Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on August 7.
Step away from planning reform for a few moments and grim news out today (Thursday August 6) reveals a more immediate crisis in the benefits system with even more alarming implications for the future.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of households subject to the benefit cap almost doubled to 154,000 between February 2020 and May 2020. Of those, 140,000 had children.
More households have moved on to Universal Credit over time so the grey line for total capped households is the one to watch – note that the increase is much bigger than when the benefit cap was reduced in 2016.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on July 16.
We have become so used to lamenting the revolving door for housing ministers that it’s easy to miss the fact that Boris Johnson Cabinet is now full of people with housing connections.
That thought was prompted by the realisation that less than a year ago the man who could very well become our next prime minister was still on the most junior rung of the ladder at the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Rishi Sunak has won widespread praise for his performance and chancellor during the pandemic and currently seems hot favourite to be the next Conservative leader if the Tories go through another Dr Who-style regeneration ahead of the next election.
In July 2019, though, the current chancellor was still answering questions about council reorganisation in Northamptonshire, anti-social behaviour and non-domestic rates as parliamentary under-secretary for local government.
But he had already boosted his career prospects significantly by signing a joint letter with two other new-ish Tory MPs giving early backing to Boris Johnson as party leader. Appointed chief secretary to the Treasury a year ago next week, he was joined in the Cabinet by the other signatories: housing secretary Robert Jenrick and culture secretary Oliver Dowden.
Previous housing secretary Sajid Javid became the new chancellor but within seven months he resigned in a row with Dominic Cummings over special advisers and Mr Sunak stepped into his shoes.
Within another month, the lockdown began, the new chancellor was doling out the cash and Brand Rishi was building its glossy momentum.
His own ties may be more to the LG end of the MHCLG brief but look around the rest of the Cabinet table and you cannot move for former housing ministers. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on July 8.
This was a Summer Statement that was all about protecting jobs and getting money into the economy as quickly as possible.
Judged in those terms, while it does not go as far as some had advocated, the two big housing measures in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Plan for Jobs look carefully calibrated to achieve both.
The £3.8 billion cut in stamp duty (increasing the nil rate from £125,000 to £500,000) is calculated to boost transactions, generate jobs and drive additional spending estimated at around 5 per cent of the house value.
And the Treasury reckons that the £2 billion Green Homes Grant (funding two thirds of the cost of energy efficiency work up to £5,000 for owners and landlords and all of the cost up to £10,000 to low income owners) could support over 100,000 green jobs as well as cutting carbon emissions and fuel bills.
But it’s not hard to find holes in the Summer Statement where other housing responses could and should have been: the statement does nothing more for affordable housing, it fails to fill holes in the safety net and, as Generation Rent points out, vouchers to eat out are not much use if you cannot afford to stay in.
And though the two measures that are there should boost the economy in the short term the longer-term benefits of both look uncertain at best even when you judge them in isolation and in their own terms.
Originally published on July 1 as a column for Inside Housing.
It was less ‘build, build, build’ than ‘blah, blah, blah’, less New Deal than reheated old announcements.
They arrived to a chorus of calls for greater investment, Homes for Heroes and a warning from Shelter and Savills that output of new homes will fall by 85,000 this year because of the pandemic, with just 4,300 for social rent.
In that context, the prime minister sank to the occasion and even managed to imply that the Affordable Homes Programme will be cut.
Where the Budget in March had promised £12.2 billion over the next five years, Johnson said it will now run over eight. Taken at face value that means a cut of 38 per cent from £2.4 billion a year to £1.5 billion.
That would be roughly the same annual commitment as in the current AHP and would represent a slap in the face for everyone who has campaigned for or needs an affordable home.
Not so, fast, though. No 10 soon clarified that when he said eight years he was actually talking about the three-year time lag for homes to be built after the end of the programme. Social Housing was given the slightly different line that the extra three years applies only to the £2 bn strategic partnerships announced in September 2018.
Originally posted on May 28 as a column for Inside Housing.
What then? It’s the question that’s been left hanging in most of the housing elements of the government’s response to the Coronavirus and much more besides.
There was a partial answer on what happens to thousands of temporarily accommodated rough sleepers as the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) accelerated funding to make 3,300 housing units available over the next 12 months.
There was an answer of sorts for leaseholders living in unsafe buildings as MHCLG opened registrations for its new £1 billion Building Safety Fund that extends help to other forms of dangerous cladding as well as Aluminium Composite Material (ACM).
And there was a welcome one for millions of home owners with mortgages as the Treasury extended the chance to apply for a payment holiday by another three months and Financial Conduct Authority guidance made clear that banks should not start of continue repossession proceedings until the end of October given the uncertainty faced by customers and government advice on social distancing and self-isolation.
But there is still no answer for millions of social and private renters asking what will happen when the moratorium on evictions ends on June 25.
The government will miss a ‘golden opportunity’ to end rough sleeping once and for all if it fails to turn temporary measures into something more permanent.
And ministers must beef up ‘toothless’ plans to protect renters in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis or risk a new wave of homelessness.
Those are the top-line messages from an all-party group of MPs today. But an interim report on protecting rough sleepers and renters from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee also goes much further in endorsing calls by campaigners for wider changes to the housing system.
- A dedicated funding stream to end rough sleeping, likely to be at least £100 million a year
- Improved support for councils to help people with no recourse to public funds who will otherwise end up back on the streets
- Boosting the supply of suitable housing by re-establishing the National Clearing House Scheme set up after the financial crisis for unsold homes and giving councils more flexibility to buy them
- Turning the increase in the Local Housing Allowance to the 30th percentile from a temporary into a long-term measure and looking at the impact of raising rents further.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on May 14.
So it turns out that the change in prime ministerial messaging was more finely tuned than we thought.
When Boris Johnson told us to ‘stay alert’ rather than ‘stay at home’ in his broadcast on Sunday, the sense was of a change of emphasis that signalled a slow release from the lockdown in England.
Most immediately that seemed to mean builders returning to work on construction sites on Monday, which it then turned out meant Wednesday.
By Wednesday, with only a few hours’ notice, the government was reopening the housing market in England with profound implications for anyone buying, selling or renting a home.
In a country in which we are still prevented from visiting our elderly parents or friends there was detailed guidance for any number of strangers working in other people’s homes.
In a sales market caught on the hop, we will now start to find out the impact of the crisis on prices as buyers decide whether to go ahead with deals they agreed before March 23, lenders decide whether to revise their mortgage offers and developers find out whether they can sell stock they can now work till 9pm to complete.
The sense in housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s statement to parliament on Wednesday was of a government desperate to restart a key part of the economy, as home sales feed into construction and all the other industries that follow in its wake.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on May 4.
How will Coronavirus change how we live and work – and how will that change housing?
In one sense these are impossible questions to answer since so much depends on how quickly we find a vaccine or an effective treatment for Covid-19 and how deep the recession will become.
Find either quickly and politics and the economy could soon return to something close to what we knew before February. After all, it seemed obvious that nobody would want to live or work in tall buildings after September 2001 and that house prices would fall after 2008.
If the search takes longer, if there is a second or third wave, if another Coronavirus hits us, the effects could be far more profound as social distancing and self-isolation change how we think about how we should live.
But in between those two scenarios many of the effects of the crisis will linger and a series of more marginal changes may add up to something bigger.
After months in which our homes have become the centre of our lives, not just places to eat and sleep but places to work and stay safe, the effects on housing could be just as profound.
Originally posted on insidehousing.co.uk on April 23.
An extension of Help to Buy looks likely, a stamp duty holiday probable, but what else should the government do when the housing market eventually emerges from its Coronavirus freeze?
Vested interests are already out in force making their case and can cite the effect of a downturn on housebuilding numbers, the economy and tax receipts in their support.
And if anyone is feeling a sense of déjà vu this is of course pretty much where we were in 2008, when the housing market slumped in the wake of the credit crunch.