From One Planet to Dr Earth

Part 2 of my blog on what housing could expect from a multi-party government looks at what the Greens and UKIP are saying.

I suspect many Inside Housing readers would welcome a Green housing minister committed to implementing its manifesto pledges to ‘provide 500,000 social homes for rent over the five-year parliament, control excessive rents and achieve house price stability’.

The manifesto is the only one from the English parties already represented at Westminster that offers a genuine alternative to the current system. While many will question its feasibility, few would quarrel with its principle of ‘making property investment and speculation less attractive and increasing housing supply’. Among the policies on offer are the removal of borrowing caps on councils, the end of the right to buy at a discount, more rights to homeless people, five-year private tenancies with rent increases limited to CPI, removal of tax relief for buy to let landlords and preparations for a land value tax.

It’s also the only manifesto that looks ahead to one of the big undebated issues for housing in the next five years: what happens when interest rates rise? A third of mortgage borrowers are expected to struggle if rates rise by two percentage points, raising the spectre of rising arrears and repossessions. The Greens would implement a ‘right to rent’, with local authorities stepping in to help people who run into problems. They would also give the Bank of England powers to limit the size of mortgages in relation to house value and income.

On energy and the environment, the manifesto proposes to end fuel poverty with a free nationwide insulation programme designed to insulate nine million homes.  All new homes would have to be built to Passivhaus standards and VAT on repair and renovation work would be cut to 5 per cent.

On social security, the Greens propose the eventual abolition the income tax personal allowance plus most existing benefits apart from disability benefits and housing benefit and replacing them with a basic income. In the meantime the Greens would halt universal credit, restore council tax benefit, bring housing benefit back in line with average market rents, stop cuts in housing benefit for young people and abolish the bedroom tax.

Green influence after the election will clearly depend both on the overall result and how many, if any, MPs join Caroline Lucas in the Commons. Along with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, the Greens have ruled out supporting the Conservatives. However, their priority area for influencing a Labour government would presumably be the environment not housing.

Given that its priority is a referendum on Europe, UKIP has ruled out supporting Labour and seems far more likely to back a minority Conservative government if it gets the chance.

Otherwise it offers a mixture of free market liberalism (trumping the Tories by abolishing inheritance tax completely) and a more progressive approach to welfare (matching Labour by scrapping the bedroom tax but outflanking it by continuing to pay housing benefit for the under-25s). Given that another potential Tory partner, the Democratic Unionist Party, has also pledged to abolish the bedroom tax, that could make things interesting.

Manifesto author Suzanne Evans made the headlines this week for blaming immigrants for the housing crisis while admitting that she owns ‘two and a third’ homes herself. If the party does win enough MPs to gain influence after the election, there is also the tantalising prospect that we could upgrade from the entrepreneur ‘Michael Green’ to a tantric master called ‘Dr Earth’as the first housing minister of the new parliament.

The UKIP housing and environment spokesman also known as Andrew Charalambous would have to win a seat (North East Cambridgeshire) first of course. He is a private landlord who made headlines of his own last year over the amount he gains from housing benefit. He says that ‘UKIP is the only party to recognise that a house needs to be built every seven minutes to meet demand’. The party reckons it could build 2.5 million homes on brownfield sites and pledges a million by 2025 but it will also ‘free local authorities from government-imposed minimum housing numbers’.

The manifesto looks more professional than the party’s offering in 2010 that has since been disowned by Nigel Farage. UKIP makes the obvious offers on immigration and Europe. Foreign nationals will be prevented from getting social housing until they’ve lived and paid tax here for five years and they will be blocked from the right to buy completely. That means a proposal with sinister overtones:

‘All local authorities, social landlords and housing associations will be required to register the nationality of their tenants in order to ensure this policy works in practice.’

And the fruitcake spirit is not entirely dead either. The party that wants to abolish inheritance tax also proposes what I think is the most bonkers idea on housing of this election: inheritable mortgages.

Originally posted on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

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