Dubious Dave

Is it too much to imagine David Cameron telling his aides in Downing Street to ‘get rid of all this facts crap’?

The question is prompted by an answer he gave earlier at Prime Minister’s Questions. This was the question from Labour MP Andy McDonald:

‘The Disability Benefits Consortium of over 50 charities has signed a letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling for immediate action to exempt disabled people from the bedroom tax. Why on earth do the Prime Minister and his Government refuse to listen?’

Cameron replied:

‘Obviously, what we have done is to exempt disabled people who need an extra room. This does, I think, come back to a basic issue of fairness, which is this: people in private sector rented accommodation who get housing benefit do not get a subsidy for spare rooms, whereas people in council houses do get a subsidy for spare rooms. That is why it was right to end it, and it is right to end it thinking of the 1.8 million people in our country on housing waiting lists.’

I highlight this not because I am naïve enough to expect ministers in general or the prime minister in particular to answer the questions they are asked (that would clearly be too much). Nor do I necessarily expect the answers to be the whole truth. But is it too much to expect a passing resemblance to the truth? Cameron’s answer in this instance offered two examples of misleading the House of Commons for the price of one.

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

City limits

Today’s Draft London Housing Strategy is the boldest attempt yet seen from a Conservative administration to get to grips with the housing crisis. It still does not go remotely far enough.

In his foreword, mayor Boris Johnson says London is facing an ‘epic challenge’ of building more than 42,000 new homes a year, every year, for 25 years. Of these, 15,000 would be affordable and 5,000 for market rent.

That is no exaggeration. As he goes on to say, that is ‘a level of housebuilding unseen in our great city since the 1930s’. To put it in perspective, the average over the last 20 years, at a time when the population was growing rapidly, was 18,000 per year. London has not come close to 42,000 completions a year since the war, even at the peak of the council housing boom in the late 1960s.

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

Running on empty

As the bedroom tax celebrates its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary, there is new evidence today that it is creating empty homes rather than removing ‘spare’ bedrooms.

A survey published by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) today suggests that the first six months of the under-occupation penalty have cost more than 1,000 affordable homes in Wales.

Welsh housing associations say they have 727 homes standing empty as a result the policy. Meanwhile 78 per cent have seen an increase in their rent arrears, with over £1 million attributed to the bedroom tax. Some 51 per cent of tenants are paying the shortfall, 37 per cent are part-paying and 12 per cent are not paying at all.

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

First for Wales

Legislation introduced today marks a historic moment for housing in Wales but it has wider significance for the rest of the UK too.

It makes history by becoming Wales’s first Housing Bill since it acquired greater devolved powers. The Housing (Wales) Bill aims to ‘ensure that everyone in Wales is able to access a decent home’ (though ministers behind all Housing Bills everywhere say that). The details are what count and the timing and the context are what create the wider significance. As Carl Sargeant, the Welsh minister for housing and regeneration, puts it: ‘Despite the impact of austerity measures and budget decisions taken by the UK Government, the Welsh Government is determined to improve the supply, quality and standards of housing and the proposals in this Housing Bill are crucial in achieving this.’

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The bedroom tax: the day after

Yesterday’s bedroom tax vote has left me wondering if our political system is capable of righting what is such an obvious wrong.

A Labour motion calling for immediate repeal was defeated by 26 votes – a narrower margin than the government might have expected – while a government amendment effectively saying it is all Labour’s fault passed by 31 votes. Could things have been different?

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Blaming the planners

Fix planning and you fix supply, fix supply and you fix the housing crisis. That’s the seductive argument that seems to be gaining ground.

My problem with it is not that it’s wrong. There is a dire shortage of new homes: completions are running at around half what’s needed to meet demand. Problems with the planning system can make supply too slow to respond to demand, constrain growth and make the crisis worse. It would be ridiculous to say otherwise.

It’s more that it’s too simple. It takes a kernel of truth and claims that it is the only truth. In its crudest form the argument is that all we have to do is sweep away ‘socialist’ planning and leave it to the market: in the 1930s there was no planning, private housebuilders were building over 250,000 homes a year and homes were affordable; the post-war Labour government required planning permission for new homes and prices have risen steadily higher ever since because the private sector has been unable to build enough homes.

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Help to Buy: Dave’s dream

David Cameron’s cheerleading for the successful launch of the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme unwittingly reveals more than he might have intended.

In a statement issued last night, the prime minister said that 2,384 households have put in offers under the controversial scheme and ten have already completed.

The figures come from applications backed by a decision in principle for 95 per cent mortgages by RBS and Lloyds, the semi-state owned banks. The average advance is £155,000 on homes worth £163,000, which Cameron said demonstrated that Help to Buy is supporting responsible lending.

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