I remember when Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party promised to make Britain a ‘home owning democracy’. In order to make that happen they allowed tenants to buy their council houses and flats, while at the same time refusing to allow local councils the revenue raised from selling them. So Britain’s social housing stock simply shrank. I am also old enough to rmember the subsequent housing boom, which burst like a pricked bubble, as recession hit and mortgages became more difficult to attain.
Today we have another Conservative led Government. But this one, under David Cameron, is presiding over a housing crisis, with the under 30s age group destined to become ‘generation rent’, as the housing shortage caused by years of failure to re-build the social housing that was sold off, hits home with a vengeance. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that by 2020 more than one million young people will have been forced out of the housing market. Instead the young of today will either have to rent property for most of their lifetime or remain with their parents until well into their 30s before being able to joing the housing ladder. All of this means that many young people’s dreams of owning a property will never become a reality. It also means that Britain as a ‘property owning democracy’ is fast becoming a myth.
There are ways of tackling this crisis, but will the Government follow them? It could for instance intervene in the housing market and control rents, or it could build substantially more social housing, or it could do both. However, on current performance it seems unlikely to do any of this.
Here in Tower hamlets, we are contining to do our best, despite all of the impediments placed in our path. We are committed to building over a thousand new homes each year – which is far more than any other local authority. Of course we would like to, and need to, build far more homes for our young people. But for that we will need a change of Government. And that can’t come soon enough.