Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on October 13.
As universal credit understandably took all the headlines, the scale of the threat posed by restrictions on the local housing allowance (LHA) has come into even sharper focus.
The mood music this week suggested that ministers are set to make concessions over their plans to apply LHA caps to supported housing but the rest of social housing is still right in the firing line.
In a packed Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday and at the Communities and Local Government committee, ministers gave strong hints of flexibility to come.
The debate was called by Tory MP Peter Aldous, who called on the government to give ‘full sand serious consideration’ to recommendations made by two select committees for a supported housing allowance rather than LHA plus local top-ups.
Communities minister Marcus Jones said:
‘This matter is a priority for the Government, and we will announce the next steps shortly—later this autumn. I believe that when those proposals are introduced, they will show that we have listened and have understood the important issues at hand and the important situation. What is at stake is helping and supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’
It remains to be seen exactly how much ministers have listened and understood about a system that would create a postcode lottery and has already halted development plans.
But at stake too is the government’s attempt to impose a flawed system originally designed to reflect private rents to control a very different combination of rent and care costs in supported and social housing.
Originally published on July 11 as a column for Inside Housing.
If we need to ‘invest in good work’ what about good homes?
Theresa May was speaking at the launch of the Taylor review of the gig economy on Tuesday exactly a year after she became prime minister.
In the wake of her failed election gamble, she needs non-Tory support to address the challenges identified in the report.
And her plea to the other parties to ‘come forward with your own views and ideas about how we can tackle these challenges as a country’ is being interpreted as being about more than just the labour market.
So if the challenge of precarious work requires cross-party co-operation what about that of precarious housing?
Originally published on June 6 on my blog for Inside Housing.
What will the main political parties do to improve the housing system for the poorest people?
The answer ranges from something to not much at all, according to a study of their manifestos launched by a group of experts this week.
Academics Stand Against Poverty conducted a poverty audit of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat plans on their policies on everything from disability to international development and education to health. Each of these was marked out of five, with 5 representing very high confidence that the policies on offer would tackle poverty and 1 very low confidence.
As the graphic shows, Labour came out best overall with an average score of 3.6, including 5 for its plans for disability and 4 for other areas including health, education and social security.
The Lib Dems came a close second with 3.2, matching Labour on education and ranked as the best party on the environment and sustainability.
The Conservatives scored worst on every topic, with no individual mark higher than 2 and an overall mark of 1.5.
That represents a significant improvement for Labour on its score in 2015, when more parties were assessed. Back then the Greens led the way with 3.9, followed by the Lib Dems with 3.2, Labour in third with 2.6, the Conservatives in fourth on 1.7 and UKIP trailing in last with 1.4.
Looking at housing specifically in the 2017 audit, Labour leads with 3, followed by the Lib Dems with 2 and the Tories with 1. That mostly applies to England given that housing policy is largely devolved but the combined score of 6 out of 15 is the lowest for the 11 different policy areas assessed.
Originally posted on May 16 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Anyone caught up in the narrative about Labour’s radical manifesto will be left disappointed and a little bit puzzled by the party’s proposals on housing.
They will not be surprised given last week’s leak of the draft but they will find a sensible and pragmatic set of policies that move closer to what is desperately needed to tackle the housing crisis and are actually open to criticism for being too timid.
To give one example, the 2017 manifesto is routinely compared in the media to 1983’s ‘longest suicide note in history’.
But where Michael Foot’s Labour proposed a publicly-owned housebuilder and nationalisation of key parts of the building materials industry, Jeremy Corbyn’s party wants to extend Help to Buy for another seven years.
The equity loan part of the scheme is currently due to end in 2020 but Labour would guarantee funding until 2027 ‘to give long-term certainty to both first-time buyers and the housebuilding industry’.
That goes well beyond necessary action to avoid a cliff edge and abrupt fall in output after 2020.
It should be cause for celebration in the boardrooms of the big housebuilders because Help to Buy would continue to underpin their completions, profit margins, dividends and share options.
Or at least it might be if housebuilder executives were not also going to be hit personally by tax increases on higher earners and corporately by an excessive pay levy on employees paid over £500,000 a year.
But it’s still a surprising move from Labour. As Theresa May found out yesterday, Help to Buy is by no means universally popular and critics argue that too many of the benefits go to the big firms, their shareholders and people who can afford to buy anyway.
Whether you agree or disagree with it, extending Help to Buy until 2027 is evidence that on housing Labour’s approach would be pragmatic rather than ideological.
Originally posted on May 2 on my blog for Inside Housing.
When not one but two all-party committees of MPs call on ministers to think again about a controversial policy you might think they would listen – but will they?
The Work and Pensions and Communities and Local Government Committees say the government should scrap its plan to impose a Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap on supported housing and pay top-up funding via local authorities and devolved administrations.
Ministers claim the intention is not to save money but to ensure better value for money and monitoring of the quality of services.
But the MPs conclude that ‘the funding proposals, as they stand, are unlikely to achieve these objectives’ and that LHA is ‘an inappropriate starting point for a new funding mechanism’.
Originally published on April 28 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The housing crisis could persist ‘for decades to come’ unless the government shows more urgency and ambition on supply.
That’s the verdict* from an all-party committee of MPs on Friday in one of a series of reports due to be rushed out in the next few days as Westminster clears the decks for the election.
The Public Accounts Committee says:
‘ We are highly concerned by this lack of urgency and ambition, most of all in view of the rising costs, both human and financial, of homelessness. Not only does becoming homeless people represent a terrible blight on people’s lives, it also places additional strain on public spending: councils’ spending on temporary accommodation amounted to £840 million in 2015–16, a real-terms rise of nearly half (46%) in just five years.’
Originally posted on April 21 on my blog for Inside Housing.
If you were looking to design a policy to penalise the poorest families paying the cheapest rents, it would be very hard to come up with something better than the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap.
My feature in Inside Housing looks at the situation in Wales. I already knew that the impact would be severe in deprived areas like the South Wales Valleys because of their very low LHA rates but the more people I talked to the worse the implications seemed to be.
Even in areas with higher LHA rates there are growing worries about the long-term impact. Ask people what the number one threat to their business plan is and everyone will say welfare reform: for some universal credit is the biggest worry but others say the LHA cap because of its effect not just on tenants and business plans but also future development.
I’m talking here about the cap as it applies to general needs housing when the cap is introduced in 2019. There are three main problems: the impact on the under-35s who are single with no children; areas where social rents are already above or close to LHA rates; and the effect on pensioners.