Over the last 35 years, Britain has suffered a series of pretty dreadful governments who have got most things wrong. A series of economic crises, an inadequate transport system and a chaotic energy sector exploiting us all for profit are just some of those areas of failure, but perhaps the greatest failure of all has been in housing.
When we moved to Luton and purchased our first house, house prices were around three times average earnings. Now the same house would cost ten times average earnings. Luton Borough Council had built thousands of quality council houses and you can see them today, at Lewsey Farm and Runfold in my constituency, looking just as good today as when they were built. Rents were modest and controlled, most young couples could look forward to living in a nice house with a garden in their twenties.
The 1972 Housing Finance Act saw the beginnings of the end for all that. The government’s plan was to force council house rents up to “market” (i.e. much higher) levels. Land for housing is now being hoarded by developers waiting for prices to rise so they can make a killing. Rents are high and uncontrolled so that government now has to give millions of people housing benefit so they can afford to pay their rents. Private landlords are in effect therefore being increasingly subsidised out of taxation.
Worst of all is that successive governments have failed to promote house building, and indeed have effectively prevented local authorities from building council homes. The recent government scheme to help people buy homes is simply forcing up prices again, increasing demand but doing nothing to increase supply.
Families are increasingly living in overcrowded homes as young people cannot find homes of their own. It is no surprise therefore that Britain has the smallest area of floor space per person in Europe. It is no surprise either that owner occupation as a form of tenure is now reducing with more and more people renting in the private sector.
It surely is time to take land into public ownership and build more homes, to re-introduce effective land controls and give local authorities powers once again to build the homes we need.