LHG’s Virtual Housing Hustings: Keir Starmer, one of the candidates bidding to be Leader, answers LHG members’ questions
LHG asked all 3 candidates for Labour Party Leader to answer 10 questions sent in by LHG members.
Keir Starmer has sent his response to our questions. Here are his ideas for tackling the country’s housing needs:
1. Britain hasn’t been building enough homes for decades. What specific measures would you put in place to increase house building, including public (social) housing? How would you encourage all the different stakeholders to work together to address the housing shortage?
The Government say they want to build 300,000 homes a year, but the inconvenient truth for the Tories is the last time we did this in England was in the 1960s with Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, when councils built almost half of those homes. Council housebuilding has been the missing piece of the puzzle on housing for 40 years, and the single most important thing the next Labour Government can do is get councils building at scale again.
2. How would you ensure that Labour’s housing policies recognise different needs around the country?
There are different housing crises across the country and our housing policy needs to reflect that. That means giving local communities the powers to tackle the housing problems in their areas and investing in programmes to tackle poor quality and low standards as well as unaffordable housing. The Tories have slashed public funding for housing regeneration and for Labour’s transformative Decent Homes programme, as well as making it harder for councils to take on bad private landlords. These types of programmes are vital for tackling housing pressures right across the country.
3. What are your priorities for reforming the private rented sector?
Do you support a national register of landlords and rent control, and ending Assured Shorthold Tenancies?
Rented housing should be a home, but as things stand renters don’t have the basic rights they deserve. We need renting to be more secure, affordable and with better standards, so I support a register of landlords and controls on rents, as well as greater security of tenure for private tenants.
4. Do you agree that resources should be switched from paying benefits to landlords in favour of building new, affordable homes? Will you commit to removing the inequitable cap on Local Housing Allowance?
Investing in new council and social housing doesn’t just mean more affordable homes for those who need them, it also cuts the housing benefit bill. So there’s an undeniable fiscal as well as social case for more housing investment. At the same time, we know housing benefit is a lifeline for many tenants on lower incomes, both in and out of work, so it’s vital that we re-link local housing allowance to local rents so that is covers the cost of renting.
5. Do you support Labour’s manifesto pledge to end the Right to Buy? If not, what reforms would you make to it?
Yes. We can’t go on losing many more council homes than we’re building, so I support ending the Tories’ Right to Buy to get the big increase in council housing that the country needs.
6. What would you say to first time buyers looking to take out a mortgage to buy their first home? What can Labour offer them?
We need to fix the crisis of spiralling property prices which is putting housing out of reach for people on average incomes. That means offering low-cost homes to buy as part of our affordable housing programme and ensuring first-time buyers aren’t priced out by buy-to-let landlords and property speculators. We’ve also got to win the argument that building council and social housing to rent can help people become home-owners if that’s what they choose, by allowing them to save rather than spend their wages on high private sector rents.
7. Should the Green Belt be protected at any cost?
The priority for new building should be brownfield sites, but I support communities having flexibility on the Green Belt where there’s a clear need and local support.
8. How would you ensure that the planning system made private developers contribute fully to creating more genuinely affordable housing (i.e. households not spending more than 30% of net income on housing costs)?
For a start, we need to remove loopholes like the extension of permitted development rights which let developers dodge their obligation to build low-cost homes. We’ve also got to level the playing field with a more transparent process and greater capacity for councils to drive a hard bargain for their communities. But we also need to be honest that we’re not going to fund the social housing our communities need simply from developer contributions, so there’s got to be more funding from Government too.
9. The affordability of housing in the UK context is linked to the inflated value of land. What land reforms would you consider key to addressing this issue, including any potential changes to the taxation of land/property?
We need to give public bodies new powers to buy land more cheaply and quickly to cut the cost of housing. It’s what we did when we built the post-War New Towns and we should do it again.
10. How would you cut homelessness and improve support for vulnerable people including rough sleepers?
The big fall in homelessness was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour Government. It must be a priority of the next Labour Government to fix the holes in the safety net created by the Tories since 2010, but also to radically improve the support for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including proper funding for council and charity services, better rights for renters and investment in schemes like housing first.