Originally posted on May 18 on my blog for Inside Housing.
This is a Conservative manifesto with only two firm targets on housing but lots of interesting hints about future direction and some intriguing omissions.
The first target is to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it completely by 2027 by implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act and piloting a Housing First approach.
The 2022 target may seem bold but it would mean that rough sleeping would still be significantly higher than it was in 2010 when the coalition came to power.
The one for 2027 is incredibly ambitious and would mean matching Finland’s incredible record on homelessness within ten years.
Sajid Javid obviously returned fired up from his visit to Helsinki but you wonder if he took on board just how comprehensive and well-funded the Finnish version of Housing First needed to be to work.
The second target is ‘meet our 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and we will deliver half a million more by the end of 2022’.
The first bit is unambitious and should be achievable, especially as the end point has been shifted from May 2020 (the original end of the parliament) to December 2020.
As the National Audit Office pointed out in January, that would actually mean that fewer new homes will be built over the next three years than were achieved last year. This is on the basis of the net additional supply of homes rather than just housebuilding completions.
The second bit is a different matter. A quick look at the net supply figures shows that there have only been three years in the last 25 when we have exceeded 200,000.
You go away for the weekend and suddenly everything goes mad: it turns out that Iain Duncan Smith was really a Socialist or a Liberal Democrat all along.
The Great Social Reformer (this is what the many ‘friends of’ IDS speaking to journalists call him) has not just resigned, not just skewered George Osborne, he’s also questioned the fundamentals of the post-2010 Conservatives narrative. We are not ‘all in this together’, the most vulnerable will not be ‘protected’ and the deficit reduction target is ‘more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest’.
Yet this (apparent) modern day heir to Tory Great Social Reformers like Shaftesbury and Wilberforce is also the same Iain Duncan Smith responsible for punitive benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, the £30 a week ESA cut and all the other salami slices taken out of the social security system in the last six years that were not ‘compromises too far’. The man who took the moral high ground about cuts that benefit the better-off is the same one who stood on a manifesto of cutting inheritance tax and £12 billion from benefits.
The Conservatives must be pinching themselves after 100 days in government. What can possibly go wrong?
For three months they’ve been able to do pretty much as they like. The Liberal Democrats are humiliated, Labour is demoralised and distracted and the opposition that has come from the SNP is a comforting reminder of the Scottish card that won the election. Thanks to all of that, plus expectations formed by inaccurate opinion polls, a government with a tiny majority elected with just over a third of the vote can behave as though it’s won a victory on a par with 1945, 1979 and 1997.
Yet the Tory luck cannot hold for ever. The obvious cloud on the horizon is Europe, with no sign that Brussels will hand David Cameron concessions meaningful enough to sell to his sceptical party ahead of the election. Economically, it’s far easier to start with a recession turn it into a recovery than it is to manage expectations in improving times.
But could the Conservatives turn out to be most immediately vulnerable where they seem strongest: on the ground they’ve staked out since the election to be ‘the real party of working people’? As Cameron put it in an article for the Telegraph on Saturday:
‘On the challenge of delivering an economy that supports working people, it is Conservatives who believe that a free enterprise economy is an ally not an enemy in generating wealth and extending opportunity. By cutting taxes, reforming welfare and increasing minimum wages we are showing we are the real party of working people.’