Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on November 12.
When the pandemic is eventually over, one of the big political questions will be how the government will go about recouping the huge sums pumped into keeping the economy going.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Conservative conference that he believes it is his ‘sacred duty’ to balance the books. Even before the costs of the second wave, a document leaked from the Treasury in May suggested that tax rises or spending cuts equivalent to £25-£30 billion would be needed.
However, Mr Sunak is boxed in by manifesto promises not to increase income tax, VAT and national insurance and not to scrap the triple lock on pensions.
Cutting public spending will not be easy either. If anything the pressure will be the other way as the government looks to implement its levelling up agenda.
That applies even to the depressingly familiar remedy of cutting benefits, with calls for temporary increases in universal credit and local housing allowance to be made permanent set to grow as unemployment rises.
However, housing could still be a key battleground when it comes to tax and areas not covered by those manifesto promises. So far, it’s been another cost to the Treasury, with the £3.8 billon earmarked for the stamp duty holiday, but sooner or later attention will turn to the other side of the ledger.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published by Inside Housing on October 26.
Remember when a newly elected Conservative-led government was determined to put an end to top-down planning and scrap Labour’s ‘Stalinist’ housebuilding targets?
It may be only 10 years ago but all that ‘localism’ seems a long time ago in the wake of a planning white paper that Boris Johnson says will deliver ‘radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War’.
But that 2010 rhetoric from Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps is a reminder of the tensions that are inherent in the conflict between Conservative determination to deliver more homes from the centre and the conservative impulse to resist them at a local level.
For all the lofty promises about ‘big, bold steps so that we in this country can finally build the homes we all need and the future we all want to see’, that struggle has never gone away.
In the final few weeks of consultation on the white paper, ministers were already signalling a u-turn on a key part of it after a revolt by Tory backbenchers.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing on October 6.
You are prime minister. You have £5.8 billion to spend on housing. What do you do?
Before you answer there is a catch. You are a Tory prime minister. So this has to be all about home ownership.
This is not about the Affordable Homes Programme either – although the modest increase in that is tilted towards home ownership too.
You may have guessed by now that this is about decisions already taken by Boris Johnson’s chancellor Rishi Sunak, decisions that are looking worse and worse the more time goes on.
That thought was prompted by the only ‘new’ idea that I’ve seen emerging from the Conservative Party conference: a plan to create ‘Generation Buy’ by encouraging low-deposit mortgages to help young people on to the housing ladder.
The idea revealed by Mr Johnson in a Telegraph interview on Saturday is not especially new – essentially it’s a rehash of the mortgage guarantee part of Help to Buy and it harks back to the days when Gordon Brown wanted to encourage long-term, fixed-rate mortgages – and it seems to be inspired by a report published by the Centre for Policy Studies last month.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published on September 7 as a column for Inside Housing.
All through the cladding saga, the government has dragged its feet and resisted spending money before finally being forced to act.
Think back to the way ministers resisted any kind of fund for replacement of Grenfell-style ACM cladding, then insisted private building owners should pay, then denied the need for any help for non-ACM cladding and you see a pattern repeating itself.
It took the government almost a year after Grenfell to announce a £400m fund for the removal of ACM on social housing blocks, almost two years to find £200m for private blocks and almost three years to announce the £1bn Building Safety Fund for the removal of non-ACM cladding.
All this while the cladding scandal continued to escalate, dragging in more and more blocks and more and more residents and eventually wrecking the whole market in recently built flats.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on August 7.
Step away from planning reform for a few moments and grim news out today (Thursday August 6) reveals a more immediate crisis in the benefits system with even more alarming implications for the future.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of households subject to the benefit cap almost doubled to 154,000 between February 2020 and May 2020. Of those, 140,000 had children.
More households have moved on to Universal Credit over time so the grey line for total capped households is the one to watch – note that the increase is much bigger than when the benefit cap was reduced in 2016.