Let’s begin with what we know about the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill.
We know the Bill is designed not to provide affordable housing but to remove the obligation of developers to build it.
We know the Bill is designed not to build homes for the people who need them but to subsidise private investment in housing with public money.
We know the Bill is designed not to help renters onto the property ladder but to sell more homes for social rent under the Right to Buy.
We know the Bill is designed to sell off so-called ‘high value’ council homes to the rich and not replace them for the poor.
We know the Bill is designed not to free up social housing for people who need it but to raise existing rents to market rates for people who can’t afford them.
We know the Bill is designed to demolish existing housing estates under the cloak of regeneration and replace them with Starter Homes for property investors.
We know the Bill is designed to end secure tenancies not to accommodate social mobility but to free up property for private sale or demolition.
We know the Bill is designed not to alleviate the housing ‘crisis’ but to bring social housing in this country to an end, and in doing so drive hundreds of thousands of people into an even further inflated private rental market, temporary accommodation and homelessness.
Knowing all these things, the question then arises – where will we live?
Where will the poor live? Where will those with disabilities live? Where will the elderly and the vulnerable live? Where will those on low incomes live? Where will those on zero-hour contracts live? Where will the key workers live? Where will the nurses and firemen and teachers live? Where will the cleaners and bus-drivers and home-carers live? Where will the workers live? Where will the double-income families on the minimum wage live? Where will the students and our unemployed young people live? Where will those refused housing benefit live? Where will the single mothers live? Where will the women and children escaping domestic violence live? Where will the unemployed live? Where will those on sickness benefits live? Where will those who depend on the support of their community to survive live? Where will those who need care live? Where will those now in temporary accommodation live? Where will the people evicted from their homes live? Where will the communities whose estates have been demolished live? Where will the homeless live? Where will those who cannot afford private rents live? Where will those who cannot afford a mortgage live? Where will those whose parents can’t put a deposit on a home live? Where will those who weren’t born into privilege and security and wealth live? Where will the working classes live? Where will the people of Britain live?
To answer this question, we should consider the Housing and Planning Bill not in isolation but in relation to the other legislation passed by this Government:
To the cuts to housing, unemployment and disability benefits;
To the attacks on the trades unions, workers’ rights and working tax credits;
To the introduction of compulsory labour for the unemployed and the plans to bring back national service in the armed forces;
To the privatisation of our National Health Service, railways, banks, schools, prisons, police force and other publicly owned assets;
To the selling off of our public land, industries and services to private investors;
To the dismantling of the welfare state and its replacement with State-sanctioned powers in the service of private corporations;
To the removal of our human rights and civil liberties, and the criminalisation of homelessness.
If we consider this wave of legislation, then the answer to the question of where we will live must also consider the possibility that everything in the Housing and Planning Bill points to the conclusion that we will end up living in the workhouse. When you have passed laws that will make hundreds of thousands of people homeless, when you have made homelessness a criminal offence, and when you have made compulsory labour a condition of State welfare for the homeless, then you have created the conditions for the return of the workhouse.
It is the possibility of this answer that we should consider carefully when confronting the consequences of this Bill and what we must do to oppose it.
We can start by being clear about what it is we’re opposing.
The Housing and Planning Bill is not only an attack on the 4.1 million households in England and Wales that still live in social housing, it is an attack on the people of Britain.
A flooded and unregulated private rental market, and increased speculation in the London property market, will affect renters and would-be house buyers alike.
The ratio between house prices and personal disposable income in London is currently at an all-time high, surpassing levels before the mortgage crisis of 2007, and on schedule to form a housing bubble by 2017.
Over the next quarter of a century, rents have been predicted to rise at twice the rate of incomes, and renters to be twice as likely to live in poverty.
1.9 million households in Britain are on local authority housing waiting lists; 280,000 households are currently at risk of homelessness; and 61,000 households, including 88,000 children, are already homeless and living in temporary accommodation.
250,000 London households are on housing waiting lists; 240,000 households, with 320,000 children, are living in overcrowded accommodation; and 46,000 households, with 78,000 children, are homeless.
592,000 children in London, 37 percent of all the children in the capital, are currently living below the poverty line.
The number of families living in bed and breakfast accommodation in Britain has more than tripled in the past five years from 630 in 2010 to 2,040 in 2015.
The number of people sleeping rough in England increased by 30 percent in the last year alone to an estimated 3,569 people.
The Housing and Planning Bill will only make these figures worse.
The Bill has not been designed to address this ‘crisis’ in housing. It has been designed to exploit that crisis for the political and financial gain of the Conservative Party and its backers. Property wealth in Britain has increased by almost £400 billion in the past two years, and is now an economy in itself. In stark contrast to the millions of people living in housing poverty, the richest 10 percent of households have seen a 21 percent increase in their wealth from doing little more than watching their properties collectively generate more than the GDP of entire countries.
It is this hugely inflated and lucrative property market, and not a sudden desire to help renters own their own home, that is driving the Housing and Planning Bill.
It is the certainty of this crisis growing worse that we should consider carefully when confronting the consequences of this Bill and what we must do to oppose it.
Architects for Social Housing