“Build more houses” must be more than an empty slogan

The narrowness of the liberal viewpoint can often do the work for reactionaries. The answer to the housing shortages associated with migration is always "build more houses". Yet, not for one minute do they consider how this sounds to the people who live day to day with Britain's housing crisis. 

“Build more houses” is an aspiration, not a policy.

“Build more houses” doesn't lay a brick. iI doesn't deal with the fact that a lot of larger social housing is under-utilised by single pensioners. It doesn't deal with the fact that our planning law proactively stops the building of housing or that our green belt is badly connected to transport (so even if we build on it, we'll need to spend even more on infrastructure).

“Build more houses” isn't connected to the fact that every single government since 1975 has not built more houses, nor in over 40 years has any government made any significant progress in tackling the housing crisis. “Build more houses” is what you could say a year before an election with an incoming social democratic government.

“Build more houses” in 2017, with near eternal Tory rule ahead is bullshit. Until you actually start building homes at the levels needed to end the housing crisis, the people who voted leave to cut immigration will continue to know it is bullshit.

If you live as a family of four in a two-bed council flat (and I had family after family living like this come to me when I was a councillor in south London), cutting immigration appears to be an immediate solution to your housing problem.

It may lead to unsustainable public debt, to a significant reduction in UK GDP, etc. But it also stops 330,000 extra people every year from turning up and needing housing. It stops extra competition for your place on the council waiting list. It means there will be fewer people looking for the cheap housing in your town.

Stopping immigration is, in fact, a helpful short-term fix to your problem. The people who were most vocal about stopping immigration in Lewisham were not racists, but people on the council waiting list who couldn’t see themselves ever being re-housed.

No one cares about immigration by skilled, highly paid professionals because ultimately the pressure on the top-end of the housing market is easier to deal with. London and our major cities certainly don’t suffer from a shortage of recently built luxury apartments.
Nineteen thousand luxury homes are under construction right now, compared to just 6,800 social homes that were built last year. This is why a points-based system, however flawed, is popular. This type of migration doesn’t affect the majority of British people. 
I used to be a glib “build more houses” person. But over my four years as a councillor I saw the government take a sledgehammer to local government powers and budgets. I saw some social housing being built valiantly by my Labour colleagues, finding whatever cash they could to do so, but nowhere near enough. The situation is worsening.

It is wrong to ask the poorest in our society to put up with additional pressure on the lower end of the housing market without actually dealing with the housing crisis first. If we want free movement – and I still believe in free movement – then we need to build the houses first, not as an after thought. 

Build more houses first, then ask voters to support free movement. Anything else risks the total collapse of support for any migration.


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