Double shift

Figures published today underline yet again the historic change in the way we are housed in England.

Headline results from the English Housing Survey for 2012-13 confirm not just one but two remarkable trends: there are now more private tenants than social tenants; and there are about to be more outright owners than people buying with a mortgage.

For more on this plus graphs read my post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Unequal shares: All that is Solid

What if our real housing problem is not a lack of a new homes but the distribution of the ones we already have?

That’s the key premise of All that is Solid: the Great Housing Disaster, an intriguing new book published this week by Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Oxford University. In it he attacks not just the ‘yes to homes’ consensus about the solution to the housing crisis but the actions of just about all the key people involved. Politicians, housebuilders, landlords and property journalists are all seen as part of the problem but housing associations, the CIH and the voluntary sector also come under fire for accepting the status quo.

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


Pickled homes

To hear ministers talk we are in the middle of a housebuilding boom. Official figures released today beg to differ.

According to the DCLG housebuilding statistics for the fourth quarter of 2013, starts and completions in England were both down 1 per cent on the third quarter. These are only the figures for one quarter but they don’t seem in the script.

While starts for the year as a whole were up 23 per cent on 2012 at 122,800, completions were down 5 per cent at 109,480. True, those starts will soon turn into new homes but this hardly feels like a giant step towards the promised land of 250,000 additional homes a year.

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


Rent squeeze

Why is there so little debate about the fact that social housing rents are set to rise so much faster than prices and earnings?

Figures out this week from the ONS show that CPI inflation rose 1.9 per cent in the year to January and average earnings rose just 1.1 per cent in 2013. Earnings have now been falling in real terms since 2010, the longest period forat least 50 years.

And yet all around the country social landlords are preparing to increase their rents by at least twice the rate of inflation, and many times more than earnings, according to recent surveys by Inside Housing.

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


Rough times

In a grim few years for housing and homelessness No Second Night Out stands out as a rare bright spot.

The idea behind the scheme, which was extended to 20 areas outside London in 2011, is that the longer someone sleeps rough the greater the risk that they will become trapped on the streets and vulnerable to crime, drug or alcohol issues or mental or physical health problems. No Second Night Out (NSNO) aims to help people off the streets as quickly as possible and ensure that they do not return.

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

Seen and heard: Dispatches on the bedroom tax

Five things struck me watching the Dispatches documentary on the bedroom tax on Channel 4 last night.

First, it’s impossible for anyone to cover all the issues and angles in half an hour. That’s not a criticism of Channel 4 at all, more a comment on the complexity of the implications of the bedroom tax and the way that the effects vary around the country. I must have written thousands of words on the subject over the last two years and invariably have to cut something important or leave an angle untouched.

It sounds like lots of material ended up on the cutting room floor for last night’s programme too but, within the time allowed, it did a very good job of presenting the issue from the point of view of under-occupying tenants, social landlords and local authorities. We heard from Iain Sim of Coast and Country Housing on its 150 per cent increase in voids since April 2013 and a couple who were both in wheelchairs who face the bedroom tax on the ‘spare’ room in their specially adapted flat yet were denied a discretionary housing payment. The programme was also balanced enough to include two overcrowded families who have benefitted from larger homes being freed up.

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


Benefits Street, The Spongers and welfare reality

This week’s final episode of Benefits Street made me go back and rewatch another programme with a provocative title about life on social security.

I was 17 when The Spongers was first transmitted in January 1978 and I still remember it as the single most stunning and harrowing piece of television I have ever seen. The 90-minute programme was a Play for Today – the famous series of one-off dramas that ran on the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s – and tells the story of Pauline, a single mother from a council estate near Manchester. It opens with the bailiffs arriving to seize her furniture because she is in rent arrears and upsetting her eldest daughter, Paula, who has Down’s Syndrome. That’s swiftly followed by a scene outside where workers are erecting giant heads of the Queen and Prince Philip ready for the Silver Jubilee celebrations. Cue the opening titles. You can watch it here:

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A quick rant about train lines and climate change

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It may not be conclusive proof that climate change exists but the sight of the rails on the main train line to the South West suspended in mid air above the sea seems a pretty fair indication of it.

If you’ve never taken the train to Devon and Cornwall, the stretch around Dawlish and Teignmouth is possibly the most scenic in the whole country (the only rival I can think of is the Kyle of Localsh line in the Highlands). The views are breathtaking as the train runs directly above the beach, only metres above sea level, and beneath distinctive red cliffs.

Unfortunately, that means it is also one of the most vulnerable in the UK too. Landslips on the cliffs around Teignmouth and damage from storm surges have happened with depressing regularity but this is the first time I can remember the sea breaching the sea wall at Dawlish.

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Crisis talk

It was the housing shortage rather than the housing crisis that he said would last for 10 years but it was still a surprisingly frank admission from George Osborne.

This was the key quote from the chancellor yesterday that was the basis of the stories in this morning’s papers:

‘I imagine if we were all assembled again in 10 years’ time we’d still be talking about the challenge of making sure that our housing supply kept up with housing demand and we’re all legislators here and we all have a responsibility to the next generation.’

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


Rights row: the UN and housing

Seeing ourselves as others see us can be an uncomfortable experience and so it is proving for ministers responding to United Nations special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik.

Her preliminary report in September called for the abolition of the bedroom tax and prompted a furious row with Conservative party chairman and former housing minister Grant Shapps. Now his ‘woman from Brazil’ is back with a final report that uses the approved Conservative term ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ but still recommends that it ‘should be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its negative impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals and households’. You can read the full report here [downloads Word doc].

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