‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues

Kevin Gulliver is the director of Birmingham-based research charity The Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research but writes in a personal capacity; his interests are social and economic policy, especially relating to housing, health, communities and inequalities.

Yesterday David Cameron announced yet another housing policy, confirmed by Housing Minister Grant Shapps and explained in a side and half of A4 on the Communities and Local Government (CLG) website. This new policy, which must have taken at least 15 minutes to cobble together and with judicious editing could have indeed fit on the back of a fag packet, seeks to rejuvenate social tenants’ right to buy so beloved of the Thatcherite wing of the Tory Party and enables Cameron to play the populist ahead of the conference in Manchester.

This new announcement comes in the wake of a slew of nonsensical policies including Shapps’ ‘affordable’ rents at 80 percent of market rates pushing up housing benefit while the government seeks to cut it elsewhere, and the infamous ‘houseboats for the homeless’ initiative.

However, unlike the Thatcher and Major versions but with some similarity to the John Prescott capital receipts initiative, the Cameron RtB plans to replace each purchased social home with a new one using the proceeds from sales. The CLG announcement doesn’t provide any indication of how this will work – the policy’s details will be announced in a future ‘housing strategy’ apparently – and is vague and riddled with inaccuracies.

First of all, the policy paper claims that under the previous Labour government “fewer people were able to take up this opportunity”. It’s a shame that Shapps didn’t instruct his civil servants to take down the statistical tables on the CLB website about the RtB. These show that, since the heyday of the RtB in the late 1980s, an average of 42,000 homes were sold annually under John Major’s government compared to 44,000 yearly under Labour.

In fact, between 1996 and 2003 the yearly rate of sales increased by 149 per cent to stand at 86,000. Only when the credit crunch hit was there a major decline in the number of sales – almost a decade after Labour reduced the level of maximum discount to tackle RtB ‘abuses’ in the earlier rising housing market.

A second contentious area is the policy’s suggestion that there are significant numbers of social housing tenants who can move into home ownership if discounts are ramped up.

The government can’t seem to agree on who exactly lives in social housing. One day social housing is characterised as the focus of benefit dependency, riots and gangs; the next, it is full of aspiring home owners who could easily move if given help. The reality of course is that social housing over the last three decades has been ‘residualised’. As the Joseph Rowntree foundation notes:

The right to buy has had an uneven impact regionally and locally. The remaining social rented stock is disproportionately concentrated in areas with lower demand for housing and fewer opportunities for employment….(the RtB) has contributed to the concentration of low income households in the social rented sector and in particular estates.

In fact, the proportion of working social tenants has declined from about a half to one third since 1980 with the proportion of full-time workers halving. And the RtB has creamed off the most desirable social homes; especially family houses, bringing into doubt the numbers of tenants who will be tempted to take up Cameron’s offer against the backdrop of a stalling housing market.

A third area of the policy that needs unpicking relates to Cameron’s claim that the proceeds from social housing sales will be used to kick-start the economy and employ thousands of construction workers. If so, why not simply invest more in social housing? Since construction is inelastic in supply, how will unspecified future receipts from sales kick-start the economy now when it needs it most? And how will receipts be geographically distributed? According to need across the country or will they remain in their place of origin? If the latter, a mismatch between housing supply and demand is highly probable as John Prescott realised more than ten years ago.

Clearly, the policy is a pre-conference gimmick, built on a shoddy evidence base. It will make no significant in-roads into ballooning waiting lists, rising homelessness, record low rates of residential construction or unemployment in the building trade. Let’s hope it follows ‘houseboats for the homeless’ as a policy hastily constructed and even more speedily dropped.

See also:

Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’Kevin Gulliver, September 28th 2011

Boris fighting London’s corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?!Jenny Jones AM, July 5th 2011

On housing, while Ed has got it wrong, Boris has the answerVidhya Alakeson, June 13th 2011

Government spin on so-called “rich” social housing tenants exposedKevin Gulliver, June 6th 2011

Two Labour traditions can come together in social housingKevin Gulliver, June 1st 2011

40 Responses to “‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues”

  1. PeterJFitzpatrick

    Nothing like a Thatcherite headline
    //t.co/31nLETyg

  2. Kevin Gulliver

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/5LYQrc90 by @KevinGulliver

  3. Barbara Hulme

    Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues | Left Foot Forward //t.co/CQmRihRa

  4. Kevin Gulliver

    @CarolineFlintMP My take on the RtB announcements – 'Fag Packet Housing Policies' – //t.co/mXr2CeT0 #ukhousing

  5. John Meldrum

    @kevingulliver RT //t.co/tAaDKpHK great comment this is not a viable solution all about rhetoric and imposing ideological belief

  6. Nicola Perkins

    Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues | Left Foot Forward //t.co/CQmRihRa

  7. Jodi Bailey

    RT @leftfootfwd: 'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues //t.co/0NjWhfda

  8. Pickles needs a friend | Left Foot Forward

    […] his speech today hardly sets the room on fire. With Cameron taking one of his announcements (the abortive resurrection of right-to-by), Osborne taking another (the freeze in council taxes), and him spoiling his third (BINS! BINS! […]

  9. Emma Lindley

    RT @leftfootfwd: 'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/JNpEFvcy <<'1 day social housing is characterised as the focus

  10. Kevin Gulliver

    @stevehilditch @LabourHousing Good blog – my take on the RtB announcements – 'Fag Packet Housing Policies' – //t.co/mXr2CeT0 #ukhousing

  11. Leon Wolfson

    Actually, more houseboat moorings is a good idea, but the Tories also need to give the various waterways authorities a slap for trying to constantly move houseboats on.

    It’s got VERY little to do with the homeless, though.

  12. Mr. Sensible

    What a mess.

    Right to Buy was a bad idea in the first place, and in this particular case one has to ask where the extra space for houses is, without building on the green belt?

  13. Valerie Burnett

    RT @leftfootfwd: 'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues //t.co/CHpatVYK

  14. Clare Fernyhough

    This is just a natural progression.

    Raising social housing rents to 80% of market rates whilst reducing the value of housing benefit will make social housing unaffordable for any tenant claiming benefits, and the rent rises will also be unaffordable for the working poor.

    As I’ve said before here, only middle income earners will then afford those higher rents. Not only that, but once they displace social housing tenants and apply for the right to buy, they will receive greater discounts than is currently available.

    This will be a great vote winner for the tories come the next election since it will solve the housing crisis for middle income earners who could not hope to get a foothold on the currently over inflated property market.

    Meantime, millions of social housing tenants will have nowhere to move to. The local housing allowance does not acurately represent the private rental market, and even if they could move, due to changes in up rating benefits the local housing allowance, like housing benefit and all other benefits, will continue to lose value year on year.

    Grant Shapps promised that the changes would not apply to existing tenants; unfortunately this is not true. I’ll repeat the list of those affected again: Pensioners who have worked all of their lives but do not get enough income to pay full rent; single working people living in one bedroom flats earning minimum wage; couples with or without children, working or not in work; single unemployed people; single parents, working or not working; the disabled; anyone on a low income: just about any household who does not have an income around average wage levels.

    There are not millions of boats available; there aren’t even enough caravans! So can someone tell us where we are supposed to go since no one seems to know yet?

  15. Anon E Mouse

    ‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues.

    Considering the last LABOUR government had less houses built since the 1920’s – a historic low – this really is cheek to publish this article.

    Is this the best that Labour activists can do considering the financial mess the country is in?

    I understand that Labour supporters have that sinking feeling in their stomachs as they admit what the rest of us have always known (and confirmed by the polls) that Ed Miliband is a dud but this is ridiculous.

    Labour needs a coherent message that the public will consider and until they get that they will stay tanking in the polls….

  16. Kevin Gulliver

    @jules_birch Tories' claim of 6,000 h'holds on £100k+ as accurate as their claim that RtB fell under Labour? //t.co/mXr2CeT0 #ukhousing

  17. Rob the crip

    But of course how many middle bracket earners want a shockingly poor council house, Prescott once wrote to me about housing as I worked for a well known charity, he stated to repair all the homes held by councils would cost between 21 billion to 28 billion and it could not be afforded just before they talked about signing up for Trident.

    In the end if you do make rented council houses more expensive of course you will put more people onto housing benefit and the poor old working man Labour loves so much would have to foot it with his tax money

  18. Ben Reeve-Lewis

    Why Govt housing policy is written on the back of a fag packet //t.co/mqaqOgJq writes head of 2 charities

  19. Kevin Gulliver

    @insidehousing Housing inelastic in supply so cap receipts from RtB unlikely to fund 1 new home b4 end 2012 //t.co/mXr2CeT0 #ukhousing

  20. Cameron will lose England another million low rent homes | Left Foot Forward

    […] ‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues – Kevin Gulliver, October 3rd […]

  21. Joseph Rowntree Fdn.

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  22. Alan Mackie

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  23. dave m

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  24. Helen Barnard

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  25. lyn

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  26. Janet Hale

    #Notjustme RT @jrf_uk:'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/Oqi9wdPW @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing #in

  27. Carolyn Hughes

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  28. Carla Keegans

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  29. Mark Cantrell

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  30. Shaun Tymon

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues: //t.co/AVv4wbwq by @KevinGulliver via @leftfootfwd #ukhousing

  31. London IWW

    ‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues //t.co/8OlANOrE | #PublicServices #Anticuts

  32. Kevin Gulliver

    @guardian RtB won't work //t.co/QjAEByYW 500k #sochous sold udr Labour: cred crunch killed RtB not lwr discounts //t.co/ktQYqvK1

  33. Pamela Heywood

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues //t.co/dxlRjLvd

  34. We need a new kind of tenure for a new kind of housing market | Left Foot Forward

    […] ‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues – Kevin Gulliver, October 3rd […]

  35. Alan Cowan

    'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues | Left Foot Forward //t.co/OB3BTTRI

  36. jungle

    “In the end if you do make rented council houses more expensive of course you will put more people onto housing benefit”

    Or chuck them out of the council houses altogether, more likely.

    What this government is doing is creating slums. After giving them a few chances to realise this, I’m forced to conclude they’re doing it deliberately. Of course, these slums will be illegal, so I suppose they’re calculating they can blame it on the inhabitants breaking the law.

    There are already thousands of illegal immigrants living in back garden sheds in London and the surrounding towns (Slough in particular). This will just extend the new “shack” tenure to the white working class. I’m sure they’ll appreciate that.

    Trouble is, Ed Balls appears to have endorsed the housing cuts as being necessary, so even if elected there’s no guarantee Labour will reverse them…

  37. jungle

    Apologies for horrendous error in last comment resulting from rewriting a sentence and losing bits; it will extend the shack tenure to low income British citizens generally, not just the “white working class”.

  38. Lynne Livsey

    RT @leftfootfwd: 'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues //t.co/uBzx23Dk We need comprehensive intergenerational housing policy

  39. Kevin Gulliver

    David Willets @BBCr4today revival of RtB. Credit Crunch killed it NOT reduction discounts udr Labour (500k homes sold) //t.co/ktQYqvK1

  40. London’s affordable housing crisis: The stats that will shock | Left Foot Forward

    […] ‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues 3 Oct […]

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