Labour's social housing record

26th Apr 2010

Has Labour neglected social housing during its thirteen years in office?

This was the charge levelled by Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt when answering the questions on BBC's The Politics Show yesterday.

Facing a panel of members of the public, Mr Hunt was asked what a future Conservative Government would do to tackle the problems of homelessness, overcrowding and poor accommodation caused by a lack of social housing.

Mr Hunt was quick to make clear he felt a lack of building under Labour was at the root of the problem.

The Claim

Mr Hunt cited a little recognised figure about the comparative record of the Labour government and its Conservative predecessor.

"There is [sic] less social housing built in the last 13 years under Labour then there was under the previous Conservative Government".

What are the figures behind his claim?

Analysis

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) publishes figures on house building dating from the 1940s up to 2008. The statistics back up the Shadow Culture Secretary's claim.

Between 1979 and 1996 the total building for houses by local authorities and by registered social landlords was 913,690, while  from 1997 to 2008 building totalled a significantly lower 290,750.

Given that the last Conservative Government was in power for 18 years and the DCLG figures only cover Labour's first 11 years it is worth looking at the average building under each Government.

Again the figures back up Mr Hunt. Between 1979 and 1996 an average of 50,761 new homes in the social housing sector were built, compared to 24,299 from 1997-2008.

So why the decline?

The most striking aspect of the figures is the steep decline in local authority housing during the period in question, falling from a peak of 88,530 new homes in 1980, to a low of 130 in 2004.

Full Fact contacted the National Housing Federation (NHF) for a perspective on the figures and it became clear that the decline was not a clear cut Red/Blue issue.

The figures show a move across successive Governments away from local authority provision of houses towards housing associations, explaining the significant drop in the building by local authorities.

That there was not a proportionate rise in registered social landlord house building over the period, can be attributed to a shift in thinking in the policies of both Labour and Conservatives, which had its origin in the Right to Buy legislation of the 1980's. As Nick Foley of the NHF told us:

"Right to Buy had a major impact because although it was successful for a lot of people who bought those homes, it meant those home were lost forever from the system and were never really replaced".

He added: "You're talking over two million homes sold off. If you wanted to replace them it would take generation after generation to even attempt to do something like that."

Replenishing the social housing stock after Right to Buy sales has not been a significant enough priority for the governments of either party, it seems. Given the reduced rates at which homes were sold, and the lack of in built guarantees for the proceeds to be reinvested, a fall in the supply of social housing seems almost inevitable.

While social housing has its place in society, there does not appear to be a willingness to have large parts of the population living in it.

Conclusion

Mr Hunt's claim about the building of new social housing is factually accurate. However by using the figures to attack Labour's record it could be argued that he is glossing over the legacy of the previous Conservative government and a much longer trend of decline in social housing.

Indeed the figures quoted show that the number of new homes being built each year fell by 72,850 under the Tories, but actually went up 2,220 under Labour.

Nevertheless with waiting lists for social housing running at four million, the Tory frontbencher, is justified in questions over Labour's policy during the last 13 years.


By Patrick Casey