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.’

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

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?

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

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

Universal debit

As we wait for the rescue plan, yet more scathing criticism of the universal credit will surprise nobody.

Today’s report from the Public Accounts Committee is a follow-up to September’s critical review by the National Audit Office but the weight of detail only confirms the impression of a project that long ago spun out of control.

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

Help to Rent

For all today’s headlines about house prices, the most significant claim in new forecasts out today is that private renting will grow by another million households in the next five years.

That is one of the new forecasts for the housing market issued by Savills today and flows from its assumptions on what will happen to house prices. It comes despite the government’s flagship Help to Buy policy that aims to create more owners.

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

Make a wish

If ministers thought the furore over the bedroom tax would die down once it was introduced in April, they were sadly mistaken. What they insist on calling the removal of the spare room subsidy has now been in operation for over 200 days and, if anything, the controversy is still growing.

What began as a harsh but arcane cut in housing benefit – the under-occupation penalty or social sector size criteria – has instead forced its way into the public consciousness. As James Green, external affairs manager of the National Housing Federation, explains: ‘When we started our work on the Welfare Reform Bill it seemed like it would be impossible to make it mainstream or get any traction. Now you can go into any pub in the country and say ‘bedroom tax’ and people know what you’re talking about.’

At a political level, it’s become a symbol of the unfairness of the government’s welfare reforms. At the Lib Dem conference, nobody from the party leadership defended one of their own government’s policies. At the Labour conference, Ed Miliband shook off his party’s caution on welfare to pledge that he would repeal it. At the SNP conference, Alex Salmond used the imposition of the bedroom tax from Westminster as a key part of his appeal to the Scottish people to vote for independence. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Conservative backbenchers are becoming uncomfortable about the policy as they realise its full implications.

Read the rest of my feature on the human, political and  legal implications of the bedroom tax at 24 Housing