By Jonathan Diebold
The government’s Budget for 2024 was generally met with a yawn across the country. Aside from a few noteworthy items like the landlord tax credit, which raised eyebrows among economists and ordinary people alike, by and large it met most people’s low expectations. It was another right-wing budget that will do precious little to address the housing crisis, the cost of living, the climate crisis, and so on.
But what did the opposition have to offer in their own Budget proposals? Unfortunately, very little.
Take housing. According to the most recent estimates, we need 60,000 houses built per year to end the housing crisis by the government’s goal of 2030. The government has consistently delivered around half of that, with a minority of them social and affordable homes. Sinn Féin proposes to build an additional 13,000 social homes and 8,000 affordable. The Social Democrats propose to build 5,000 social homes (below the government’s proposal of 8,000) and 5,000 affordable (only marginally above the government’s 4,400). Labour, while calling for 50,000 houses a year, calls for just 20,000 social and affordable houses to be built.
However, all of these policies amount to throwing more money at a dysfunctional system. What is needed is not just a certain number of houses every year, but a direct challenge to the market system which has caused this housing crisis in the first place. Only Labour goes some way to acknowledge the need for a state construction company, but even this does not challenge the market, only has the state compete within the market to deliver housing.
Break with the profit system
A state that treated the housing crisis as the emergency that it is would end completely the reliance on the market to build houses – nationalising the big construction companies to focus society’s resources on actually addressing the crisis. It would also end the adverse impact the market has on housing costs, whether house prices or rents, which only go up when the key dynamic is how much profit can be made. Making quality public housing readily available and introducing real rent controls are essential to this.
The same is seen across these opposition Budget proposals. Perhaps most strikingly with Sinn Fein as it prepares for the possibility of entering government. It has dropped even its moderate call for a tax on wealth. Time and again these parties, while claiming to oppose the political establishment, merely ape their reliance on broken market-based policies – whether on climate, childcare, taxation, etc.