The government’s housing policy makes no sense

The chancellor continues his irrational mission to reduce social tenants to second-class citizens


In the two weeks since a disastrous Budget for social housing and social tenants was announced, the government’s ‘housing strategy’ has been revealed in all its irrational glory.

In particular, a government which says it wants to simulate house building has introduced a proposal to reduce social rents by 1 per cent annually over the next four years, which the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) says will result in at least 14,000 fewer homes being built.

The 1 per cent rent cut in reality leaves a bigger hole in the business plans of social landlords, since they had planned rent increases of CPI + 1 per cent. So the actual annual cut is probably closer to 3 per cent annually and 13 per cent compound over the next four years.

The National Housing Federation (NHF), the representative body for housing associations, calculates that 27,000 planned homes will not be built as a direct result of the proposed cuts in social rental income. Yet the spiralling rent increases in the private rented sector remain untouched, exposing the government’s cover story that social rent cuts are designed to bear down on the ballooning housing benefit bill.

A recent report by social housing campaign group SHOUT illustrates the irrationality of the government’s approach: tenants in the private rented sector are charged rents averaging £1,000 more than those charged to social tenants. So the easiest way of reducing the housing benefit bill would be to cap or force reductions in private rents, but this goes against the grain of the government’s increasingly right-wing political philosophy.

A further irrationality relates to the extended Right to Buy, where sold housing association homes will be replaced by homes let on so-called ‘affordable rents’, which are 80 per cent of market rents. This can only drive-up rents in one part of the social housing sector while rents are forced down in other parts.

Meanwhile social tenants are being put under increased pressure by a new raft of ‘welfare reforms’. Perhaps the most significant proposes that tenant households with earnings over £30,000 annually (and £40,000 in London) pay market rents to their social landlords. The measure, referred to as ‘pay to stay’, will affect perhaps 300,000 social tenants, or 6-7 per cent of the total.

A couple both in work and earning £15,000 each will now have to find another £1,000 a year on average to stay in their current home, or face moving into the private rented sector.

George Osborne has also decided to make local authorities pay the extra rental income raised through ‘pay to stay’ to the Treasury while housing associations will be able to keep the money from the measure. The result will be at least a 10 per cent cut in planned council house building.

Many housing commentators now agree that the government intends to eradicate the social housing sector by a thousand cuts while promoting unsustainable levels of home ownership, so repeating the mistakes that led to the financial crisis and pushing increasing numbers of people into expensive, insecure and short-term private renting.

A more economically rational approach is investment in new social housing, which offers a better solution to the nation’s housing problems that is fiscally sustainable, economically efficient and socially progressive.

As well as meeting the nation’s housing requirements, every additional pound of investment in social house building provides a Keynesian economic stimulus of almost £3 to the wider economy, through the supply chain and in employment creation.

Social housing investment also helps to keep net public sector debt lower. The OBR’s long-term fiscal projections suggest a debt to GDP ratio of 86 per cent if current housing policies are continued, whereas building social homes reduces the ratio over time to 81 per cent.

In place of a rational housing strategy that places affordable house building at its core, the chancellor is continuing his ideologically-driven process of mean sleights that collectively intend to reduce the social housing sector to a rump, and social tenants to second-class citizens.

Kevin Gulliver is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward and a 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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12 Responses to “The government’s housing policy makes no sense”

  1. Sean Garrity

    This does not come as a surprise to me, this non-democratic elected government have one aim and one aim only.
    And that is to take this country back to the Victorian age.
    The age where the rich ruled supreme and the rest were left to starve and beg for a slice of bread.
    The so called champions of the poor and repressed i.e. The Labour Party are too busy fighting among themselves looking for sound bites to trick the ordinary citizen into believing that they care, when in effect the majority of the modern Parliamentary Labour Party would feel at home wearing a blue rosette.
    Keir Hardy, John Smith and Tony Benn must all be spinning in their graves.

  2. stevep

    I have commented before that this Government is dangerously right wing and are pursuing the destruction of the welfare state and anything not In private hands with an ideological zeal.
    Some of the brainwashed Trolls that infest this site berate the left as being ideologically out of touch with the modern world. The current Tory Government are far more to the right than Labour has ever been to the Left.
    They are in fact, a danger to the modern world as we know it.
    Do we really want to go back to a Britain without universal health care, a safety net for the disadvantaged, poor quality expensive private rented accommodation, scratching around to find and keep a job and even democracy itself.
    If the people of Britain knew what was really happening, free from all the spin and distortions of the Tory press, they would be horrified.
    I think, post election, a lot of people are awakening form their hypnotic state and are realising what they have just done – put the Tories back in for another 5 years.
    Labour need to create and put forward a radical progressive manifesto to reverse what is about to happen and pledge to pledge to put Britain into public hands and give it`s citizens the democratic power to run it.

  3. John Farrar

    The typo that results in the phrase “simulate house building” is very apt for this government

  4. John Farrar

    To be fair and as someone who works in Social Housing some of the large Housing Associations have behaved quite badly in recent years and behave more like agressive business with some bizzare senoir management salaries so some reform of them is required but as usual the government has missed the point and as always its the poor and vulnerable that will suffer as some of these Housing Assocaitions will just evict the high risk tenants

  5. MelH

    I work in the social housing sector, all i can say is finally someone has actually put the truth the impact the rent reduction will have, well done left foot!

    Yes RSLs will stop building, because they will have no choice, but also the investment plans are being ripped up. There will be mass redundancies across the sector, but most of the indirect employment which is provided by the sector will also be gone, joiners, plumbers etc.

    It also cannot be quantified just how much RSLs do in the communities they serve, and just how much they have picked up from the cuts in local authority budgets.

    But hey we are “subsidised” apparently so when we are all signing on we will continue to be. (Note the sarcasm) I personally think the private rented sector is far more subsidised than the social sector.

    I won’t hold my breath but I hope the Tories see sense very soon, but ain’t going to happen!

  6. Mandy

    Earning £30k (or £40k in London) is NOT wealthy or a high earner. For a single person, maybe just about, but when you have a household to look after, children, sick relations, elderly parents etc, feeding them all and paying the bills is certainly not easy.

    Please sign and share the hell out of this petition if you think the threshold should be higher.

  7. MrL0g1c

    There is no housing policy, only an absence of one.

  8. MrL0g1c

    The people who put the Tories back in power only make up 24% of the electorate – the greedy, the ignorant and the stupid.

  9. MrL0g1c

    Not that I agree with thresholds at all but a fair threshold would be the price of a three-bed house / 3.5 for the borough the person lives in. In London this would start at about £100,000ish. The current threshold is too low, I wouldn’t ask to keep it there.

    If a person can not get a mortgage in the borough they live in then they should not be forced out of social housing. And If they could get a mortgage then they likely would of already done that.

  10. jeffreylmcnabb


  11. Ruth cox

    I am a front line Housing Officer and tenant as well, in social housing because of the great recession. The Pay to Stay Policy is going to force many in the South East into debt and bankruptcy just because they followed the ideal of working to pay their way. £30’000 a year is around £2000 a month, rent prices are high in the south and my rent will possibly increase by £1000 per month, from £600. The right to buy will mean for many securing a £230’000 mortgage which £30’000 salary would not support. What about age many residents would not be able to obtain a 25yr mortgage. We all know mortgages are not easy to secure so that will not be possible for many. So a forced future of not being able to meet existing financial commitments for many in order to find the rent increase. This policy is unfair and unjust as we are all forced into a debt ridden life. Raise the cap to a realistic level as it will be more than 10 per cent of tenants effected. We all know market rents are not affordable so why increase them.

  12. Gary Anderson

    What els the torys never ever want social housing they hate the working class ,they would have us all in workhouses and pay us in there scrapes there so far right they should be renamed the new nazi ,and Osbourne is the new himler ,zeek hiel torys ,always rob the workforce to pay the fat cat mates who bankroll them

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