The final countdown

It’s been a tough job with so many to choose from but here are my 10 worst housing policies of the election campaign.

As we prepare to go to the polls, here are a few final reminders of what’s on offer:

1) We’re not going to tell you (Conservative). With extra points for repeated appearances, the Tory refusal to spell out where £12 billion of cuts in benefit spending will come from takes top spot. I first blogged about this before the short campaign began and we’ve learned little more apart from a pledge (sort of) to protect child benefit. Within hours of Iain Duncan Smith telling the BBC yesterday that ‘the work hasn’t been done yet’ on the specifics, The Guardian was publishing leaked documents with DWP proposals including increasing the bedroom tax and cutting housing benefit completely for the under-25s.

2) Exempt main homes worth to £1 million from inheritance tax (Conservative). Brilliant! A tax cut for the very well housed (aka bribe for Tory voters) that will further establish inheritance in its rightful place as the main route into home ownership.

3) Extend the right to buy to housing association tenants (Conservative). Yes, it’s true we’ve tried this before and had to drop it. Yes, forcing charities to sell their assets is a bit iffy. But trust us now we’ve found a way to pay for it: forcing councils to sell their best stock. All the homes sold will be replaced one for one, honest. What’s that you say? It doesn’t stack up? Sorry, we seem to be running out of time for questions on this one.
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Property and the political elite

It’s now received wisdom, and a key part of UKIP’s appeal, that we are ruled by politicians who are out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people. How much of this is down to house prices?

Perceived divisions between politicians and voters are nothing new of course. Nor are accusations of champagne (or Islington/Hampstead) socialism and a huge gap between Labour leaders and their core vote. However, if these are US-style ‘culture wars’ over the politics of identity and national flags, they are being fought in the language of house prices, as shown only too clearly in this week’s Mail on Sunday story about the ‘Thornberry set’ and the North London ‘liberal elite’.

The issue was highlighted by last week’s tweet by Labour MP Emily Thornberry about a flag-festooned house in Rochester & Strood and then brought home by media coverage of its Sun-sponsored owner knocking on the door of her ‘£2 million house’ in Richmond Crescent in Islington. This street is iconic in New Labour circles because it’s where Tony and Cherie Blair lived immediately before they won the 1997 election. Former Islington council leader turned Labour MP and chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge still lives there. This is a street of seriously big North London houses but they weren’t always worth in the millions.

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The black comedy of property taxation

Why is it that so few chancellors ever consider the effect of their decisions on taxation on housing?

The obvious answers are political ones: housing is near the bottom of the list of priorities; no chancellor can afford to alienate the homeowning majority; and any changes to the tax system inevitably create losers as well as winners.

As George Osborne puts the finishing touches to the Budget, speculation continues about several measures that could have a huge impact: a long-overdue clampdown on stamp duty avoidance (Osborne has already committed to this – see my blog for Inside Housing here); extra council tax bands (a distinct possibility); and a mansion tax (advocated by the Lib Dems but supposedly ruled out for now by David Cameron). Yet all of the ideas are about raising revenue for tax cuts elsewhere. There is no suggestion of the more general reform of property taxation that is so badly needed.

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Rubber stamp

So George Osborne will come down ‘like a ton of bricks’ on people who avoid stamp duty by buying homes through offshore companies. What took so long?

The chancellor confirmed in TV interviews over the weekend that the loophole beloved of celebrities, rock stars and the global super-rich will be closed in the Budget on Wednesday.

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


Family values

Anyone who has followed the debates about housing benefit cuts and the Welfare Reform Bill will probably have been thinking the same as me during the debates this week about the mansion tax and child benefit.

Surely we heard exactly the same arguments about ‘fairness’ and ‘family’ in all the debates over the last year about welfare reform and housing benefit cuts?

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