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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Beyond the pale

When if ever will politicians catch up with the scale of the housing crisis unfolding before their eyes?

As the Homes for Britain campaign moves to the heart of Westminster, the default response of the major parties is to promise new homes. Traditionally, these come in multiples of 100,000:  the Conservatives want 100,000 and then 200,000 starter homes; Labour promises 200,000 new homes a year by 2020; the Liberal Democrats say 300,000 with a tenth of those being rent to own; and the Greens want 500,000 rented homes.

It was ever thus of course. Back in the 1950s, Labour and the Conservatives competed with each other to promise more homes. The difference was that they delivered. Macmillan pledged and then exceeded 300,000 a year as housing minister in the 1950s. This numbers game had major downsides in terms of design and build quality that we need to remember but it showed that governments were serious about housing.

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Minority rule

How do flawed policies that are opposed by a majority of MPs manage to survive unscathed?

One of the remaining mysteries of this parliament was solved in the Commons yesterday. Why has it taken the government almost a year to fail to respond to the all-party work and pensions committee’s report on housing benefit? The answer has much to say about how coalition government, and power, work.

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Rallying call

If the political weather turns out to be even half as good as the winter sunshine at Land’s End today, then Homes for Britain is set fair for success.

A rare national housing event happening up the road from me was too good an opportunity to miss so I was there at lunchtime for an event to mark the start of a baton relay that will make its way through the South West by bus in time for the campaign rally in London on March 17.

Hosted by around 30 different housing associations, progress will be marked in different towns and cities along the way with events including snakes and ladders in Bristol and school children making model houses in Witney (David Cameron’s constituency). Regional events are also happening in the North East, North West and Yorkshire & the Humber.

The relay will reach London for March 17 for what is being billed as ‘the biggest housing rally for a generation’ at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster and that will be followed by a billboard campaign in April.

The housing problems of the South West will be highlighted along the way. As Simon Nunn, assistant director of external affairs at the National Housing Federation, told the Land’s End launch, house prices cost 11 times average earnings in Cornwall. You need earnings of £50,000 to buy an average home on an 80 per cent mortgage and £40,000 to buy a lower quartile home. Mean earnings are below £20,000.

Backing his call for action were representatives from housing associations and other organisations across the region, pictured here with the Betsy, the Routemaster bus that will make the trip to the capital:

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


Own goals

Could housing hold the key to the Conservatives’ chances of winning the general election?

I’d assumed till now that the fact David Cameron made housing (or rather home ownership) one of his six priorities for speeches signalled no more than a desire to put aspiration at the heart of the Tory campaign. Mixing a few dubious claims about Help to Buy with some boasts about the Starter Home Initiative might mean some extra votes but housing would remain a secondary issue behind the economy, the NHS and immigration.

But two tweets this week by influential Conservative Tim Montgomerie made me wonder about this. Montgomerie is a Times columnist but that understates his influence in the party as the co-founder of the Centre for Social Justice, creator of the Conservative Home website and speechwriter for two Tory leaders.

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


Time loop

More than one MP compared Wednesday’s debate on the bedroom tax to Groundhog Day and it was not hard to see why.

Labour calls a debate that will not change anything but is designed to expose the Conservatives as callous and the Liberal Democrats as collaborators. The Conservatives (as personified by pictures of a laughing Iain Duncan Smith) duly live up to their billing. The Lib Dems accuse Labour of playing games but end up seeming to vote for something that they were against before they were in favour of it. We’ve been here many times before.

A Labour motion ‘that this House believes…the bedroom tax should be abolished with immediate effect’ was voted down by 298-266. A coalition amendment approved by 300-262 extols its record on cutting the welfare bill but also ‘notes’ that ‘the part of the coalition led by the deputy prime minister has proposed reforms to introduce other formal exemptions to the policy, including where claimants have not been made a reasonable alternative offer of accommodation’.

The net result of all that politics was that nothing much changed yesterday apart from UKIP’s Douglas Carswell voting against the policy he supported as a Conservative. But the sense of déjà vu hanging over the opposition day debate was about much more than just that. Here are some high (or low) lights:

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


Treating renters as imbeciles

In the last week parliament has had the chance to tackle two of the most glaring injustices for private tenants and flunked both of them.

After debates in the Lords on Monday and Commons on Friday, letting agents are free to carry on charging outrageous fees to tenants and landlords can continue to evict tenants in retaliation for complaining about unsafe conditions.

The last word on Friday afternoon went to one of the villains of the week proved to be ironically apt. ‘We must not treat the people who enter into these contracts as imbeciles,’ was the very last sentence uttered by Christopher Chope before the debate was terminated and he and Conservative backbench colleague Philip Davies completed their successful attempt to talk out the Tenancies (Reform) Bill.

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