The social housing giveaway will push needy families into homes they cannot afford

The UK is already lacking the social housing it needs, but the Tories are planning to give away more


The Tories just don’t like social housing or the people who live in it. Following a raft of welfare reforms, many aimed directly or indirectly at reducing the living standards and incomes of social tenants, the ‘reinvigorated’ Right to Buy sought to extend the discounts offered to tenants to buy their council homes with a promise for a one-for-one replacement of ‘lost’ social homes. This has not been delivered despite a personal assurance by the prime minister.

Other cunning plans are being hatched in the lead-up to the General Election, including privatising community-based housing associations, one of the major social housing successes of the last thirty years, and bringing housing association homes more firmly into the Right to Buy scheme, from which most are currently exempt.

The latest, dreamt up by Iain Duncan Smith, the DWP Secretary, is a ‘give away’ of social homes to low-paid workers who come off benefits. IDS is apparently pushing for this policy to go into the Tory manifesto, according to The Times. Social homes would be given away in return for 35 per cent of the sale proceeds if tenants go on to sell them within three years. The ‘lucky’ tenants would also forego future housing benefit support.

Politics Home reports that the plan seemingly has the backing of party strategist Lynton Crosby and policy minister Oliver Letwin. The chancellor to his credit is cool about the proposal, as he is with most of what IDS champions, because of the potential depletion of an already dwindling social housing stock.

As social housing campaign group SHOUT constantly points out, the UK does not have enough social housing to meet current needs, with 5m people on local authority waiting lists and homelessness on the rise. Giving away precious public housing assets would further deplete the social housing stock: there are 1.5m fewer social homes today than in 1979 against a population one fifth larger than back then.

The government’s inability to ratchet-up housing supply, especially affordable housing supply, pushes back ever further the bare minimum homes needed every year for the foreseeable future predicted by a raft of housing economists.

News yesterday that the regeneration of fifty London housing estates over the last decade has resulted in the net loss of more than 8,000 social homes, according to a report by the London Assembly’s Housing Committee, further confirms policy trends to push needy families into far more expensive temporary accommodation or the private rented sector.

The reduction in the requirement of housing developers to provide social homes on their sites – so-called S106 homes – is further depleting overall affordable housing supply and driving up densities as developers pack in apartments for sale or market rent.

Such are the ideological blinkers of the government that the economic case for more social housing, especially built with a greater slice of public money, is trumped by a zeal to social cleanse, even where this drives up the housing benefit bill, increases dependency on rent allowances and reduces bricks and mortar investment.

Kevin Gulliver is director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research. He writes in a personal capacity

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