were required. The population is swelling because of immigration and higher birth rates, while the number of households is rising even faster than population because more people are living alone and more people have second properties. The government has stated in the past that we would need 240,000 extra houses a year to meet demand. The current rate is just 125,000.

So, in 2007, Gordon Brown pledged to build three million houses by 2020. Of these, one million were to be "affordable" homes. The dearth of low-cost rental properties is the most contentious and worrying aspect of the housing situation. Back in 2007, Jon Cruddas warned that it was "feeding political extremism". Add to this the hardship caused by the recession, and there is a heightened risk of alienating those on lower incomes and pushing voters towards the populist posturing of the far right, which (inaccurately) racialises the housing shortage.

A substantial number of people are affected. There are now a record 4.5 million people on waiting lists for affordable housing. The NHF predicts that a further 1.25 million could find themselves in the same situation if spending cuts go ahead.

The NHF projection is based on cuts indicated in December's pre-Budget report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that unprotected government departments would face budget cuts of 17.98 per cent. Judging by this figure, the number of affordable homes actually built by 2020 will be 440,000 -- less than half the million planned.

A complicating factor is that the construction industry is always first to be hit in a recession. In fact, the picture looks even bleaker: the NHF estimates that, with these cuts, 278,000 jobs or apprenticeships will either be lost or not be created over the next ten years.

In response to the NHF warning, the housing minister John Healey said:

The Tories not only opposed us, they also proposed a £1bn cut in last year's housing budget that would have seen 9,000 fewer homes built and the loss of many jobs in the construction industry. Taking this as a clear indication of Tory priorities, the NHF would do well to consider the threat a Cameron government would pose to affordable housing.

Attacking the opposition is the default position for both parties in the run-up to the general election, but it is singularly unhelpful here. The tit-for-tat adding of notional numbers to the mix will do nothing to tackle the deepening crisis.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

After a year of division, a new centre is emerging in Labour

Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds show how factionalism is being transcended. 

On 26 September, Clive Lewis sat onstage at Labour’s conference in Liverpool and puffed out his cheeks in exasperation. He had just been informed that a line in his speech as shadow defence secretary committing the party to Trident renewal had been removed by Jeremy Corbyn’s office. Such was his annoyance that he was said to have later punched a wall in anger ("I punched no walls," he told me when we recently met). 

For Lewis, however, the feud proved to be a blessing. Hitherto hostile MPs hailed his pragmatism and deference to party unity (he is a long-standing opponent of Trident renewal). The former soldier also affirmed Labour’s support for Nato and for collective self-defence. “The values that underpin Nato are social-democratic values: liberty, democracy, freedom of expression,” Lewis, an early Corbyn ally, told me. “Let’s not forget, it was Clement Attlee and the New Deal Democrats who initiated and set up Nato. It’s about being in it to win it. It’s about winning the arguments inside Nato and making sure that it’s a force for good. Some people would say that’s impossible. I say you’ve got to be in it to be able to make those changes.”

In October, Lewis was replaced as shadow defence secretary by Nia Griffith and became shadow business secretary. Many regarded the appointment as a punishment. “Do I think there was an ulterior motive? I’ll never know,” Lewis said. “I’m confident that the reason I was moved – what I was told – is that they wanted me to be able to take on a big portfolio.”

Whatever the truth, Griffith has since said that Labour’s next general election manifesto will include a commitment to Trident renewal and will support multilateral, rather than unilateral, disarmament.

Many MPs had long feared that the divide between them and their leader would prove unbridgeable. Some contemplated standing on bespoke manifestos. Yet with little drama, Corbyn has retreated from a conflict that he could not win. Labour’s conference, at which the largely pro-Trident trade unions hold 50 per cent of the vote on policy and which the leader has vowed to respect, would never have endorsed unilateralism.

“Jeremy Corbyn deserves credit for that,” Lewis said. “Everyone understands that his position hasn’t changed. He still believes in unilateral disarmament . . . But he’s also a democrat, and he’s a pragmatist, despite what people say.”

In policy terms, at least, Labour will contest the next general election as a less divided party than many anticipated. As Corbyn’s team has long emphasised, there is unity around issues such as opposition to spending cuts and support for rail renationalisation. A new centre for Labour, embodied by Lewis, is emerging.

“When I became an MP,” the 45-year-old told me (he was elected in Norwich South in 2015), “to be anti-austerity, to say that cuts don’t work and they’re bad economics, meant you weren’t in touch with reality, and that you had no interest in winning elections. Within the space of 18 months, there’s now a growing consensus that cuts aren’t the way forward and that we need an industrial strategy.”

Theresa May’s support for new grammar schools and “hard Brexit” has given Labour MPs other issues to unite around. After Corbyn’s second landslide leadership victory, many of his opponents have reached the final stage of grief: acceptance. Others, as Lewis noted, are imbued with “an eager enthusiasm to make this work”. Contrary to some predictions, more than half of the 63 frontbenchers who resigned last summer have returned.

An emblematic figure is Jonathan Reynolds. The Liz Kendall supporter, who resigned as shadow transport minister in January 2016, has rejoined the front bench as shadow City minister. Earlier this year, Reynolds backed the introduction of a universal basic income, an idea that is now being explored by John McDonnell’s team (and that Barack Obama has called for “debate” on). In July, Reynolds and Lewis wrote a joint piece in support of proportional representation (PR), warning that without it “a more equal, democratic and sustainable society is less likely”.

Another advocate of PR is Lisa Nandy, the former shadow energy secretary and a friend of Lewis (on 26 October, along with Reynolds, they called for Labour to stand aside in the Richmond by-election to aid the Liberal Democrats). In the view of some, the defining divide in Labour is no longer between left and right but between open and closed. On one side are pluralists such as Lewis, Reynolds and Nandy, while on the other are tribalists such as Ian Lavery (pro-Corbyn) and John Spellar (anti-Corbyn).

The division stretches to the top, with McDonnell in favour and Corbyn opposed. “It’s a work in progress,” Lewis said of his efforts to convert the Labour leader. “There’s a growing movement of MPs who now either support PR or understand the growing necessity for it. They may not be quite there themselves, but they’re moving in that direction.”

At times since Corbyn became leader, the parliamentary party’s divisions have appeared to many to be insurmountable, even as the party in the country has grown and been inspired by Corbyn. Yet a new consensus is being forged in the PLP: anti-austerity, pro-Trident, pro-Nato and, increasingly, committed to political and constitutional reform. If there is any consolation for a becalmed Labour Party, it is that its European counterparts are faring little better. In Spain, France and Germany, an already divided left is further fragmenting.

But Labour is likely to both fight and survive the next general election as a united force. If Lewis can retain his seat in Norwich (he has a potentially vulnerable majority of 7,654), he could one day act as the bridge between the party’s “soft” and “hard” left. After a year of factional skirmishes, the common ground in which Labour’s future will be shaped is emerging.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage