Paying the (affordable) rent

The affordable v social debate took centre stage in the Commons yesterday and also emerged as an issue in the prospectus for new borrowing for council housing.

Communities and Local Government questions initially saw the usual routine in which a Labour MP asks a question about social rented housing and coalition ministers boast about the affordable homes programme.

Yesterday was different. Perhaps it was because Labour’s Heidi Alexander challenged the obfuscation directly:

‘I asked the Minister about social rented housing, not just affordable housing. The truth is that this Government do not want to build social housing; they want to decimate it. Will he tell me why the number of social rented homes being built in London last year was roughly one tenth of the number being built in the capital in 2009?’

And perhaps it was because the minister answering the question was not the housing minister Kris Hopkins but his fellow junior communities minister Stephen Williams. Hopkins seemed to be confined to questions about private renting and self build and, disappointingly, was not asked about his contention on Newsnight that rising house prices are ‘a good thing’.

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


One size does not fit all

Today’s report from the work and pensions committee is an all-party challenge to the fundamental principles of the government’s reforms of housing benefit.

To my mind it is the most serious attack on the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and a swathe of other reforms since the government was forced to overturn House of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Act on the grounds of financial privilege.

But you would not guess it from reports in the national media this morning. On Radio 4’s Today programme it was only judged the third most important select committee report of the day and the second most important housing story behind the Nationwide house price index. It’s also downplayed elsewhere with headlines about ‘distress’ and ‘hardship’ or even stolen by Tim Farron rather than about the committee’s call for wholesale changes that could benefit hundreds of thousands of people.

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


Why registration is the key for private renters

Can the votes of private renters swing the next election and move their concerns up the political agenda in the process?

The huge shift in housing tenure seen this century suggests they can. In 2000 just two million households in England were private tenants. According to the English Housing Survey, that had doubled to almost four million by 2012/13. Add another 500,000 in Wales and Scotland, allow for another two years of growth and, with 1.8 people of voting age per household, you have nine million potential private rented votes at the next election.

Polling by Generation Rent, the recently relaunched National Private Tenants Organisation, suggests that the votes of private renters could be decisive in 86 seats in England. Of these, 38 are currently held by the Conservatives, 32 by Labour, 15 by the Lib Dems and one by the Greens. The results here could be enough to deliver an overall majority for David Cameron, make Ed Miliband the leader of the largest party or give Nick Clegg a major say in a new coalition.

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Housing nations

What would a Yes vote to Scottish independence mean for housing in the rest of the UK?

With less than six months to go until the referendum, it’s not just in Scotland that the issues are being debated. While England may feel it can mostly ignore what’s happening north of the Tweed the question is perhaps felt more deeply in the other UK nations.

In Northern Ireland, a research institute has just warned of ‘substantial’ political, economic and social effects. And in Wales the issues were addressed directly this week in a debate at the TAI 2014 conference in Cardiff on the motion ‘This house believes an independent Scotland would be good for Wales.’

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


Seen and heard: Dispatches on the bedroom tax

Five things struck me watching the Dispatches documentary on the bedroom tax on Channel 4 last night.

First, it’s impossible for anyone to cover all the issues and angles in half an hour. That’s not a criticism of Channel 4 at all, more a comment on the complexity of the implications of the bedroom tax and the way that the effects vary around the country. I must have written thousands of words on the subject over the last two years and invariably have to cut something important or leave an angle untouched.

It sounds like lots of material ended up on the cutting room floor for last night’s programme too but, within the time allowed, it did a very good job of presenting the issue from the point of view of under-occupying tenants, social landlords and local authorities. We heard from Iain Sim of Coast and Country Housing on its 150 per cent increase in voids since April 2013 and a couple who were both in wheelchairs who face the bedroom tax on the ‘spare’ room in their specially adapted flat yet were denied a discretionary housing payment. The programme was also balanced enough to include two overcrowded families who have benefitted from larger homes being freed up.

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


Rights row: the UN and housing

Seeing ourselves as others see us can be an uncomfortable experience and so it is proving for ministers responding to United Nations special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik.

Her preliminary report in September called for the abolition of the bedroom tax and prompted a furious row with Conservative party chairman and former housing minister Grant Shapps. Now his ‘woman from Brazil’ is back with a final report that uses the approved Conservative term ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ but still recommends that it ‘should be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its negative impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals and households’. You can read the full report here [downloads Word doc].

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


Taking the pledge

The weekend’s big speech by Ed Balls looks like significant news for housing under a future Labour government – and not just for the obvious reasons.

The national headlines from the shadow chancellor’s speech to the Fabian conference were taken by his pledge to restore the 50p rate of tax and subsequent accusations that Labour is therefore anti-business. The undoubtedly good news for housing was that it will be ‘a central priority’ if Labour wins power in 2015.

But it was Balls’s message about ‘fiscal discipline’ that was more interesting to me:

‘We won’t be able to reverse all the spending cuts and tax rises that the Tories have pushed through. We will have to govern with less money, which means the next Labour government will have to make cuts too. No responsible Opposition can make detailed commitments and difficult judgments about what will happen in two or three years time without knowing the state of the economy and public finances that we will inherit.

‘But we know we will face difficult choices. The government’s day-to-day spending totals for 2015/16 will be our starting point. There will be no more borrowing for day-to-day spending. Any changes to the current spending plans for that year will be fully-funded and set out in advance in our manifesto.’

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

Garden griping

So Nick would like two, Eric (through clenched teeth) one or two, Emma five and Boris none. It’s time to play the garden cities game.

A quick look at the electoral map of constituencies around London tells you most of what you need to know about the politics involved. You’ll find a sea of Tory blue in the swathe of seats closest to the capital with only Labour Slough, Luton and Oxford and Lib Dem Lewes and Colchester anywhere near to being affected.

It also explains why David Cameron’s interest has waned and a government-commissioned study on new towns has allegedly been blocked. According to the FT, a Downing Street official has even joked that the only possible sites should be Buckingham and Mid Bedfordshire, the seats of Tory outcasts John Bercow and Nadine Dorries.

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


Taking the pledge

The optimist in me hopes that Ed Miliband’s launch of Labour’s independent housing commission marks the start of a political arms race on housing ahead of the next election.

In this scenario, his target of 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and eye-catching policies to achieve it will strengthen the hand of the pro-development wing of the Conservative Party and mean that whoever wins the next election will have a serious crack at tackling the supply crisis.

The pessimist in me worries that I’ve seen little so far that suggests the target is achievable (see Colin Wiles on this last week) and that the two policies that have made the headlines won’t work except in the sense of strengthening the hand of the Tory nimbys.

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


Free exchange

Alex Morton’s move from Policy Exchange to the No 10 Policy Unit is a powerful symbol of something – but what exactly?

For some it’s a signal of a ‘housing dream team’, with Morton joining Nick Boles in a push to take the Yes to Homes message to the heart of government. Boles is of course planning minister but he was also the first director of the organisation dubbed ‘David Cameron’s favourite think tank’.

And it’s not just them either. Boles was succeeded as director by Anthony Browne, now Boris Johnson’s adviser for economic development, and Browne was succeeded by Neil O’Brien, who is now a special adviser to George Osborne. Three other alumni became Conservative MPs in 2010.

For others it will seem more like housing’s worst nightmare. Morton has developed some controversial as well as influential ideas and now the Exchangers are now well placed in No 10, the Treasury, the DCLG and the main city with a housing problem.

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


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