Will co-op housing be on the main parties’ agendas?

With the UK’s housing crisis continuing to worsen, the co-op and community-led model offers a possible way forward

With a general election set for 4 July, political parties are developing their election manifestos. Housing can be expected to figure prominently in these manifestos since, according to Shelter, one in three adults in Britain lives in overcrowded, dangerous, unstable or unaffordable housing.

A range of issues have contributed to what Shelter defines as a housing emergency, including the sale or demolition of 250,000 socially rented homes in the past decade. According to the charity, 33% more people are sleeping rough than 10 years ago while 45% of private renters say rent worries are making them anxious or depressed.

Co-op housing can be part of the solution to the crisis but how much it will feature in the upcoming party manifestos remains to be seen. 

Since 1927, the Co-op Party has had an electoral agreement with Labour, meaning it only stands for Labour and Co-operative joint candidates. However, the party is independent and has its own NEC, membership and policy platform. As the political party of the co-operative movement, the Co-operative Party is leading a campaign requesting the current Conservative government to support a new generation of community-led housing – providing low-cost options for those wishing to own or rent.

Its key policy asks include boosting the community-led housing sector, creating a new specific co-operative housing tenure, providing a land-use presumption for housing co-operatives, and ensuring greater funding for community-led housing. Members wishing to support the campaign can sign up online.

With 26 MPs and over 900 councillors across the UK, the Co-operative Party can also play an important role in shaping Labour’s upcoming manifesto. Labour’s 2019 manifesto included a commitment to double the size of the co‑operative sector – but whether this commitment is retained, remains to be seen.

Related: Labour and Co-operative parties welcome general election announcement

In a speech at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s presidential dinner in February, the Labour leader Keir Starmer pledged to reform housing, with a focus on reducing homelessness, improving affordability and upgrading the condition of housing in the social and private rented sectors.

He confirmed Labour’s plans to extend Awaab’s Law t to the private rented sector and build 1.5 million homes throughout the parliament. Other measures mentioned included “building more social and affordable housing” but Sir Keir did not mention whether this would comprise co-op housing. According to Inside Housing, he also promised to “give first-time buyers first dibs on new homes in their areas, and a government-backed mortgage guarantee scheme, reform planning to boost the supply of new homes and create a planning passport for urban brownfield development”.

In her speech at last year’s Labour conference, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said a Labour government would oversee the appointment of 300 new planning officers, with funding coming from an increase in the stamp duty surcharge for non-UK residents. 

Reeves also spoke of plans to reintroduce mandatory local housing targets for councils.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have set out plans to tackle the country’s housing crisis, as revealed by a recent policy paper, Tackling the Housing Crisis, submitted by their Federal Policy Committee.

The paper emphasises the role of local authorities in tackling the crisis. It argues that local housing targets need to exist as part of delivering an overall national target and that local and central government share responsibility for delivering the housing desperately needed. “Local planning authorities should co-operate at regional or sub-regional level to ensure that they deliver homes where they are needed,” it adds.

It also pledges to build 150,000 social homes a year, including council houses, by the end of the next parliament; introduce binding targets for affordable and social housing set by the local authority, which would be allowed to build their own social and affordable housing to meet their targets, using borrowing to do so; and abolish residential leaseholds and cap ground rents on commonhold and commercial leaseholds to a nominal fee. 

In terms of the rental sector, the Lib Dems promise to introduce a national register and minimum standards for landlords; extend the default tenancy to three years, introduce rent smoothing for the first three years of a tenancy, abolish all eviction except where a tenant has been proven to be breaking the terms of the rental agreement and give social tenants more powers to run ballots, giving them greater opportunity and control, including the possibility to back new social homes. Councils would also be given the power to mandate that public land is developed for social housing only while central government departments would have to ensure social value is factored in when publicly owned assets are sold off.

As to the Conservative Party, it is not clear whether it intends to keep its current target of building 300,000 new homes a year. While in office, the party was able to deliver only around 230,000 new homes per year. The party is expected to maintain its pledge to protect the green belt and favour the development of brown-field sites, and push for the amendment of legislation on rented homes through the Renters Reform Bill. Currently going through Parliament, this would abolish fixed-term assured tenancies and assured shorthold tenancies, as well as ‘no fault’ evictions.

According to a recent study by the Resolution Foundation, households in Britain are paying more for less, with the UK housing stock offering the worst value for money of any advanced economy. For example, UK households pay 57% more for the same (quality-adjusted) housing as their counterparts in Austria. The report, which compared housing costs, floorspace, quality and wider price levels across countries, revealed that English homes have less average floorspace per person (38 m2) than the US (66 m2), Germany (46 m2), France (43 m2) and Japan (40 m2). Furthermore, the UK’s housing stock is the oldest in Europe, with a greater share of homes built before 1946 (38%) than anywhere else.

“Britain’s housing crisis is likely to be a big topic in the election campaign, as parties debate how to address the problems of high costs, poor quality and low security that face so many households,” said Adam Corlett, principal economist at the Resolution Foundation, in a press release.

“Britain’s housing crisis is decades in the making, with successive governments failing to build enough new homes and modernise our existing stock. That now has to change.” 

So far, it is difficult to predict the extent to which co-operative housing will feature in the agendas of the main political parties. What is clear is that co-op members and supporters can play a key role in pushing for policies that promote the sector.

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