Hot air will not put a roof over our heads

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19 May 2008

In the run-up to the Crewe by-election, Brown has gone out of his way to try to rally Labour after his debacle in the local elections.

In particular, Brown knows that the bounty he offered to rich banks - already at £90 billion, up from the initial £50bn estimate - would not go down well among Labour voters. His draft Queen's speech was aimed at showing his concern for the plight of working class people caught in the middle of a financial crisis caused by the profiteering of the very same banks that they are forced to bail out with their taxes.

However, beyond the hot air about increasing NHS accountability to patients (another "patients' charter"!) or that of the police (as if the police is likely to be accountable to anyone but itself!), there is not much which addresses the real problems we face.

Housing is at the core of today's crisis. Mortgage arrears and repossession orders are at a 15-year high and twice as many households are expected to be evicted this year. Mortgage bills are increasing as lenders use the pretext of the crisis to hike their rates. Rents, which are linked to real interest rates, are increasing too, including for tenants of so-called "social landlords". After the shortage of affordable housing of the past, we are faced with a looming housing disaster.

Yet, what is Brown planning to do about it? £200m will be allocated to buy empty properties says the draft Queen's speech. At the current average price of a 2-bedroom flat, this is less than 1,000 properties! And there is no plan to use these properties for those who do not have a roof. No, they will be used for Brown's "shared property" scheme whereby occupiers take a mortgage on half the property and pay a rent to the state on the other half - which is unaffordable for the low-paid!

In war emergencies, past governments have requisitioned buildings and factories. In today's emergency, empty properties should be requisitioned and rented out at affordable rents. The huge stock of land with planning permission that real estate giants keep for speculative purposes, should be taken over and a large-scale programme of public housing construction should be launched. Then, maybe, Brown might get the support of Crewe's Labour voters... But above all, nothing short of this will help the working class in the present crisis.