In a radio interview for LBC this morning (24th February), Natalie Bennett announced the Green Party’s manifesto pledge to build 500,000 new social homes to assist the abolition of poverty in the UK. This seems like a well-intentioned policy but unfortunately Bennett’s interview was littered with stutters, long (awkward) pauses and failure to support the policy with sound financial foresight.
Emotively, increasing the supply of social housing is difficult to object to; not just to provide housing for the homeless and less fortunate but to relieve the thousands of families on waiting lists or stuck in properties which do not adequately cater for their needs.
This is largely due to the market failing to allocate supply to demand. Firms seem reluctant to build on increasingly scarce land and this stubbornness from suppliers comes at a time of increasing inequality and pressure on council housing. There have been countless news stories depicting families in London being forced out of their homes,mainly because they are at the mercy of profit-seeking landlords reaping the returns of increasing property and land values in the their local areas (you may have even seen them marching behind a triumphant-looking Russell Brand).
The opposite seems to be occurring outside of the city because capital is increasingly invested in the City where returns on investment are greatest. This means that the majority of the UK is screaming out for investment in affordable housing, a venture which isn’t seen as lucrative under current market conditions
Each council have their own rules on allocation of properties. Waiting lists are increasing, causing frustration for those on it. Elongated waiting periods also seem to be fuelling xenophobic attitudes as people become increasingly outraged if councils’ arithmetic leads to immigrants or certain ethnic groups receiving priority. The properties outlined by Bennett in her interview this morning would also be regulated and allocated on basis of need rather than ability to pay, typically by volunteer organisations or social enterprises.
When quizzed upon the policy by presenter Nick Ferrari, Bennett stated that half a million of these properties will be built within the next four years. This would represent a dramatic increase on current trends as it has taken 18 years for the last 500,000 council houses to be built in the UK. It is also unclear whether the UK has the qualified workforce to accommodate such an abrupt increase in construction, although Keynesian economists will argue that the multiplier effect would provide a “shot in to the arm” to the UK’s economy and construction industry; a proposal which will not appease the MPs and commentators currently advocating strict austerity measures.
Natalie Bennett has since publically apologised to her party and its supporters for the interview this morning but her error. Although somewhat shambolic, this episode will certainly not help their message to be taken more seriously by the electorate. This is a shame because the party, refreshingly, offer alternatives to such issues from a variety of topics from austerity to tax reforms and from imprisonment policy to the sex industry and the hype of a “#Green surge” is exciting for British politics.
It is unlikely that the LBC’s interview will have long lasting impact on the party’s credentials, however, it does highlight that perhaps the Greens’ greatest threat is themselves. It seems that the 500,000 houses proposed by Bennett this morning are simply castles in the sky, but the intentions of the policy are socially desirable and should be of priority in policy proposals for the forthcoming election.
By Perry Scott, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.