Across the country and in the South Eastwe've seen a 99% fall in housing starts (which is the Tory government's prefered figure for measuring housing activity) for affordable housing being built in the 6 months to September 2011.
Jack Dromney has called it a disaster, and I don't think that's an exageration. I can't think of a starker figure than a fall nationally from 26300 homes at social rent to 259 and similarly for the total of affordable housing to go from 35,735 to 454. Well actually maybe I can. The figure for the South East and East is down from 10,865 for the last financial year down to 37 for the first 6 months of this year. That's not a typo: 37.
It's utterly depressing and shows that the government's housing policy is failing.
This is not about failure to solve a problem, this is about a government that has created new problems and made worse existing problems in the housing market.
This puts in context the 'Housing Strategy' launched last week. I told the local press that I didn't consider a plan that puts back 5 affordable houses per constituency can really be glorified with the name strategy. It's time that Grant Shapps considered what a real strategy might involve, for example repeating the bankers bonus tax to build 25,000 affordable homes and create jobs for young people. A cut in VAT for home improvements could make a real difference to empty homes and the quality of existing accomodation. A Labour government would also properly regulate the private rented sector, which would both protect tenants and reward good landlords while driving out bad landlords. That would make a real difference to us here in Reading where more than a quarter of our population lives in rented accomodation.
Locally the Reading's Labour council will do what we can to alleviate the shortage of social housing, increase the provision of support for those that find themselves homeless (as I discussed on Anne Diamond's BBC Berkshire radio show on Friday) and improve those parts of the private rented sector that don't make the standard. But it's already and going to be a huge struggle given this government's determination to ignore common sense and general incompetence on housing policy. We can only do so much in the face of the government's policies.