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Why social housing should matter, even to Tories


9:45 am - August 5th 2010

by Neil Robertson    


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There are plenty of reasons why people who could afford to leave social housing opt not to do so.

The most obvious, of course, is cost; even if you did have the resources to find yourself private accommodation, you might prefer living in social housing if it leaves you with a little extra money for food, clothes, transport, a night out and the odd holiday.

The second is the security that social housing can offer. Not every private landlord is as scrupulous as a local housing association, and the further down the price scale you go, the less security you’re likely to have. Social housing can offer considerably more peace of mind for tenants.

The third reason is community. People might just prefer the part of the world they’re staying in: they’re on good terms with the neighbours; their parents live up the road; their kids go to the local school. Why would they want to leave those social networks – that familiarity – behind?

Although the first two reasons will be most commonly cited by those concerned about David Cameron’s social housing announcement, I think the last one is most significant.

Functionalist sociologists – more often linked with the political right than the left – often talk about a thing called social solidarity. They believe that social harmony is best achieved by members of a community all sharing similar norms, values, lifestyles, histories and traditions. They’re the things that bind us together, that give us common ground and foster neighbourliness and a public spirit.

When you look at our post-war history, many episodes of social unrest on the British mainland have had high population turnover as a contributing factor. Long-time residents saw their communities changing before their eyes and didn’t who their neighbours were; newcomers would be sent to areas they didn’t know, alongside people whose culture and language they didn’t always share.

Whilst most communities were (and still are) open-minded enough to adapt the changes around them (no thanks to you know who), those areas with acute social exclusion and economic inactivity would regard their new neighbours as competitors for resources that were already – are already – in short supply. Even then, bonds were (and still are) built over time: the ‘newcomers’ stick around, form relationships and embrace the community around them; the long-time residents begin to work and socialise and relate to the people they might once have treated with mistrust. Solidarity grows.

None of this is meant to diminish the problems afflicting some of Britain’s housing estates; rather, it’s meant suggest that the introduction of arbitrary fixed-term leases could make matters worse.

If we know that a high turnover of population can erode the bonds which hold communities together, it is not far-fetched to conclude that a policy which leads to residents constantly moving on could erode those bonds further. If that happens, we should expect greater mistrust, dysfunction and social unrest in deprived communities. Like they need that right now.

I really don’t want to be one of those people who brings out the ‘Big Society’ as a ‘gotcha’ to thrash the coalition with each time they announce questionable policy.

But a ‘Big Society’ is no substitute for an understanding of how society actually works.

David Cameron famously admitted that “there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state”. He was right on both counts. But if his coalition continues to act as if State and Society are two entirely separate entities, he will never ‘unbreak’ the Britain he inherited.

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About the author
Neil Robertson is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He was born in Barnsley in 1984, and through a mixture of good luck and circumstance he ended up passing through Cambridge, Sheffield and Coventry before finally landing in London, where he works in education. His writing often focuses on social policy or international relations, because that's what all the Cool Kids write about. He mostly blogs at: The Bleeding Heart Show.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments


I understand all this. It is perfectly obvious why someone living in cheap, secure housing would prefer to do so. What I don’t understand is why someone earning well above the national average wage should be entitled to subsidised state housing in perpetuity, simply because at one point in their life they qualified for assistance.

When people are unemployed, they receive a benefit in recognition of their need. But that’s not a lifetime benefit, it is limited to the time when they need it. If you are unemployed for two years in your late twenties, it would seem bizarre in the extreme to be receiving JSA in your sixties after 40 years of employment. It is similarly bizarre that a cabinet minister should have been living in state housing.

State housing is a limited resource. There is a shortage of it for people who desperately need it. Why should it be controversial that a state resource should be allocated on a requirement basis? Most of the arguments I have seen revolve around ‘kicking a granny out of her house’. Can someone instead explain why it is right that someone in the top percentile of earners can remain in state-subsidised housing?

2. Luis Enrique

Isn’t Cameron’s idea that you are moved out of council housing if some means testing deems you could afford to move into the private sector?

Irrespective of any potential merits of that rule, it seems undeniable to me that this will mean “successful” people (hard workers, self-improvers) being moved on, and that’s going to change the composition of people in social housing.

You worry about disrupting communities. Who are the newcomers going to be? If they are people that need social housing, it’s hard to object to space being freed up for them. Buy why does space need freeing up, unless supply is somehow limited? So I guess this policy is the other side of a coin which says the quantity of social housing is going to be shrunk/grown less fast.

[N.B. your first point is a weird one. Of course people like paying lower rents, the question is should the taxpayer be providing cheap housing to people who don’t need it.]

Buy why does space need freeing up, unless supply is somehow limited?

It’s hard to think of an area where supply is more limited than housing. Population growth has run faster than housebuilding in this country for decades, and this is not exactly a financially propitious time for the Govt to build hundreds of thousands of houses.

4. Rhys Williams

Irrespective of any potential merits of that rule, it seems undeniable to me that this will mean “successful” people (hard workers, self-improvers) being moved on, and that’s going to change the composition of people in social housing.

Spot on.
I was brought up in council housing in my early years and every household was made of up employed hard working people.
Council housing should be encouraged, as should low private renting to the majority of the nation.
Money that is saved from mortgages could then be placed into charitable pension trusts for the individuals involved.
In France most people rent form either communal or low rent private associations.

5. Rhys Williams

Sorry
From

6. Rhys Williams

As for been a limited resource.
Whose fault was that, selling council houses well below their market value and not allowing councils to invest that money in new projects.

Of course someone would want to live in cheap housing so they can keep the extra money and spend it on themsleves, and live in a familair area.

If there was unlimted housing then it wouldn’t be an issue, but there isn’t so there is

8. Luis Enrique

Tim,

yes I take your point about supply being inherently limited. I expressed myself badly. I meant something more like – why introduce something to free up more supply with one hand, unless you are also intending to reduce supply with the other? But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps the Conservatives want to achieve a net increase in the supply of social housing

this is not exactly a financially propitious time for the Govt to build hundreds of thousands of houses.

I think that’s exactly wrong.

1. The governments cost of borrowing is very low, there is little prospect of crowding out the private sector by govt borrowing pushing up rates.

2. There are lots of unemployed people to hire for low wages

3. The spill-over demand from reducing unemployment would help boost GDP and private sector growth.

4, Accelerated house building now would mean being able to do less of it in the future, when labour markets are tight and government borrowing could crowd out the private sector,

5. upgrading and growing the social housing stock will increase future revenues (from housing). So that’s lower future costs + raise future revenues = long-term deficit reduction.

Social Housing isn’t just a “benefit” to be doled out to the poor, it is a vital response to a massive market failure: Left alone , the market will not house millions of people. This leads to wild distortions – including the private housing that is available being wildly overpriced (which is not only bad in itself, keeping people off the housing ladder etc, but also leads to dangerous knock on effects, unsustainable house price booms etc). If the state hadn’t built millions of houses in the post war period, there would have been a massive homlessnes crisis. The state stopped building houses over the past 10-15 years (and the “RSL’s” did not pick up the slack), and as a result the private housing market is always overheating : This does not lead to any substantial private housebuilding: Less houses were built in the last housing “boom” than during the Thatcher recession. It was a boom only in prices. there is only one way to stabilise the housing market – state intervention in terms of building houses . And this only works if council housing is at least partly mixed socially, rather than just a “ghetto” for the unemployed and very low paid.

10. Rhys Williams

“Of course someone would want to live in cheap housing so they can keep the extra money and spend it on themsleves, and live in a familair area.

If there was unlimted housing then it wouldn’t be an issue, but there isn’t so there is”

Everybody does that even the guys you put in the council house to replace the others.
Dave, you neo Thatcherites have stop to get out of the mind set of deserving poor.
Also ask yourself where will you put the poor sods you’ve kicked out their homes.
Ah, to feed the pockets of your friends property barons.

Obviously, one solution which would not involve “kicking Granny out of the house” is to build more social housing, such that shortage of supply is less of an issue.

As Luis pointed out in @8, the timing could not be more ‘right’ – unless, of course, you’re ideologically opposed to the idea and want to sustain house prices for as long as possible, in order to appease the middle classes and collect SDLT…

Not every private landlord is as scrupulous as a local housing association

I’d like to nominate this for the “Understatement of the Century” award.

A very good blog post.

“Social Housing isn’t just a “benefit” to be doled out to the poor, it is a vital response to a massive market failure: Left alone , the market will not house millions of people.”

Ah yes, the actual cause of the shortage of housing, (which is the difficulty in getting consent from the local authority to build), is clear evidence of “massive market failure”. Bravo!

So the point here is that we do not actually have an understanding of what social housing is for? After all, we know what benefits are for (whether they work or not is a seperate debate), what free national healthcare is for, what our right to vote is for. But is there anywhere something that shows what social housing is for, or is it (as normal is this country) something that has developed and evolved?

In terms of debate, my problem with all this is probably ideological, but according to my understanding governments should only be supplying a service like housing when it would otherwise not be available to people – council housing is the safety net, so like a benefit. I cannot therefore see why it should be available for other reasons. Obviously, tenure should be generous to allow people to recover from their situation where they need state help (yes, I see state help as what you need if things go wrong – hopefully not controversial?) and set themselves up to be independent.

I assume the contrary view (which I shall probably not do justice to here…) is that the state exists to provide services to all citizens, and should be the preferred provider due to its inherent capacity for good (? I freely admit I’ve never fully understood this part of socialist arguments), and that housing should therefore be available to all. Housing would therefore be a common good, available to all who sought it.

Two different (and in one case, possibly made-up) points of view. But do we have an understanding as to whether either of them actually inform the meaning of social housing?

Just a couple of side points really, but can I be the first to wonder quite how having a time limited tenancy affects:

1. Those families whose income fluctuates so that they may, at certain points, no longer qualify as sufficiently needy to be allocated social housing – but may do a month after they’ve had their tenancy terminated;
2. The much vaunted Right To Buy – which only kicks in after you’ve been a tenant for five years. Now, if this proposed time limited tenancy is less than five years that would seem to take the RTB away from a whole strata of people which , for a Tory, is surely like trampling on Thatcher’s grave prematurely – and if it is longer than 5 yrs, surely it just creates an additional incentive to buy, thus not freeing up the stock at all.

In short Cameron’s idea is nonsense on stilts – a point I expand on <here.

17. Luis Enrique

15

Somebody said on another thread that the original point of council housing was to provide higher quality housing than the bottom end of the private sector provided at the time, and that rents were initially higher than in private sector poor neighbourhoods / slums.

In addition to your safety net role, I suspect supports of social housing would say the objective is to provide poorer people with better and cheaper housing, in better locations, than they’d get in a purely private-sector alternative. Maybe in quality advantage has gone, and all that’s left is to provide cheaper housing, so it’s redistribution via goods-in-kind, rather than cash?

@17 Then why not just redistribute cash?

I agree with Watchman here – we have conflicting views of what social housing is for. If it really is the idea that the state should provide cheaper better housing than the market can provide, and that this should not be viewed as a benefit but instead as a state provision equivalent to the NHS, then it should hardly be a surprise that the waiting list stands at 5 million – and has risen by 80% since 2002. Non-market allocation is generally done by queueing after all.

Equally, it will probably not be enough to build our way out of it. If the state provides cheaper, better housing than the market for all, then demand for it will be, to all intents and purposes, inexhaustible.

20. Luis Enrique

18.

dunno. I can think of some possible reasons:

1. if you did, and had pure private sector housing, at the bottom end of the market housing would still be too shitty to be acceptable
2. redistribution of that scale would have to be means tested, further screwing with incentives to get a job.

actually, that’s an obvious problem with Cameron’s idea, I don’t know why I didn’t see it – so now if you get a job you’re going to get kicked out of your home too. More reasons to stay unemployed.

I came across this, via Tim W, might interest some:

http://www.communities.gov.uk/archived/general-content/housing/hillsreport/

#18

We do ‘give them the cash’: it’s called Housing Benefit.

Basically, all social housing finance issues boil down to whether you subsidise the building or the person. If you subsidise the building you get low rents/ low sale costs whoever lives in it. If you subsidise the person you get high rents and benefit traps. In the Uk we inevitably do a mixture of these things, although the balance has shifted over the last generation away from subsidising the building and towards subsidising the person. Basically, this is bonkers in my view, but there you go…

@19 – surely, if the state built hundreds of thousands of new homes, of acceptable quality, this would significantly lower demand for private sector housing?

I would imagine, in this instance, that house prices would take a dive, in which case the ‘waiting list’ would shrink considerably as homes actually became affordable…

I suspect that a large percentage of the five million on the waiting list would dearly love to be able to purchase a home, but have been excluded by the insane prices which the market demands… This might also explain why the number of people on the list rose by such a large percentage during the property boom!

Of course, no government is going to bankrupt the middle classes or the baby boomers, as this is supposedly the key electoral constituency.

So, we’re all boned (and doomed to insane prices forever).

23. John Whitley

You’ll never gain any popular support for even the concept of social housing, let alone the mass building of such, as long as there is a general prejudice against people who don’t have a mortgage. A sentiment summed up thus: “those who rent have no self-respect”. That’s a very, very deeply ingrained attitude, not just the Daily Mail-reading shitehawks but also amongst working class folks who are ‘lucky’ (?) enough to have a mortgage.

Oh, and Falco (#14) does also have a point. Basically you can’t lay one brick on top of another in this country without the local authority coming down on you like a ton of, well…

@ Solomon

Social Housing isn’t just a “benefit” to be doled out to the poor, it is a vital response to a massive market failure: Left alone, the market will not house millions of people.

The point is that the market in housing is fatally distorted by two factors- the availability of rationed, subsidised social housing and the payment of housing benefit- in particular direct payments to private landlords.

Get rid of these two distorting state interventions, and I suspect the market in housing would work pretty well.

@10 -Firstly I have no idea what a neo Thatcherite is.

I understood that poor sods wouldn’t actually be moved anywhere, only people who could afford too.

So I assume the poor sods will now be able to go private.

Please ask yourself, while you have a family with a good disposable income camping in soical housing all their lives, the tenancy also being passed onto their children…

…Where do the even poorer sods who have nowhere to live at all go?

Your philospohy seems to be “Im alright Jack”

“Functionalist sociologists – more often linked with the political right than the left – often talk about a thing called social solidarity. They believe that social harmony is best achieved by members of a community all sharing similar norms, values, lifestyles, histories and traditions. They’re the things that bind us together, that give us common ground and foster neighbourliness and a public spirit.”

Probably so.
But that’s not the basis on which social housing is allocated, is it?

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100049710/one-thing-social-housing-does-not-do-is-support-cohesive-communities/

27. Sevillista

Social housing has three key features – secure tenure (with protection from large rent rises), responsible landlords (at least compared to private landlords who inhabit the bottom of the private rental market) and sub-market rents.

Each of these features has benefits – secure tenure builds communities and gives families stability (good for a range of outcomes, both at the society and the individual level), responsible landlords improve health outcomes and enforce a minimum standard of accommodation and sub-market rents save the state money on the Housing Benefit bill (though at the cost of making the housing market less efficient and creating some fairness issues in a few cases).

It seems the feature of the system right-wingers object to is sub-market rents. This would then appear to be where reform is needed to achieve the stated goals. As the article says, the strong and settled communities that secure tenancy encourages are necessary if Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is to become more than weasel words to justify massive cuts and privatisation.

However, there are difficulties in this. It will cause the Housing Benefit bill to balloon, as non-cash economic subsidy of homes built long ago is realised (additional transfers from central government to social landlords). It will have a damaging effect on work incentives as the Housing Benefit is paid at higher levels of income meaning more people would face very high effective tax rates. And if done in a ‘Big Bang’ way will have a massive impact on the (already low) disposable incomes of the Southern working classes.

The way Cameron and Shapps are describing reform at the moment sounds counter-productive and at odds with both the ‘Big Society’ and the IDS vision of welfare (though fully consistent with the unstated aim of moving the poor out of inner cities to ghettos on the outskirts of town that it is apparent from HB reforms is a goal of some in the Tory party).

And it’s extremely dishonest to reverse a manifesto pledge this early after criticising Labour for ‘scaremongering’ for warning pre-election that the Tories were planning exactly the reforms they are announcing now. Why did they lie?

28. Dick the Prick

‘why social housing should matter, even for (baby eating, wife beating, dog kicking) Tories’

Hmm. Good post, though.

I could be wrong (and probably am) but I think this was a policy bounce just to instill some summer work from the ALMO’s.

29. Rhys Williams

understood that poor sods wouldn’t actually be moved anywhere, only people who could afford too

How would you make that call ?
How much someone has saved for their retirement ?

Sevillista,

It seems the feature of the system right-wingers object to is sub-market rents. This would then appear to be where reform is needed to achieve the stated goals. As the article says, the strong and settled communities that secure tenancy encourages are necessary if Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is to become more than weasel words to justify massive cuts and privatisation.

I asked above about the purpose of social housing in order to try and understand if there was a clear idea such as provision of sub-market rents behind it. It appears from the responses so far that there is not (and that indeed rents were originally relatively high). So if the system is now incorporating sub-market rents then this is an innovation, the origins of which need to be understood before we can properly pass judgement on it.

But more generally, speaking as a right-winger, there seems to be no objection to the sub-market rents expressed in this thread or by David Cameron, so you have in effect introduced a strawman (I doubt this was your intention). The issue is whether those rents should be enjoyed by people for life, or whether they are a service which should be time-limited (with renewal if necessary). As Tim J repeatedly points out, it is difficult to justify someone paying sub-market rents who could easily afford market rents, whilst someone who cannot afford market rents has to wait in crappy accomodation.

Incidentally, this may not be particularly right wing, but one place in which I believe there is a clear case for government intervention is ensuring a minimum quality of housing in the rental market. Any debate on social housing should include this consideration surely?

31. Rhys Williams

Have you lot ever lived in council housing.
The idea that it some type of spongers paradise begs belief.

Most want to get out of council houses but rented accomodation or taking out a mortgage would put them into debt.

Dave’s idea of nirvana is Rachman like housing market

@29

So you think someone who has amassed a retirement fund of say 100k should be allowed to stay in social housing, whereas the person with no home and no retirement fund should be denied that right purely on the basis that they were later in the queue?

How would you make that call?

Your arguments seem to be based around the idea that their are social houses waiting for all. There are not, and as they are limited they shoudl be allocated to the most needy.

Of course someone would be annoyed that they may have to start spending their own money to provide for themselves, but think how happy the more needy person will be when they are allowed to move in.

I cannot understand how being in a bad situation at one point in time can guarantee you affordable housing for your entire life, coupled with the right to pass on your tenancy.

33. Luis Enrique

Most want to get out of council houses

the strong and settled communities that secure tenancy encourages

Do we really buy this idea that social housing equals good communities, and the security of tenancy is why?

34. Rhys Williams

“Ah yes, the actual cause of the shortage of housing, (which is the difficulty in getting consent from the local authority to build), is clear evidence of “massive market failure”. Bravo!”

Could you please give an example of a LA trying to stop building houses.
Local residents might complain but the LA with the chance of more community tax.

I know as your in government , and the local authorities are now the new Satan but please

@31, yes I currently live in social housing on a notorious estate in manchester – paradise its not.

But your wrong about most people wanting to leave. Because there are houses here that are very big, have private gardens, 2 nice new cars on the drive and holidays every year.

These people are proud of their homes, and rightly so.

When you say they will get in debt, what you mean is they will no longer be able to live the lifestyle they are accustomed too and would have to make sacrifices.

Could you please give an example of a LA trying to stop building houses.

http://local.direct.gov.uk/LDGRedirect/index.jsp?LGSL=485&LGIL=8

Local authorities are in responsible for planning applications. These take an absolute age, and are often rejected absolutely. The cost of building a new house is pretty small – £60-100k for a 3/4 bed house. The price of land is also pretty low. It is the cost/difficulty of obtaining planning permission that makes building houses so expensive.

As I said yesterday, pity the tories did not come up with this idea before they flogged off the vast majority of council stock (at a fraction of it’s real worth.) 30 years ago.

So many of the people who bought their own homes could easily have afforded to pay the going rate for a private home. Many had been living in these homes for years, and had become middle class. A good few had more money than many people in their own private homes. It is too late now because all the these people have long since gone from the public housing stock. The only reason Cameron wants to do it now is to push the poor sods into the private lettings market. And guess who most of the Landlords vote for?

But as usual the tories love the something for nothing society.

Sally your like the person who hates gays but can never find anything else to talk about.

You know what they say about people like that….

I heard Beckett gabble on about this at a Housing Conference.

The same issues apply now as then.

Some Housing Associations (RSLs) already do this, including the offering of a range of tenancies based on assured shorthold tennacies and those are not just those on temporary housing registers for homelesness. Some of the RSLs use it as a way of cross funding other more secure long term builds.

Some Local Authorities already are providing tenancies on an assured shorthold basis as “introductory” tenancies. Many of these do move on to private rented accommodation, only a relatively small proportion become long term secured tenants with a LA Assured Tenancy.

The argument Beckett put was to find a way to assist people to get out of social housing to aid those who need to be provided with it.

This is where it all falls down. The very best areas for social housing are mixed tenure types, offering everything from low cost social housing to fully owned properties. Creating only social housing estates creates a ghetto of poverty and increasing levels of crime.

There is an issue with under occupation of houses by elderly people where it used to be a family home. In London this problem is being dealt with by not allowing the tenancy on that property to be inherited but simply only allowing a tenancy. This results in Councillors having to face the difficult circumstance of having to explain to a daughter who had lived in a family home for years with her elderly parnt why she has to move to a one bed flat in some estate nowhere near as nice as the one she is in.

There is not a great desire to get out of secure tenancies into the insecurity of the private rented market. There is a significant number of people on Housing Benefit who do this but by and large this is because they are in over accommodated homes moving in to larger properties. This of course comes with a a doubling or tripling of the bill that is picked up by Housing Benefit. That hardly seems sensible.

In fact the focus of all of this and the benefit changes remain completely wrong.

Councils have the capital resources available for building. The best opportunity for major building, which would have been better than the 2.5% VAT cut was missed but it does not mean that a programme of Council and RSL home building should be ignored, nor should the government ignore the huge range of stock of one and two bed empty properties built in town centres.

There is no point trying to provide affordable housing while another part of the Government is deliberately encouraging hyper inflation in the housing market making them unaffordable. That mistake is being repeated, The Country is addicted to house price inflation.

One of the options to make “tenure choice” no longer an issue was to raise RSL and Council Tenancy rents to private rented levels and so all tenure types would be subject to the LHA. That would have done wonders to the HB bill.

Housing Benefit grew in cost because of the recession and also because of an increase in the proportion of private rented properties. The recession caused an increase in claims from people in privately rented properties. £200 per week private rents will always be more to pay than a Council Tenant on a £70 a week rent.

Despite this, private HB levels per property did not rise. LHA worked. Average HB rents did not increase although the amount of LHA paid per claimant was much higher than the previous post 1996 scheme. The 30th percentile reduces HB back to 2008 levels but the removal of the £15 shopping incentive is stupid. If tenants do not have that incentive the maximum HB level will be the level charged. There will not be a 10th or 20th percentile. LHA has been the only rent restriction policy that has worked since pre 1989 registered rents. Regardless private sector rents are higher than public sector rents.
The obvious answer is the building of more public sector housing, but forget housing, let’s carry on bombing people who look a bit different and committing ourselves to buying some machismo toy bombs we could never use.

Stupid politicians the answers stare them in their faces but they are too ashamed to admit the obvious.

“The obvious answer is the building of more public sector housing,”

It’s an answer but I think the most effective one would be to relax the planning constraints. Housing is such a problem because the supply as a whole is artificially constrained. By allowing greater supply the price would drop and all housing would become more affordable. This would take most of the pressure off social housing leaving the social housing that we do have, (and could add to), for people suffering hardship.

For some reason those already living in massively overpriced houses don’t tend to support this though.

what we should really do is split the uk into 60 million sections, distribute them to everyone and let people get on with it.

42. Dick the Prick

@38 – Dave. Eh, stop being beastley to Sally; she’s top value and proper consistent.

I had a mental few cases recently that drew me into housing allocations and, whilst not being an expert, it did become blatantly apparent that hosuing isn’t only allocated on need but..err…obviously, availability. Three OAP’s over a few months and one of them was crying and genuinely scared and stuff. Fortunately, for OAPs they die off at a decent rate but families, as this whole thread is perhaps about, don’t die and don’t necessarily move. Is there a distinction between social housing and housing stock? Is it incumbent upon the state to build the houses or just incentivize and/or subsidize private rents? Is it the responsibility of the state to provide cushy homes or just a horizontal slab where they can sleep? If sub market rents remain irrespective of earnings etc then that’s not only economically irresponsible as the ability to build more houses is reduced and immoral because those in genuine need can’t get access.

@39- top post Bigotbasher.

Coming to you from a Camden Council flat……

Alan Walter of Defend Council Housing has said of this proposal ” “The right to a secure, life-long tenancy was a hard-won right against Victorian landlords, exploitation and Rachmanism. There is a strong, right-wing pressure within government to get rid of this.”

Except Alan Walter sadly died prematurely last year. He hasn’t been resurrected, he was talking about a very similar New Labour proposal in 2007

‘Three Million Tenants Face Boot’

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2007/02/19/3-million-tenants-face-boot-115875-18642059/

See this is one of New Labour’s problems, they find it difficult to oppose something they were once proposing themselves and the ConDems can always point this out.

Firstly, it takes some balls to put forward this when you don’t know how many houses you have yourself….

http://www.libdemvoice.org/david-cameron-forgets-how-many-houses-he-has-15181.html

(Oh look! LibDem Voice revealing this!)

Secondly, us council tenants are not dependent on any taxpayer, we pay rent, this rent pays for the management and maintenance of our homes and for any loans secured against them. In fact, taxpayers are now to some extent dependent on council tenants. We pay more in rents than is expended in repairs and administration, the national housing revenue account is in surplus, so council tenants’ rent money is going to help the Treasury, not the other way around.

(Not even mentioning right-to-buy, where most of the money goes to the Treasury).

Many council tenants are in receipt of some housing benefit, but for every ‘Afghan family living in a £1.2million home paid for by the taxpayer’ found by the Daily oMail there are tens of thousands who only receive a few pounds a week. And until MIRAS was completely abolished in April 2000 council tenants were subsidising the assets of property owners.

Next, tenants in properties too large for them are already encouraged by councils to swap them for smaller ones. I had two friends in a four bedroom flat in a block, that they swapped for two single bedroom flats.

Next, council tenants cannot pass a tenancy on to their children.

As for the five year fixed-term tenancy that may be terminated if the tenants are financially better off, I can already think of half-a-dozen ways to get round this. And bailiffs evicting a family at the end of their tenancy would look good on the telly wouldn’t it?

This is an imbecilic policy made on the hoof by guy who has no idea whatsoever of the realities of life.

But as “We are all in this together” how about, for a start, looking at second homes in the countryside that are infrequently used and push up property prices so the locals have to move if they want a property?

I won’t hold my breath.

45. Sevillista

@watchman

Sub-market rents are a deliberate feature of social housing:

Firstly, it saves the taxpayer money on the HB bill compared to paying market rents in the private sector. Indeed, the cost:benefit analyses used by CLG/HMT to assess the business case for new social units work out whether the NPV of the projected benefits (savings on the HB bill due to sub-market rents) exceed the up-front capital subsidy involved.

Secondly, there is a positive impact on work incentives as it reduces the income level at which HB needs to be claimed by low-income families, and so reducing
the area where the effective marginal tax rate (due to HB withdrawal) exceeds 90%. It also boosts work incentives as there is a realistic prospect of boosting disposable income through working – particularly in Inner London this is a real issue.

Thirdly, there is an obvious distributional impact on the income of social tenants (which I’m sure right-wingers would object to). I would argue that this is smaller than the total £17 billion tax subsidy given to owner-occupiers, and fair enough while the latter exists (though as always private renters are shafted – there is an urgent need for reform of the private rented sector as the 1988 Act is toomuch in favour of landlords).

It is not a straw-man I am setting up – the arguments I hear are that it is unfair that those in low-income work in London (mostly) receive big economic subsidies. It is not – as far as I am aware – about the perils of secure tenure or the evils of freeing people from Rachmanist slum landlords.introduced a strawman (I doubt this was your intention). The answer to Tim Js point re waiting lists and people stuck in crappy accommodation is surely to improve conditions for everyone rather than playing musical chairs swapping people around. And in any case, the incentives are such that a fixed term will trap people in benefit dependency.

Completely agree with your point on making the private rented sector better – the last Government made some movements towards a new intermediate tenure between the social and private rented sector (or more choices on legal forms of tenancy) and there are some murmerings from Tories that this may be a price worth paying for abolishing social housing (which many on the right asserts creates a cadre of Labour voters).

@44

But as “We are all in this together” how about, for a start, looking at second homes in the countryside that are infrequently used and push up property prices so the locals have to move if they want a property?

Heh, I was about to make this exact same point. Cameron’s new found housing policy smacks of class warfare, and we’re* not allowed to do that anymore.

*The left, I mean. The right can apparently fuck the poor as much as they like.

“Left alone , the market will not house millions of people. ”

Rilly? I have to admit that the only place I’ve ever been with a serious lack of housing (“serious” is doing some work there. I’m not talking about a few thousand rough sleepers nationally) was Russia where the entire housing system was decidedly non market.

A proper free market in housing in the UK would work I think….you’d need to deal with planning though. You can buy reasonable ag land for £15k a hectare, the same stuff with planning permission is around £1.5 million. Given usual densities of 14 houses per hectare (that’s minimum density I think) we’re talking of around £100 k a house just for the planning permission. Given that building costs are about £900 or so a square metre (floor space, not house footprint) it should be possible to build houses for 90k/100k a piece for a decent 2/3 bedder. Small, agreed, but decent. Mortgage on that at present would be what, £400/£500 a month? Private sector rent a little higher perhaps, say £600? Yes, I think we’ve solved that problem then…..two minimum wage workers get £1,800 a month jointly, housing costs of one third of that….a tad high but then it is a 2/3 bed house.

Given sufficient building land there’s no real reason why housing (as housing, obviously Belgravia is still going to be more expensive) should be anything very different from replacement cost.

The downside of this plan is that everyone already owning a house gets screwed….

This amuses though:

“They believe that social harmony is best achieved by members of a community all sharing similar norms, values, lifestyles, histories and traditions. They’re the things that bind us together, that give us common ground and foster neighbourliness and a public spirit.”

So what you’re saying then is that we shouldn’t be having mixed income housing, mixed neighbourhoods, because this reduces social solidarity?

@45

Im not 100% sure but I was under the impression that council tenants could pass on their tenancies, but housing association tenants cannot.

Secure in your home

If you are a secure tenant you will be able to live in your home for the rest of your life if you want to, as long as you do what you agreed to do in your tenancy agreement. This is known as security of tenure.

If your council needs to rebuild your house or flat or part of your estate, it must offer you another suitable home.

When you die, your husband or wife, or one other person in your family who has been living with you for at least the last year, will usually be able to take over the tenancy agreement from you. This is called the right of succession and this can only happen once.

http://www.housingnet.co.uk/how_do_i_get_a_council_house.php

50. Sevillista

@timworstall

In a world where there are no externalities from housebuilding maybe that would work. But it is not the world in which we live.

Due to externalities, some Government intervention is required to plan for housing and balance the social costs and benefits, hopefully to reach a point where housing is built to the point where the marginal social benefit is zero and to ensure necessary infrastructure is built alongside new housing.

Our current system unfortunately constructs supply far too much as it gives too much power to homeowners. For example, London house prices are so crazy because NIMBYism prevents us from building upwards. The heavy penalty is paid by those who do not own property (or younger people who do) and forced into cramped conditions and to pay higher rents and house prices, people forced to commute long distances to work (and the environmental costs of this) and younger people forced to delay starting a family until they are in their 40s and can afford to buy a decent-sized property (stable tenure is very important when kids arrive for obvious reasons).

I would have some sympathy for trying to use more market mechanisms to achieve planning goals – the current system has just been captured by NIMBYs (a good example of Government failure).

First-home ownership is also heavily subsidised as an investment – people want massive houses as an investment – further stoking the problem of mismatched demand and supply.

Within this real world (not the neat no market failure world the ASI all too often believe we are in), there is a clear need for additional intervention to subsidise housing costs, and probably a rationale for intervention to build social units to avoid the inflating impact of a demand-side subsidy with constrained supply.

51. Solomon Hughes

As it happens, Council House building acts as a stronger counterbalance to Nimbyism than Housing Association building – (or private house building) – because without Council House building you don’t have any real local champion for housebuilding, at local government level.

52. Rhys Williams

dave you still haven’t told me how you will make the call.
Is having two cars the criteria.
Also if people do have saved money, do you check their accounts.
A little big brother.
I really don’t know how you in practice you turf somebody out of a house they have lived in for 30 years.
Can you imagine the race problems if white pensioners were turfed out for non Brits.
Also remember you want these type of people living in the area.
The needy unfortunately at the moment tend to be drug users or irresponsible youths who make these sink estates unlivable.
You need people who are good examples to others, keep their gardens clean and pay their rent on time. If they wish to be council house owners , why not ?

As for relaxing planning, most LA want but they have other legal considerations to take into account. For instance they can be sued if they build on sports grounds or the green belt.

53. Charlieman

After all these comments, all I know are a few facts that fail to drive me to back any recent housing proposals.

1. Council houses exist and tenants/occupants have security of tenure.

2. Housing Association tenants/occupants may have different rights.

3. Housing Benefit exists. It may increase rents for rentable properties.

4. There are insufficient homes. A single building can provide many homes.

5. Planning law limits new construction.

6. Social conduct (NIMBYism) affects new construction and the formation of communities.

7. There is probably labour and capital to conduct more home building (private and public).

8. “Where people live” is more about community than location.

9. Whatever I have missed out.

But when I look at the coalition proposal for limited period council tenancies, I conclude that they have not looked at the facts. A wise minister would establish him/herself in the job, bang a few heads with colleagues and deliver an honest manifesto for more homes.

54. Rhys Williams

Charlieman
Very good points.

@52 –

You haven’t answered me either
No
Yes
Its not their house
yes still think drug users and irresponsible youths need somewhere to live

If you have moved from a council house into a Housing association because the council cannot house you, and you were living in a council house, you keep your housing agreement with the council.

A housing association will normally do the same as a council house, if the person who is living with you like son or daughter would be made homeless then they would be given the tenancy, depending of course if they meet the requirements.

But in the end of course if like Labour and the Tories you do not build more council houses we’d have none left in a few more years.

I live on a 220 council house estate out of the 220 house 120 have been bought and sold on, 30 have been bough and are still lived in. and my Welsh Assembly has just stopped or is about to stop the sale of council houses, so stopping this nonsense.

57. Paul Johnston

If you look at Holland most people live in the equivalent of housing estates works well over there why now all of a sudden with the new government that they are looking at moving people out who are on a higher income even though those individuals pay the full rate of rent and council tax.
You look at the private rent sector its well dodgy with unscrupulous landlords charging extortionate rates to live in a flee pit box of a flat just look at the cost renting in London for example.
I know at the moment there this debate on the benefit system and how it needs to be changed I do not think that changing social housing structure is going to improve peoples lives I believe it will make it harder in the long run.
Yet again another example of the elitist looking down at the rest of the sheep with out any realisation of the reality of what people live with.

@1: I understand all this. It is perfectly obvious why someone living in cheap, secure housing would prefer to do so.

Indeed. So why not set things up so everyone gets to live in cheap, secure housing (assuming that’s what they want)?

After all, the whole point of an economy is to make things people want.

What I don’t understand is why someone earning well above the national average wage should be entitled to subsidised state housing

But cheap housing needn’t be subsidised. Houses are in fact quite cheap to build — about £50k, and if they were mass-produced in facotries and assembled on-site, they’d be even cheaper.

There shouldn’t be less people with cheap secure housing, there should be more.

@2: Of course people like paying lower rents, the question is should the taxpayer be providing cheap housing to people who don’t need it.

FFS, houses are cheap to build. Therefore it doesn’t require subsidies to build them.

Shocking.


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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    RT @libcon: Why social housing should matter, even to Tories http://bit.ly/byLNPx

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    RT @libcon: Why social housing should matter, even to Tories http://bit.ly/byLNPx

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    RT @libcon Why social housing should matter, even to Tories http://bit.ly/byLNPx

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    Why Social Housing Should Matter, Even To Tories http://bit.ly/dhLCnn >> some interesting points here on community, social & society

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    Why social housing should matter, even to Tories http://bit.ly/9xgkqG

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    RT @jacr13: Why social housing should matter, even to Tories http://bit.ly/9xgkqG <agree not good to MAKE families move out of their homes >

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