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Labour demands urgent rescue of social housing after Grenfell Tower fire

Number of social homes being built has dropped 97 per cent under the Conservatives

Benjamin Kentish
Saturday 30 September 2017 01:14 BST
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Theresa May admitted after the Grenfell Tower fire that social housing had been neglected in recent years
Theresa May admitted after the Grenfell Tower fire that social housing had been neglected in recent years (Getty)

Labour has demanded the Government introduce a “rescue package” for social housing in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

As the Conservative Party Conference kicks off in Manchester, John Healey, the Shadow Housing Secretary, called on Theresa May to divert funding away from other housing schemes and into new social homes.

Ministers should also reverse many of the key provisions of the controversial Housing and Planning Act, which was passed by Parliament last year, he said.

As part of a five-point list of demands, Labour wants the £1.1bn that is currently due to be invested in starter homes – cut-price properties for sale to first-time buyers – to instead be used to build new social homes. The sum is enough to build 20,000 new social homes, according to the National Housing Federation – more than have been built in the last four years combined.

The party also says funding for the Decent Homes Programme should be restarted. The £20bn scheme was established under New Labour to help councils refurbish social homes, but funding was axed entirely by the Coalition Government.

The Independent revealed in July that more than half a million social homes in England and Wales – one in seven - do not meet basic health and safety standards.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have launched reviews into the future of social housing in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, but Mr Healey said ministers should not wait for these to conclude before acting.

He said ministers should scrap the policy of forcing local councils to sell off their highest value social homes to fund the contentious Right to Buy scheme. The “forced sale” policy, introduced last year, is forecast to lead to the loss of almost 80,000 council properties by 2020.

Labour is also calling on the Government to provide funding for sprinkler systems to be installed in high-rise housing blocks, and to lift borrowing restrictions on local councils to enable them to build new social homes. Councils should also be given the right to keep the proceeds they raise from homes sold under Right to Buy, the party said.

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, said: “The social housing system is on its knees. It needs a big adrenalin shot to kick it back into life.

“The post-Grenfell test for the Prime Minister is what she does, not what she says, and if she launches a proper rescue package for social housing, she’ll get cross-party backing for it.

A Labour government would build 100,000 genuinely affordable homes within its first term, he added.

The Grenfell Tower fire, in which at least 80 people died, led ministers to admit that social housing had been neglected in recent years.

In June, Theresa May told MPs: “As we move forwards so we must also recognise that for too long in our country, under governments of both colours, we simply haven’t given enough attention to social housing.”

Mr Healey said cuts since 2010 were largely to blame.

Jeremy Corbyn points to Grenfell fire as epitome of failed housing policy

He said: “After seven years of failure on housing under the Conservatives, all Government funding for new social rented homes has been axed, Labour’s Decent Homes Programme has been scrapped and the voice of tenants has been silenced.

“Theresa May must not use an open-ended review of social housing as an excuse to put off action needed now to help deal with the crisis. She should act now: putting funding back into building new genuinely affordable homes and maintaining existing ones.”

The number of social homes being built has plummeted by 97 per cent since 2010 – largely because of an 86 per cent fall in Government funding.

Ministers have also ordered councils, housing associations and developers to shift money away from social housing and into “affordable” homes, which tend to be around 30 per cent more expensive than those for social rent.

Responding to Labour's claims, a Conservative spokesperson said: "This smacks of hypocrisy from Labour. Under Labour, and while John Healey was Housing Minister, house building fell to records lows not seen since the 1920s - particularly social housing.

“This Conservative government is committed to building and improving all types of housing - including social housing. Which is why we launched our social housing green paper earlier this month." 

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