Housing at the hustings

So is housing finally cutting through as an issue at this election? Yesterday has convinced me that it is.

The day started with housing featuring as the election issue of the day on Today on Radio 4 – good news in itself but just an indication of the programme’s agenda. The report by John Humphrys was about Shepherd’s Bush and how it’s changed from the setting for Steptoe & Son to a place where a couple on a joint income of over £100,000 cannot afford a deposit, let alone a home, and foreign investors are buying new apartments eight at a time.

An interview with Brandon Lewis and Emma Reynolds followed (listen again here at about 8.30). But it quickly degenerated into bald men squabbling over a comb mode as they traded statistics about who has the worst record in government. Lewis trotted out the usual lines about Help to Buy while Reynolds repeated her better ones about Lyons. Maybe I’ve heard it too many times before, maybe they’ve said the same thing too many times before, but it hardly seemed like housing was at the centre of the election. Depressingly, the focus was entirely on first-time buyers. They do face huge problems but this is an indication I think that the main parties still see home ownership as the issue on which elections are won and lost. It’s a sense of aspiration, rather than housing as such, that is the real issue.

That was enough to lower my expectations for my local hustings. BBC Cornwall is organising them across the county and last night it was the turn of St Ives. The Lib Dems held off the Conservatives by just 1,700 votes in 2010 and it’s one of the 23 seats the Tories need to win to form an overall majority.

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Heart, brain and Clegg

What could housing expect from a government influenced by parties other than the Conservatives and Labour? Part 1: the Lib Dems.

Assuming the polls are right and there will be another hung parliament,  any of the other five parties who took  part in the first TV debate could have an influence. The SNP and Plaid Cymru would seek concessions for Scotland and Wales while demanding less austerity from a Labour government, especially on welfare [though later the SNP reached out to the rest of the UK with a call for 100,000 affordable homes]. However, most housing issues are devolved from Westminster, so I’ll concentrate in this two-part blog on the other three parties. Power may matter a lot more than policies, there are some hints in the Lib Dem, Green and UKIP manifestos of what might offer common ground with one of the bigger parties.

So first, the Lib Dems. Assuming enough of them keep their seats, they could be a coalition partner (or a less formal supporter) for either a Tory or Labour government and they are the only party with a track record in coalition at Westminster.

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No surprises from Labour

If you’re looking for anything new on housing in the Labour manifesto you’re going to have to search very hard for it.

The party’s priorities were clearly elsewhere in the document launched this morning and the housing sections are largely rehashes of Labour’s response to the Lyons Review and of previous statements on social security.

Housing gets a mention in the introduction but only in relation to housebuilding and home ownership:

‘We are not building the homes we need. Our sons and daughters have been shut out of the housing market and too often they are forced to leave the communities where they were brought up.’

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The man with a plan who won’t tell us what it is

Question of the day: why won’t George Osborne say where he will find another £10 billion of cuts in welfare?

The obvious answer is that he doesn’t want us to find out before the election but there is a more immediate one too: because he can get away with it.

I found myself shouting at the radio twice today as interviewers failed to pin down first Osborne and then financial secretary David Gauke. The £10 billion figure is the so-far unexplained bit of the total £12 billion of welfare cuts Osborne is planning after the election. It matters both in its own right and because it enables him to deflect the Office for Budget Responsibility’s point about ‘rollercoaster’ cuts in public services.

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Getting real

A technical change to an official index undermines everything that ministers have been telling us about private rents.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest Index of Private Housing Rental Prices on Friday using improved methodology that puts the annual rent inflation rate at 2.1 per cent since January 2011.

That may not sound like much compared to soaring house prices but that is 75 per cent higher than the 1.2 per cent annual increase for the last four years derived from the old methodology. That had always seemed on the low side given the increases that tenants said they were paying, especially in London.

Here’s an ONS graph showing the difference it makes since January 2012:

index

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Overpaid and overclaimed

Too expensive to repeal the bedroom tax? Look what’s happened to housing benefit overpayments.

A damning report published on Tuesday by the Commons public accounts committee reveals that overpayments cost £1.4 billion in 2013/14, the first year of the under-occupation penalty. That is an increase of £420 million since 2010/11.

Of that £1.4 billion, the DWP estimates that £900 million was claimant error, £340 million claimant fraud and £150 million official error. Overpayments since 2000/01 now total a staggering £12.6 billion – and there seem to be no figures on how much of the money that is overpaid is ever recovered.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Winners and losers

So buy to let landlords made £177 billion from rising house prices over the last five years – and that does not include rental income.

A series of linked stories in the Financial Times this morning make clear who the beneficiaries of booming property market have been since 2009, when interest rates fell to a record low. In addition to buy to letters, they are home owners in London (prices up by £563 billion in the last five years) and in Conservative constituencies outside the capital (prices up eight times fasterthan in Labour seats). Even social landlords get in on the act, with a 20 per cent increase in the value of their stock since 2009.

Yet all the research by Savills and impressive FT data visualisation beg some far bigger questions about what it calls the politics of British housing. Why has this happened? If those are the winners, who are the losers?

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


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