Going hungry

It’s shocking but sadly not surprising to see the impact of changes to benefits on the soaring number of people relying on food banks.

Shocking because this is happening only two months in to cuts such as the bedroom tax and four weeks into the start of the benefit cap in four London boroughs, not surprising because the pressure has been building for months. This is the start of the ‘decade of destitution’ that Julia Unwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been warning about.

Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam, the two organisations behind the Walking the Breadline report, are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the relationship between benefit delays and the rising numbers.

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


Sharper focus

Bit by bit the picture of how housing policy would look under a Labour government is becoming clearer but there are still some blurred areas.

In the latest results from its policy review process, the party has published more new ideas on the private rented sector. Following up on earlier proposals on letting agents and their charges and more stable tenancies for families, this one is all about the case for greater regulation of landlords.

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


Renting reform

Wales is set to go where England failed to tread on tenancy reform under plans put forward this week.

The Renting Homes white paper published by the Welsh Government is an updated version of the Law Commission proposals that the previous government in England seemed to like at first, then dithered over and finally allowed to lapse at the last election.

So now Wales is set to reap the benefits of two simple and clearly understood forms of tenancy while England continues to cope with a mess of different ones. These are more than just technical, legal changes. The white paper argues that: ‘The current differences between renting a home from a local authority, housing association or private landlord contribute to weaknesses in the way the whole housing system works. Renting a home is not always seen as a good choice. Indeed, it is sometimes considered to be the last option.’

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


Too close for comfort

Sir Mervyn King’s weekend criticism of Help to Buy leaves George Osborne looking more isolated than ever in his plan for government mortgage guarantees.

King steps down as governor of the Bank of England at the end of June but even so his comments on Murnaghan on Sky News on Sunday are quite a parting shot. Asked how the Bank of England would end a scheme of which it is the ultimate guarantor, he said that:

‘Well I’m sure that there is no place in the long run for a scheme of this kind, this scheme is a little too close for comfort to a general scheme to guarantee mortgages. We had a very healthy mortgage market with competing lenders attracting borrowers before the crisis and we need to get back to that healthy mortgage market. We do not want what the United States have which is a government guaranteed mortgage market and they are desperately trying to find a way out of that position so we mustn’t let this scheme turn into a permanent scheme.’

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


Squeezed out

Here are some thoughts on an event I’ve just chaired for the Resolution Foundation yesterday on the scale of the housing crisis and how to fix it.

Rather like most of my blogs, I thought it would be stronger on the first bit than the second, but the debate revealed a new willingness to look for solutions as well as more reasons to be gloomy.

The centerpiece was a sneak preview of some forthcoming research from the Resolution Foundation and Hometrack on the housing plight of low and middle income households. The foundation is a think tank focused on the 5.6 million people caught in the squeezed middle between stagnating wages and rising costs.

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


Tragic lessons

‘She was fine before this bedroom tax. It was dreamt up in London, by people in offices and big houses. They have no idea the effect it has on people like my mum.’

I’m not sure how the architects of what ministers prefer to call the spare room subsidy will react to the words of Steven Bottrill or the tragic suicide of his mother Stephanie. A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) told BBC radio news yesterday that it would be ‘inappropriate to comment’ on an individual case but that did not stop a ‘source’ from adding that the government had made discretionary help available.

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


Dead cert

So, three years after it was pronounced dead, can anything stop buy to let squeezing out owner-occupation?

Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) yesterday showed that loans to landlords accounted for 13.4 per cent of the £165.6 billion worth of outstanding mortgages in the first quarter of the year. That’s up from 13.0 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012 and just 9.8 per cent at the start of the credit crunch in 2007.

All of which makes it easy to forget that it was only three years ago when the last rites were being delivered for buy to let by probably its best-known pioneers, Fergus and Judith Wilson. The former teachers built a 700-home empire but by 2010 they were bailing out and telling The Guardian that buy to let was ‘absolutely dead and will never return’.

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


Wake-up call

The interest-only mortgage is the housing scandal that just keeps coming back.

In the 1980s it was all about the mis-selling of endowment mortgages. In the 2000s it was about selling as many mortgages as possible without caring too much about whether there was a way to repay them. In the 2010s and 2020s it will be about dealing with the consequences – and who pays for them.

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


Never knowingly undernudged

So-called ‘John Lewis-style mutuals’ are (depending on your point of view) the future of the public sector or a euphemism for privatisation. However, the expression may have some unexpected implications for the government.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude launched a competition today to find a commercial partner for the government’s Behavioural Insights Team – or Nudge Unit. He described the move as ‘employee-led’ as the 12 Nudge staff have led the process and will continue to run the organisation. Reports suggest that private companies will be invited to bid for a stake of up to 50 per cent in the new business in return for the government guaranteeing long-term contracts. The staff and the government would also own stakes.

nudge

The Nudge Unit is claimed to have already saved the government millions of pounds although it not quite clear how. It hit the headlines for different reasons today when it was revealed to be behind bogus psychometric tests for jobseekers. It is best known to me as the unit that the DCLG failed to consult when it introduced the New Homes Bonus in a bid to change the behaviour of local authorities and I wonder what, if anything, it had to say about the behavioural impacts of welfare reform that the DWP found impossible to quantity.

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Learning lessons

The plight of families with children highlighted in a report out today from Shelter illustrates yet again why private renting in England so urgently needs reform.

If the experiences of tenants facing damp and disrepair and soaring rents are depressingly familiar, the report adds detail to what has become a way of life for the one in five families with children who now rent their home privately.

The insecurity inherent in short-term tenancies means that one in 10 of 4,000 families surveyed have had to change their children’s school as a result of moving. They were nine times as likely to have moved in the last year as families who own their own homes.

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