Full value

With 13 months left until the general election, how can housing demonstrate its economic, social and political value?

Ruth Davison of the National Housing Federation was in no doubt speaking to the annual conference of the Housing Studies Association in York last week. ‘It’s time to stop researching and start broadcasting,’ she told the assembled academics.

I’m not sure anyone in the audience was ready to go quite that far but her underlying point was well made. The evidence about the beneficial impact that housing can have across a vast range of fields is out there and the political parties seem at least for the moment prepared to listen. So why not shout about it?

The evidence and the politics both emerged in a debate I chaired at the conference on ‘who is best placed to judge the value of housing – the state or the consumer’. It produced some expected and some very unexpected results.

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


Frank words on welfare reform

Getting the same criticism from different people is usually a sign you’ve got something wrong. How about for IDS and the DWP?

Three different reports published this morning amplify earlier warnings about the implementation of the bedroom tax, the wider impact of welfare reform on tenants and landlords and the prospects for universal credit. But it would surprise nobody if the work and pensions secretary saw them as yet more evidence that his reforms are a success.

Two of them come from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). Steve Wilcox finds that what he neutrally calls the ‘housing benefit size criteria’ has affected fewer people than expected but that half of those are in arrears and 100,000 who want to downsize are trapped and unable to move. Anne Power concludes that welfare reforms may end up making tenants more, rather than less, dependent and are making them more vulnerable.

The third is from the work and pensions committee and warns that it is still not clear that universal credit will work. The MPs on the all-party committee think that implementation will be delayed even further and have some strong words about Iain Duncan Smith’s attitude towards their scrutiny.

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


Many unhappy returns to the bedroom tax

Stop carping, you lot. The removal of the spare room subsidy is a success.

Today is of course the first of the month as well as the first anniversary of the introduction of the bedroom tax and a wave of other welfare reforms. But I am paraphrasing Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey rather than making a token effort at an April Fool.

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


Does the welfare cap fit?

The debate about the welfare cap seems to be all about the politics. It should be about the contradictions at the heart of the policy too.

The coalition parties and the opposition are all supporting the measure that will place a legal restriction on most welfare spending from 2015/16 so, despite an expected Labour rebellion, it seems more or less certain to go through.

The cap started off as a political trap set by the Conservatives and Labour support reflects a determination not to fall into it.

Judging from his appearance on the Today programme this morning, Iain Duncan Smith seems determined to act as though Labour doesn’t really mean its support. But the example he chose says much about his priorities and the way the cap will operate.

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


Rent squeeze

Why is there so little debate about the fact that social housing rents are set to rise so much faster than prices and earnings?

Figures out this week from the ONS show that CPI inflation rose 1.9 per cent in the year to January and average earnings rose just 1.1 per cent in 2013. Earnings have now been falling in real terms since 2010, the longest period forat least 50 years.

And yet all around the country social landlords are preparing to increase their rents by at least twice the rate of inflation, and many times more than earnings, according to recent surveys by Inside Housing.

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


Mixed messages

So are private landlords about to pull out of the housing benefit market or not?

It’s one of the most crucial questions for the future of the housing system but the answer may be more complex than recent publicity suggests.

The alarm was raised when Fergus and Judith Wilson, the King and Queen of buy to let, revealed that they were evicting all of their tenants on benefit. A poll yesterday by the website spareroom.co.uk found that only 18 per cent of landlords currently rent to claimants, down from a third two years ago.

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


The hardest word

A remarkable thing happened iyesterday: Iain Duncan Smith used a five-letter word beginning with S.

Apologising for a mistake is just about the last thing any minister wants to do, but IDS got his chance when Labour’s John Healey asked him at work and pensions questions about the DWP’s bulletin admitting the pre-1996 under-occupation penalty error. Healey quoted the latest survey from the Northern Housing Consortium that ‘nearly half of all frontline housing workers have dealt with someone who has threatened to commit suicide’ largely because of the government’s welfare changes. ‘Will he apologise this afternoon to those people for the concern and chaos that he is causing?’

Duncan Smith replied: ‘I said it all right, and I say it again: the Department is, and I am, absolutely sorry that anybody may have been caught up in this who should not have been.’ So not just an apology but a double ‘sorry’ from both the secretary of state and his department. But before anyone gets too excited, he went on:

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


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