Visions and promises

As the parties hold their final conferences before the 2015 general election, housing has a high political profile. Here are five themes I’ve noticed so far.

1) Priorities, priorities

‘Building as many homes as we need’ is the fifth of Ed Miliband’s six national goals by 2025. The big questions remain how we achieve that and whether it will be possible without substantial extra investment in new affordable homes. So it was definitely good news that the Labour leader had this to say too: ‘We will also make housing the top priority for additional capital investment in the next parliament.’ However, that can taken at face value or as an indication that it will not be top priority in its initial investment plans.

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


Home nations

How do the different nations of the UK compare when it comes to housebuilding and the wider housing market?

An official report out this week reveals a fascinating snapshot of housing across the union that survived last week’s referendum. The housing stock, tenure, housebuilding, house prices and rents are all broken down in a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that is much more comprehensive than its title (Trends in the UK housing market, 2014) implies.

Most of the trends will be familiar to regular readers of Inside Housing but what really struck me is the comparison between the different regions of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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


The West London question

The West Lothian question is at the centre of the politics of the UK in the wake of David Cameron’s response to the No vote in the Scottish referendum.

The prime minister surprised his opponents by linking a demand for ‘English votes for English laws’ to the fulfilment of the three-party ‘vow’ to devolve more power to the Scots if they rejected independence.

Under pressure from English Conservatives and UKIP, Cameron said:

‘I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.’

‘So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.’

It is of course complete coincidence that this would benefit the Conservatives (one current MP in Scotland and eight in Wales) at the expense of Labour (40 in Scotland and 26 in Wales). Taken literally, it also threatens the timetable for ‘the vow’ and Alex Salmond is already claiming that No voters were tricked. Belatedly even Downing Street seems to have realised that this looked like Cameron, rather than Scottish unionists, was trying to get ‘the best of both worlds’. Two and a half days after the original statement it has issued a clarification that that new powers for Scotland are not linked to English votes for English laws

Read the rest of this entry »


The Indyref and housing

What are the implications for housing of the independence referendum in Scotland?

Heather Spurr has already covered what a Yes vote might mean for Scotland itself , in particular on social security and the bedroom tax, grant funding and borrowing, private finance and sustainability. Beyond that though, I wanted to look at what might happen with a No vote too – and also at what either result might mean for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In some senses it’s an odd question to be asking at all. Scotland has already decided to abolish the right to buy, made radical changes on homelessness and mitigated the bedroom tax in full. The contrast with housing policy in England could hardly be starker.

But housing is of course about much more than just housing policy. The parameters are set by welfare, tax and economic policy, all of which are controlled from Westminster. The bedroom tax has played a big part in the Yes campaign as a symbol of unfair measures imposed from London and the SNP has also promised to halt the introduction of the universal credit and other welfare reforms. Housing has also played a part in the No campaign, with dire warnings about the prospects of higher mortgage payments if Scots vote for independence.

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


Mirror image

Nobody pretends that reform of housing benefit will be easy but a report out today underlines the scale of the task.

The report by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) does a great job of making the links between policies on housing, welfare and the labour market. The sobering conclusion for the government is that everything it has done so far has only succeeded in reducing the rate of growth of the housing benefit bill rather than reducing it.

So as fast as the government introduces cuts like the bedroom tax the bill keeps rising faster because of inflationary factors built into the system. Between 1997/98 and 2012/13 the total bill rose by 48 per cent in real terms.

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


Home front

With eight months to go until the general election the battle to influence the manifestos has begun in earnest.

Party conference season begins with Labour on September 21 but organisations from across the housing spectrum have been publishing manifestos of their own in a bid to reach the politicians.

Conservative Home (see my blog here) was early out of the blocks but the influential Tory website has been followed by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in the last week. The Fabian Society has just published a report last week on the ‘silent majority’ in favour of more social housing. The National Housing Federation (NHF) is set to reveal its election plans at its conference next week.

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


The long goodbye to the bedroom tax

Three images spring to mind in the aftermath of Friday’s momentous vote to amend the bedroom tax.

The first is of a bunker deep in the bowels of DWP headquarters Caxton House. Iain Duncan Smith sits at a desk surrounded by a dwindling band of loyalists who still believe in the policy: his ministers Mark Harper and Lord Freud plus a loyal special adviser and perhaps a press officer.

AS IDS raves that nothing has changed (and that the universal credit is on time and on budget) I imagine the others exchanging nervous looks between themselves as they assure him that the removal of the spare room subsidy really is saving £1 million a day and making housing fairer.

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


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