Iain Duncan Smith’s cat

In the wake of yet more delays and questions about value for money, I wonder what Erwin Schrödinger would have made of universal credit.

In the Austrian physicist’s famous thought experiment, a cat is placed in a sealed box with a flask of poison and a radioactive substance. The decay of a single atom of the substance during the test will trigger a hammer that breaks the flask and kills the cat. The point is that an external observer cannot know whether or not the atom has decayed, the poison has been released and the cat is dead unless they open the box. Since we cannot know, the cat is both alive and dead.

Schrödinger’s Cat was meant to illustrate a paradox in quantum theory but it could just as easily be applied to Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reform. It’s not just that universal credit is meant to be simple and transparent but is actually fiendishly complicated and impossible for outsiders to understand. These have become givens over the last couple of years. IDS’s cat also exists in two states at the same time and we cannot know whether it is alive or dead until we open the box or see it in action.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Property and the political elite

It’s now received wisdom, and a key part of UKIP’s appeal, that we are ruled by politicians who are out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people. How much of this is down to house prices?

Perceived divisions between politicians and voters are nothing new of course. Nor are accusations of champagne (or Islington/Hampstead) socialism and a huge gap between Labour leaders and their core vote. However, if these are US-style ‘culture wars’ over the politics of identity and national flags, they are being fought in the language of house prices, as shown only too clearly in this week’s Mail on Sunday story about the ‘Thornberry set’ and the North London ‘liberal elite’.

The issue was highlighted by last week’s tweet by Labour MP Emily Thornberry about a flag-festooned house in Rochester & Strood and then brought home by media coverage of its Sun-sponsored owner knocking on the door of her ‘£2 million house’ in Richmond Crescent in Islington. This street is iconic in New Labour circles because it’s where Tony and Cherie Blair lived immediately before they won the 1997 election. Former Islington council leader turned Labour MP and chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge still lives there. This is a street of seriously big North London houses but they weren’t always worth in the millions.

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Map reading

How should housing associations respond to the tantalising prospect of freedom? In uncharted territory you need something to guide you.

A report last week offers them the chance to buy out their historic grant at a discount and in return win substantial new freedoms over nominations, asset management and rents and the capacity to build many more homes.

The fact that it comes from Policy Exchange has been enough for many people to denounce it as privatisation and it may indeed be another big step towards that. However, this is not quite the free market fundamentalism we’ve come to expect from the think tank that brought us recommendations on selling expensive tenancies and the sale of all housing association homes. Many of the ideas in this report come from housing associations themselves and have been tested in polling of the chief executives and finance directors of 15 of the larger ones. As the contrasting reactions of the NHF and Placeshapers show, the report has sharply divided opinion but many of these proposals have support.

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Stuttering starts

Today’s penultimate housebuilding figures before the election will increase fears that the recovery is fading.

On the housing minister’s preferred measure (see the spin from Brandon Lewis on the previous figures), housing starts in the July to September quarter were down 10 per cent on the previous three months and up just 1 per cent on a year ago. This is the first quarter-on-quarter fall in starts over two years.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Housing 2040

Where are we heading on housing over the next 25 years? That’s the question posed by a new study – and the answer may make you may want to look away now.

The study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) takes existing trends in the relationship between housing and poverty between 1991 and 2008 and projects how it will change up to 2040.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Social messages

Some good news for Housing Day: it seems more people say yes to new social housing than say yes to new homes in general.

A fascinating Ipsos MORI poll published this morning reveals that 58% of people support ‘more social housing being built in my local area’. That compares with 22% who oppose it.

That’s a surprisingly positive result in itself given the steady flow of negative media stereotypes. And the balance only falls slightly to 55:24 when social renters are excluded.

However, support is also significantly higher than the 47% saying yes to ‘more homes being built in your local area’ in a survey of public attitudes to housebuilding published by the DCLG in July. That was hailed by housing minister Brandon Lewis as evidence that ‘nimbyism is on the wane’ and he was right: between 2010 and 2013 opinion shifted from 46:28 opposition to new homes to 47:31 support.

So what’s going on?

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Housing: where’s the plan?

A new book by the economist whose work first established the 250,000 homes a year benchmark has to be worth reading – especially when she’s not convinced it’s possible anymore.

Kate Barker’s seminal report on housing for the Blair government nailed the idea that the UK and especially England need to build houses at a much faster rate. A decade, and a separate study of planning, later and it still the ultimate source for targets of 200,000, 250,000 and even 300,000 homes a year to cope with demand and make up for the shortfall.

Now she’s back with Housing: Where’s the Plan, a short book setting out the housing challenge and potential solutions to it. With the new homes deficit rising by the year, she starts with a sober assessment of the possibilities.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


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