defend_council_housing" We need a return to first class council housing" argues Eileen Short, chairwoman of Defend Council Housing campaign, in the Morning Star. She sets the scene for an important conference on housing and housebuilding to be held 19 March at TUC HQ.

The housing crisis and tenants' determined opposition to privatisation have, in the last 12 months, forced government to change policy. The challenge to all who helped resist privatisation is now uniting to win.

 

The collapse of the housing market bubble has exposed the failure of 30 years of housing policy in Britain. The ideological pursuit of home ownership and deregulation through privatisation has failed to provide the homes we need.

Speculation has meant big gains for the wealthiest and increased inequality.

A whole generation can't leave home or are trapped in insecure, rip-off private rental agreements. Five million are on council housing waiting lists with overcrowding and growing disrepair.

All the political parties now say they support council housing. Conservative councils and the Local Government Association they lead have championed demands for fair funding and an end to the robbery of money that belongs to council housing.

In council and general elections politicians will want to win the votes of the 2.5 million council tenants. We will be demanding they sign up to our Manifesto for Council Housing.

Our broad, united campaign of tenants, trade unions, councillors, MPs and campaigners has shown how we can win. Four thousand new council homes are now being built - more than for decades and a welcome first step, though we need 40,000 or even 400,000 to make a difference.

Direct investment in existing and new council housing is essential to produce the homes we need, where they are needed, quickly and cost-effectively.

As the Council Housing Group of MPs put it, "At a time when the government is spending up to £1 trillion of public money on other forms of [market] intervention ... direct public investment in new council housing will bring major social and economic benefits."

Even before the credit crunch registered social landlords, including housing associations, failed to deliver the new homes needed. Their private borrowing, development and land speculation, and their dependence on private selling and renting, has tied them into the crisis of the private housing market.

Campaign pressure has forced the government to review council housing finance and admit that it robs tenants' rents and underfunds by at least 54 per cent the maintenance of council housing. We have to stop this robbery which chokes off new build, restricts letting to the most needy and creates run-down estates.

Birmingham has knocked down thousands of council homes and sold land to finance improvement works. Camden Council in London won funding to build 63 new council homes this year - but last year it sold off 53 council flats at auction to pay for works to the rest. This is madness. All council housing needs fair funding for maintenance and repair to end the threat of privatisation, demolition and sell-offs.

In February government will publish details of funding reform for council housing. Councils, tenants and unions will want enough on the table to:

  • Fund the backlog of capitalworks
  • Increase management and maintenance by 10 per cent and 50 per cent, not 5 per cent and 24 per cent
  • Protect secure tenancies and low rents
  • A mass programme of new council housing
  • End the threat of privatisation

We need a settlement that ensures every council can deliver and maintain decent homes and estates. We cannot accept a deal that leaves some councils and tenants denied the funding needed.

Funding reform is linked to "self-financing" proposals to abolish the national subsidy system. This is risky for tenants and workers and an underfunded settlement would lead to yet more privatisation.

Past economic crises - in the 1930s and the post-war austerity of the 1950s - saw the biggest council house-building programme. Tenants linked with trade unions and politicians with direct action to fight the rotten private landlords, oppose evictions, take over ex-arms barracks as family housing and force councils to buy up housing.

At our conference on March 19 in central London we will hammer out our demands, learn from the best campaigns past and present and unite to hold politicians to their promises.

We need to keep up our united pressure - a massive programme of new council housing is the answer to the desperation racists and fascists seek to exploit.

We need a return to first-class council housing as a tenure of choice, not to pit those on the waiting list against each other. The answer to the despair of overcrowding, repossessions and growing waiting lists is to build enough council homes for all who want and need them.