As the election campaign for the next government officially gets underway what did we miss in the dying days of the last one?
The end of last week saw frenzied activity to clear the decks before the dissolution of parliament. Here are three things I picked out:
1) A good day to bury bad news?
That was the accusation from Labour’s Chris Ruane as he raised a point of order with the speaker about why it had taken almost five months to answer a written question he had tabled in early November about how much money was spent on social housing in each of the last 15 years. The speaker said he was ‘taken aback’ by the delay and that ministers must do better.
Question of the day: why won’t George Osborne say where he will find another £10 billion of cuts in welfare?
The obvious answer is that he doesn’t want us to find out before the election but there is a more immediate one too: because he can get away with it.
I found myself shouting at the radio twice today as interviewers failed to pin down first Osborne and then financial secretary David Gauke. The £10 billion figure is the so-far unexplained bit of the total £12 billion of welfare cuts Osborne is planning after the election. It matters both in its own right and because it enables him to deflect the Office for Budget Responsibility’s point about ‘rollercoaster’ cuts in public services.
Have any of the 516 housing announcements made by the DCLG under the coalition plumbed lower depths than this week’s ‘ending the tenant tax to help tackle rogue landlords’?
It’s not that there is no tenant tax out there to be tackled. The government could end the extortionate letting agent fees. It could stop the rent shortfalls faced by tenants whose local housing allowance has been cut. And it could limit the tax and financing advantages enjoyed by buy-to-let landlords that trap people as renters. Even if we limit the term to the private rented sector, and don’t include the bedroom tax, there are any number of options.
How do flawed policies that are opposed by a majority of MPs manage to survive unscathed?
One of the remaining mysteries of this parliament was solved in the Commons yesterday. Why has it taken the government almost a year to fail to respond to the all-party work and pensions committee’s report on housing benefit? The answer has much to say about how coalition government, and power, work.
So the national housing strategy now comes down to this ahead of the election: think of a big number and double it.
Even by recent standards, the starter home initiative plumbs new depths in allowing the politics to drive the policy. The idea of building 100,000 homes at a 20 per cent discount for first-time buyers was first proposed in David Cameron’s conference speech in October. The launch (of a website to register interest, as no homes will be built for some time) was accelerated to this month when the consultation was published in December. And in Cameron’s housing speech today it’s been doubled to 200,000 homes.
Housing minister Brandon Lewis made a written statement earlier that is an extraordinarily rapid government response to a consultation that only ended three weeks ago. However, the response (full version here) is only to the original plan for 100,000 homes, not Cameron’s doubling of it. Reading through some of the responses to the consultation today, I was especially struck by this comment from the Council of Mortgage Lenders:
‘Our overall view of the scheme as outlined is that it could provide a modest addition to the flow of lower cost housing for FTBs and we would support this main objective. But we would warn against setting over-ambitious targets for the scheme at this juncture, before the attractiveness of this particular proposition has been tested on the market.’