A new vision for social housing

Originally posted at www.insidehousing.co.uk on January 8.

shelter commissionSooner or later a government will have to come up with a long-term plan for housing like the one that Theresa May launched this week for the NHS.

In place of the endless promises of the ‘jam tomorrow’ of more new homes at some point in the next parliament it would need a commitment that goes beyond the next election or even the one after that.

Today’s report from the independent Social Housing Commission provides a stark illustration of what is needed and the scale of the resources required.

And this is much more than the usual call for more from the social housing lobby. The 16 commissioners are drawn from across the political spectrum, with former Labour leader Ed Miliband matched by former Conservative ministers Lady Warsi and Lord O’Neill, and from across society, with Baroness Doreen Lawrence joined by members of the Grenfell community. There were also 13 public debates around the country and responses from 31,000 people.

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The rise of working homelessness

Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on July 23.

Ever since 2010 the government has assumed that work is the solution to poverty and problems with housing.

It’s an assumption that underpins universal credit and it’s been nourished by a steady drip of propaganda from right-wing think tanks and newspapers about the alleged role of social housing in encouraging worklessness.

Anyone with experience of the benefits system knows that this is at best a simplistic and at worst a dangerously inaccurate interpretation of what is going on.

For all the government’s proclamations of a ‘jobs miracle’, work alone is not a guaranteed route out of poverty or poor housing or even, it now seems, homelessness.

A report out today from Shelter shows a 73% rise in the number of families who are in work but homeless and in temporary accommodation over the last five years: from 19,000 in 2013 to 33,000 in 2017.

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The furious commitment of Chris Holmes

Originally posted on December 21 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

When Chris Holmes died this time last year we lost one of our most passionate advocates for better housing and against homelessness

A collection of essays in his memory published today reflects on an extraordinary career that spanned the voluntary sector, local government, housing associations, co-operatives and community activism as well as roles advising central government and on housing commissions. That combination of campaigning, policy, politics and practice is rare enough in any career but the essays also reveal a bigger story (much of it new to me) about what can be achieved with the right mix of principles, purpose and pragmatism. ‘Furious commitment’ is what Jeremy Swain calls this ability to go beyond outrage and get things done.

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Last laugh

Originally posted on September 17 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

As official figures further undermine the government’s credibility on the right to buy there are new doubts about the feasibility of the plan to extend it.

If ministers are to meet their pledge of one for one replacement of all homes sold, starts on site should now be rising sharply as receipts from earlier sales feed through the system. Any guesses what’s happening instead?

That’s right, the latest quarterly stats from the DCLG show that just 307 replacements were started between April and June – down 17 per cent on a year ago. The significance of this is not just the year-on-year fall itself, the first since the government ‘reinvigorated’ the right to buy with increased discounts and the replacement pledge in April 2012. Nor even that starts are down 56 per cent on the previous quarter (the end of the financial year). It’s also that this quarter marks three years since the start of the new scheme: the small print of the pledge says that replacements will be built within three years for all additional homes sold on top of those already forecast.

That in turn raises severe doubts about the government’s claim that it can fund the extension of the right to buy through the forced sale of high-value council homes. It claims this will raise enough to pay for the discounts, pay off the historic debt, replace all homes sold one for one and set up a brownfield fund. The detail has not yet been published but the plan has led to alarm even among Conservatives about the impact in London.

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