Home Ownership | Jon Stanley
Housing policy in Scotland and Britain has to change. Instead of Keir Hardie fighting for families, Labour offers us Keir Softie who doesn’t seem to fight for anything. The Tories are hopelessly woke and disinterested in conservatism and the SNP only care about one thing. Change has to begin at the local level.
Having decided to run as a candidate in the upcoming Airdrie & Shotts by-election for Westminster it has become clear to me that a major issue none of the establishment parties want to discuss is the death of home ownership. It’s easy to talk about ‘housing’ by adding a few noughts onto a Help to Buy scheme or pledging a nice round number of ‘affordable homes’ on a leaflet, but these pretenses convince nobody.
Successive governments have, for decades, obsessively inflated house prices beyond the means of British families even after we learned the hard lesson of wage inflation in the 70s. With every political failing the fish rots from the head down. It could be a salmon, or a sturgeon or any of the flounders and guppies in Westminster now. They are all in on the same scam.
If elected to office, the trappings of power are immediate and clear conflicts of interest form for MPs. No group of public sector workers enjoys such generous treatment of their rent, mortgage payments, removal costs or council tax relief. A safe seat gets you at the minimum a £1m pound townhouse in London by the end of term. No sooner is an MP elected than they are taken out of the housing crisis, lock stock and barrel. Inside the hallowed halls of power they drift to esoteric interests such as gender reassignment of children, drowning statues in harbours or passing laws demanding trees have wheels.
Once on the property ladder it is all systems go. Divorce drives up housing demand so there is no state support for struggling couples. Immigration drives up housing demand, they let in hundreds of thousands. Planning restrictions prevent millions of homes being built. Second homes are routinely flipped to avoid tax. MPs rent each other’s houses to claim expenses. Foreigners and offshore companies buy up our capital city in spades.
This is the scam, by linking elected office to cushy housing deals, we push the pedal to the floor for house price inflation, creating a gulf between those with and without property not seen since the 19th century. In a global economy where wages do not respond to industrial action or collective bargaining there is a steady erosion of living standards for working class families.
So we should start by taking MPs out of this scam with a bargain policy. For a downpayment of £1.5 billion the UK should buy each Westminster constituency a very nice house. A manse as we’d call it in Scotland. There was something very smart about the manse as part of our clerical tradition. A middle class professional could lead a middle class lifestyle, from an upper class property, on a working class salary. That gave the minister access and credibility to all walks of life in the area. He could project prestige on the wealthy and understand the need to budget while looking any professional in the face as an equal.
Cutting the salary of a MP in London to £50,000 in return for a very nice grace and favour property would be a smart move, handing that property to the next MP when elected. It would double as an embassy for the constituency and, where constituents travel for business, a second MP surgery in London would be most welcome. This is how the United States diplomatic corps runs its ship in London. It would give constituents a direct stake in their MP and remind them of their duty to serve them first.
We now need to turn to the ugly practice of selling Britain by the pound. Foreign citizens have poured tens of billions into London property over the past 20 years. While every Briton should aspire to home ownership no foreigners necessarily *needs* a house here – particularly those for whom property here sits empty for most of the year. We need to give young people the chance to buy a home in Britain and that means stopping the leaching of property by Russian oligarchs and Chinese businessmen. Let’s call it the Marks and Spencer model, housing exclusively for everyone. Britain must learn to be more exclusive again. We hear too much about inclusion, we need to be exclusive in our approach to who buys property here.
Let’s start with a nice simple wedge to separate the Brits from the rest. Any property sold to a foreigner or to a company registered outside the UK should pay the full VAT rate for what is a luxury good. That means 20% stamp duty on any property sold to a foreigner from now on. I said millennials have lost out on home ownership, so let’s backdate that 20% as a windfall tax on any property sold to a foreigner since the year 2000. That’s a huge amount of money made available for debt reduction and helps to bring house prices in line with incomes, something that has not been the case in the UK for many years. That’s the one off lump sum. The approach Labour could have made. Now for something much more right wing.
Benefit cuts! Well, corporate welfare cuts really. We spend £7bn every year in income tax relief for those with buy to let mortgages. Whatever for? If someone does not live in their house, they are going to either sell it or rent it. The carrying capacity of that house does not change if we give the property owner tax relief on it. This is very different to renting out a spare room where the owner occupier is trading an income for the loss of convenience in living alone. The Tories have already cut the maximum tax relief rate to 20% from 40% under Labour. Let’s scrap it completely. £35bn over the lifetime of a parliament is a huge saving.
Work and housing are linked. No one in government seems to accept that. Our homes must be our safe space. We cannot tolerate competing with foreign workers who sleep ten to a room, certainly not after this pandemic has caught us napping on overcrowding yet again. It seems every 50 to 100 years London signals we have overcrowded by releasing some plague or another. We never seem to learn from it. Likewise, we cannot issue any work permits to any non-UK citizen without a legal tenancy agreement, for at least 6 months after the term of employment. That’s fair. That restores the level playing field with British workers who fought for nearly two centuries for the right not to live in cramped slum accommodation.
In Airdrie there is a pervasive problem. The local call centre is closing and forcing people to work from home. It plans to put webcams in their houses to monitor their breaks, their meals, even as they try and manage a busy home. They will do so while foregoing business rates and rents saved by closing the main call centre. This is not 21st century working. This is 18th century working, where a middleman would take wool to a cottage to spin, yarn to another to weave, cloth from another to dye. It is feudal and it will destroy that little bit of Britain that working class families still have to shield them from the outside world.
So, yes, I am going to push for work regulations and business rates to catch up with post-covid employment. Recovery cannot and must not be used as a smokescreen for trashing the working conditions for those in parlous employment. I saw my village wrecked when the coal mine closed, with a loss of community spirit and solidarity. What solidarity can there be from solitary working? The family comes first, and the home is not just a workhouse. We’ve come from there; we are not going back.
Finally, taking lessons from the Isle of Man, there needs to be at least a ten year residency in the UK before access is granted to social housing. Well meaning do-gooders have handed out precious social housing like candy to save face with their friends. Those who moaned right to buy, which took social housing stock away from the poor, see no issue at all in giving the rest away for nothing. As one lone MP I cannot magic billions from the air to build new houses, but I can call out a rigged housing market. I can call for every home to be a safe space with walls, a castle once again. I can point out tax breaks for landlords and social housing on a shoestring are not acceptable. I can call for the UK to spread the wealth transferred through mammoth speculation on bricks and mortar. I can pull my colleagues from the trough for an earful of home truths. I can be rude to those who defend the status quo.