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 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.
Originally published on August 20 on my blog for Inside Housing.
A stamp duty plan that apparently never was offers a tantalising preview of a Budget and spending review that will take place in neverland.
Saturday’s Times reported that sellers rather than buyers would pay stamp duty under plans for a tax shake-up by chancellor Sajid Javid.
The plan seemed either fraught with problems (sales would dry up as buyers waited for the change to take effect) or pretty meaningless (sellers would simply add the extra cost to their asking price).
And the story seemed built on flimsy foundations and journalistic hype – in the interview itself Javid was asked if he was considering the change and did not deny it but that escalated into a definite change in the headline – but presumably there was off-the-record corroboration too.
By Sunday the man himself was taking to Twitter to deny that he was planning anything of the sort:
Clearly this government is not quite the messaging machine with iron discipline that we’ve been led to believe and is just as prone to getting its wires crossed as any of its predecessors.
But what does this episode tell us about what’s to come for housing in the Budget – there is no confirmation yet whether that will be before or after the ‘do or die’ Brexit date on October 31 and there could even be one before and one after – and the spending review to follow next year?
Originally posted on July 22 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Three different news stories in the last 24 hours provide a powerful reminder of what could be at stake for housing in the transition from Theresa May to Boris Johnson due on Wednesday.
The government’s consultation on ending Section 21 no-fault evictions was finally published on Sunday along with a proposal to give private renters access to the government’s database of rogue landlords.
Conservative think-tank Onward called for cuts in stamp duty with proposals very similar to those put forward by Johnson during the leadership campaign.
And the Conservative Brexiteer-in-chief Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote a pamphlet for the Tory Institute of Economic Affairs putting the libertarian case for an end to ‘socialist’ interference in the housing market. .
The timing of all three is significant as it provides some indications of what the outgoing regime thought important enough to get out before the other lot take over and what the wider Conservative party thinks might be possible under the new regime.
Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on November 29.
What happens to the huge wealth generated by soaring house prices is a crucial issue not just for housing but also for the future of Britain.
The Office for National Statistics puts the value of unmortgaged housing equity at just under £4 trillion and second only to pension wealth of £4.5 trillion in total personal wealth of £11.1 trillion.
Savills estimates unmortgaged equity at over £5 trillion and says housing is now the single biggest source of wealth in the country and a report today by the Halifax says the total value of the UK housing stock has passed £6 trillion for the first time.
Whatever the number you put in front of those 12 zeros that is a serious amount of money- the UK’s national debt is currently worth £1.8 trillion.
As by far the most visible divide between baby boomers like me lucky enough to have been born and buy houses at the right time and millennials born at the wrong time and stuck in the wrong housing tenure, housing dominated an event on wealth inequality that I went to in Bristol recently.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on May 20.
Some very big questions on housing, welfare and tax are looming ahead of this Budget.
If there is not the same sense of raised expectations that surrounds the prospects for land and investment, the answers given by Philip Hammond on November 22 will still go a long way to determining what type of housing system we will have going into the 2020s.
I’ve written many times before about the way that the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 and the policies adopted under George Osborne since 2010 have combined to create a system in which older and better-off home owners have gained at the expense of younger and poorer renters.
A piece in the Financial Times last week used figures from the Resolution Foundation to quantify just how much: housing costs for households below average incomes rose by £714 between 2007/08 while they fell by £271 for those on above average incomes. The biggest gains went to the richest 10% of households, whose average housing costs fell by £1,206.
And that these figures do not include substantial increases in housing wealth over the same period as house prices have risen.
So what could Hammond do to redress the balance?
Originally posted on May 11 on my blog for Inside Housing.
As we await the manifestos, what are the chances of real change in housing over the next five years?
Give or take the odd leak, there are some positive signs. First, this election has one of the two major parties pinning its election hopes on housing reform and members of the other saying that ‘building more homes‘ is a bigger priority than it has been for years.
Second, a clutch of select committee reports, which were published just before parliament shut down for the election, set down some useful all-party markers for future policy.
Third, in Gavin Barwell and John Healey the two main parties have their best housing spokespeople in years. That may be damning them with faint praise but both seem to be politicians who get the case for housing.
For all the sound and fury over national insurance and the self-employed, it is still a sideshow in wider debates about tax, employment status and rights at work.
Philip Hammond’s unraveling Budget matters politically and it signals both the strength and the weakness of the government. Only a chancellor facing the worst opposition in decades could even consider a measure that breaks four separate commitments in the 2015 Conservative manifesto. Only a prime minister with a small majority could be forced to retreat at the first sign of Tory dissent and newspaper headlines about white vans.
Much of the blame lies with the ex-chancellor now trousering £1m a year on top of his MP’s salary for his advice and speeches. It makes you wonder how George Osborne is being paid for all that hard work and hope that he’s about to get clobbered for tax because it’s through a personal service company.
It was Osborne who in 2015 abolished Class 2 national insurance contributions (NICs) for the self-employed (from 2018) and gave them access to the higher state pension via Class 4. If he had introduced an increase in Class 4 contributions at the same time, few people would have complained. Instead he posed as the great reforming chancellor, agreed the manifesto pledge and left Hammond to fill the holes in his spreadsheet.
Combine these different measures and the treatment of the self-employed looks (reasonably) fair: most of the lowest paid will pay less, there’s a better state pension than before, and the burden falls heaviest on people earning more. But try and defend this week’s Budget announcement using that argument and you look like a shifty betrayer of ‘ordinary working families’ and ‘entrepreneurs’.