Double vision

Universal credit came under scrutiny on TV and radio last night and whether you look from above or below things are not looking good.

Dispatches on Channel 4 covered the problems from below by looking at the experience in Warrington, where the job centre was one of the first to pilot the new all-in-one benefit. We heard from a succession of people whose claims were delayed, or processed wrongly or were simply not told what was happening and from Golden Gates Housing Trust on the problems this has caused.

The pilots are of course only meant to cover the simplest cases. However, single people don’t necessarily stay single: Jay moved in with his girlfriend and baby and found himself in a nightmare of delayed payments and rent arrears. ‘Me, my partner and my child will be homeless and you just don’t know what’s going on,’ he said. Jay started off as a fan of universal credit but they survived on coffee and crisps until the problems were sorted out.

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


Brave new world

Guess what the total value of government financial instruments to support new homes will be by 2021.

The answer that leapt off the page at me in a report on the department’s performance published by the National Audit Office (NAO) last week is a cool £24 billion. And that is just the direct support that comes under the DCLG and its agencies.

Perhaps the figure should not come as a surprise. After all, ever since the financial crisis we’ve grown used to the government adopting new ways of financing things that do not rely on conventional spending or borrowing.

The three programmes that make up the £24 billion are £10 billion for financial guarantees to housing associations and the private rented sector to help build new homes, £9.7 billion for the Help to Buy equity loan scheme (HTB1) and £4.2 billion for other loans and investments such as Build to Rent and the large sites scheme.

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


Poverty prism

Who said this? ‘What is currently happening in the housing market epitomises our concerns about Britain becoming a permanently divided nation.’

This is not a quote from a housing pressure group or a think-tank or even an article in Inside Housing. Instead it is the verdict in a report published on Monday by an official government body: the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

The advance headlines ahead of its annual State of the Nation report were about the ‘under-30s being priced out of the UK’ and much of the coverage after that went to the commission’s criticism of Labour’s plans on the minimum wage and its proposal to ban unpaid internships. However, read as a whole the report gives a fresh perspective on problems that are all too familiar to anyone in housing.

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


2020 visions

So what clues does the Lyons Review offers us about housing up to 2020? Here are some more thoughts.

The review is important in its own right as one of the most significant political reports on housing in the last ten years. However, it also gives us a much more detailed impression of what life will be like under a Labour government in the second half of this decade to add to the outlines of what we can expect under the Conservatives.

I argued in my blog last week that Lyons is good on housebuilding but offers little to supporters of social housing. If you judge the review by what it was asked to do (provide recommendations to Labour on how to get to 200,000 new homes a year in England by 2020) your verdict will tend to be positive. If on the other hand you ask whether recommendations made within these constraints are enough to solve the housing crisis you will be much more negative (for example, see this blog by Alex Hilton).

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

 


Lyons made

The Lyons Review is the most significant report on new housing supply in years but it’s much more convincing on private sector housebuilding than social housing.

Lyons picks up where Barker left off on housing in 2004 (and on planning in 2007) but with two added bits of context. First, we’ve gone backwards in the last ten years: annual output is around half what we needed and the backlog of unmet need is mounting by the day. Second, any solutions have to operate under severe political and financial constraints.

So anyone reading the report whose priority is more social housing will come away disappointed with the recommendations for a future Labour government. There will be no change in the borrowing rules for council housing and no increase in the borrowing caps except for potential swapping between authorities. The case for continuing and increased grant subsidy is accepted but subject to overall constraints on public spending in which social housing will be an unspecified ‘priority’ for more money.

And anyone hoping for a shift in the political obsession with aspiration and ownership rather than homes will already have been disappointed by the advance coverage. The Labour Party’s spin has been all about first-time buyers and ‘homes for locals’ even though they get relatively minor mentions in the report itself.

However, as with the launch setting of Milton Keynes the report offers solid grounds for optimism too. Here at last is consensus on a long-term strategy in place of the short-term gimmicks we’ve seen ever since the financial crisis.

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


Taxing problems

Could we invent a worse system of taxing housing than the one we have now?

As modest attempts at reform are made to howls of protest from those who stand to lose out, it’s worth standing back a moment to reflect on what we tax (and why) and what we don’t.

We have an annual tax on the value of all homes but the council tax in England and Scotland is based on property values as they were in 1991 with a top band of just £320,000. The owner or tenant of a modest semi in Wolverhampton can end up paying more than an oligarch with a multi-million pound home in Westminster. The system was designed to narrow the differences between the top and the bottom from the start but failure to uprate it in line with house prices has amplified the distortions.

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

 


The H word

Nick Clegg’s failure to mention housing in his leader’s speech feels like a suitably downbeat conclusion to the final party conference season before the election.

As I blogged earlier in the week, on paper the Lib Dems have the best housing policies of any of the mainstream parties. A target of 300,000 homes a year, a housing investment bank and powers for local authorities to suspend the right to buy will please most people reading this. A succession of MPs, including all three of Clegg’s potential successors, made all the right noises about housing on the conference floor and in countless fringe meetings.

So does it matter that Clegg failed to use the H word?

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


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