Deja vu

Inside Housing’s account of Pat Ritchie’s departure from the HCA only adds to the eerie sense of familiarity that struck me when the news first broke.

According to Nick Duxbury’s story for IH, the interim chief executive turned down the chance to take the job on a permanent basis because the pay was not high enough. The £142,000 salary on offer is lower than other executive salaries at Maple House. It is lower than the £163,904 a year paid to Barry Rowland, who she will succeed as chief executive of Newcastle City Council (a fine city but one that is also facing a budget crisis).

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


10 things you may not know about the Beveridge report

This Saturday sees the 70th anniversary of the publication of the iconic report credited with the creation of the welfare state.

Sir William Beveridge published his report within weeks of the victory at El Alamein that seemed to mark a turning point in the Second World War. His ideas, and the language in which he expressed them, seemed to many people to symbolise what they were fighting for: a better world after the war and no return to the miseries of the 1930s.

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Open verdict

The awful story of Malcolm Frost, who was evicted and found dead in his garden shed 10 days later, has implications that go beyond one individual tragedy.

The details as reported from the inquest by The Sentinel are these. The 61-year-old former painter and decorator was evicted from his home in Alsager, Cheshire in March for not paying the rent. Roy Edwards, a friend and neighbour, had called the council to register concern about his welfare three months before but staff took no action. He told the inquest that he had been buying Mr Frost food every day because he had no money. He found him living in his shed after he was evicted and the locks were changed and when he went to check on him a few days later he was dead.

The house from which Mr Frost was evicted was his childhood home. It emerged at the inquest that he had stopped working a few years before his death and money worries had prompted him to sell his house to a private landlord and pay rent to live there. Then he fell into arrears.

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

Facing both ways

Decidedly mixed signals are emerging from different parts of the government over cutting housing benefit for the under-25s.

David Cameron seems determined to press ahead with the idea he first raised in April and then again at the Conservative conference in October. At prime minister’s questions yesterday he told Labour MP Mary Glindon: ‘I know that housing benefit is a very important issue, but there is a problem, which needs proper attention: we seem to give some young people a choice today, in that if they are on jobseeker’s allowance they can have access to housing benefit, but if they are living at home and trying to work they cannot. We need to recognise that in many cases we are sending a negative signal to young people through our welfare system.’

If that sounds like full steam ahead, Mary Glindon was getting some very different signals barely an hour earlier during a Westminster Hall debate she secured on the issue. Lib Dem communities minister Don Foster told her: ‘The hon. Member for North Tyneside said that the idea is something that the Government might effect, but the fact that something was said at a Conservative party conference does not mean that it becomes coalition policy. At the moment, it certainly is not.’

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

After the fall

A year ago this week some devastating statistics were published that undermined everything that the government was saying in its housing strategy. Has anything changed 12 months on?

The 97 per cent fall in starts of affordable homes (to just 454 in the whole of England) between April to September 2010 and the same six months in 2011 was published the day after David Cameron and Grant Shapps launched a strategy they claimed was ‘radical and unashamedly ambitious’. Whether the timing was coincidence, cock-up or conspiracy it caused acute embarrassment for the government.

After that, the only way was up. Starts duly picked up in the second half of the year but the acid test was always going to be the number of starts a year later.

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

End of her tether

Sarah Teather’s outburst over the benefit cap is one of the most remarkable attacks on a government by a former minister in years.

Yes, the coalition makes this an unusual situation and this is a Lib Dem attacking a policy that was originally announced at the Conservative conference. Yes, this is an MP with a marginal seat with 2,000 families who stand to lose at least £50 a week and she needs anti-Tory votes to keep it. Yes, she had already signalled her attitude to the cap when she infuriated the Conservatives by missing a key vote in parliament.

However, there are three other things that make this something more significant than just revenge by someone who was sacked.

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Running a red light

Halfway through the parliament and one year in to the housing strategy and the traffic lights seem to be taking for ever to change from red to green for housing.

It also looks like a good time to judge the record of this government and a time to stand back and admit that whoever had been in charge over the last two and a half years would have struggled against the grim backdrop of austerity.

Those are points well made by the CIH, NHF and Shelter in their third Housing Report. The good news is that ministers are at last making the right noises about the positive effects of housing investment but, as the report says, pledges and policies are not proof of progress.

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

The Spanish mortgage crisis as an Almodóvar film

I’ve just been reading about the horrific suicide of a 53-year-old woman in the Bilbao suburb of Barakaldo, who jumped to her death from her fourth floor flat as court officials arrived to evict her.

As UK newspapers are reporting this morning (see FT and Guardian), this is the second repossession-related suicide in Spain in the last two weeks. Prime minister Mariano Ragoy has pledged to support struggling families but is under attack from the opposition for rescuing the banks while imposing austerity on the people. The Association of Spanish Banks has said it will call for a freeze on evictions of ‘vulnerable homeowners’ for two years.

This piece about evictions by the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar appears on the Spanish and French websites of the Huffington Post – but not so far on the UK site. Here is my rough translation of what begins as though we are seeing scenes from a film that juxtaposes what happened in Bilbao with what I think is the memorial service in Madrid for four teenagers killed in a stampede at a party at the Madrid Arena on November 1. That is followed by the first part of Almodóvar’s main piece.

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Yet more cuts

As Crisis launches a campaign against ‘unworkable and irresponsible’ cuts in housing benefit for the under-25s, there is another scary reminder today of the bleak prospects for the next spending review.

Fiscal Fallout, a report from the Social Market Foundation and Royal Society of the Arts, concludes that the flat-lining economy will make the structural deficit significantly higher than forecast in the Budget in March.

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Regime change

Anyone applying to their local authority as homeless faces a new regime from today and there are real doubts about how it will work on the ground.

The new power for local authorities to discharge their duty to homeless people into the private rented sector represents a fundamental break with the system established in the Housng (Homeless Persons) Act in 1977.

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