Anyone who follows the news knows that there is a national housing shortage. In some places there is a housing crisis.
For those people who are stuck on a housing list, waiting and bidding for a council house, always just missing out, it can be a personal tragedy.
But building more houses, deciding what kind of houses and where they should be built, that is a matter for local and national government. It is an issue which needs urgently to be addressed.
Over the generations, since the end of the First World War, councils have had more or less responsibility for providing housing for rent. At first it was a matter of meeting increased demand for “homes for heroes” for those returning from the war.
It soon became a health issue – with councils ensuring that working class families had decent sanitation and living conditions with the great slum clearances in the 1930s.
The number of people living in council houses increased dramatically as more councils built more homes.
Then, in 1979, the Conservative government introduced the Right to Buy. Between 1979 and 1987, just over 1 million council homes were sold. Ever since then, council houses have gone from local authorities to private individuals or to housing associations.
Perhaps people don’t care so much who the landlord is as long as the rent is affordable, but very soon councils will not own homes anymore. The current Conservative government is speeding up the Right to Buy by giving greater incentives for tenants to buy their homes and making it even harder for councils to build.
At the moment, in North East Derbyshire we have about 22 people bidding for any advertised council property. That is 21 disappointed people still looking for somewhere to live.
We have a higher proportion of older people living in North East Derbyshire and many of our houses are under-occupied. We desperately need small houses and flats for single people and couples.
At the same time we are in the middle of a recession. Everyone is talking about kick-starting the economy, creating more jobs for our under-employed young people. This paper highlighted the plight of youth unemployment in North East Derbyshire just last week.
We need the jobs that house-building bring. We need a proper strategy that will respond to local circumstances. What we need in rural North East Derbyshire is different from what is needed in inner city Sheffield. It is very different in the South of England from the North. Local councils are best-placed to know and respond to those needs.
Instead of taking housing away from local councils, government should be giving them more incentives to hold on to it, keep the houses in good condition and to build more. They should give local councils the power to force house building on derelict brownfield sites which developers already own before they build on greenfield or even start on the greenbelt land.
We need more houses, we need more jobs. We need a government that gives local councils the power to provide both.