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The Housing Times Issue 1



The front cover of the September 2009 issue of the sadly missed housing magazine Roof highlighted the article by Julian Birch about what kind of plans the Conservatives would bring forward for housing should they win the general election the following year. Birch begins his article by accepting that cuts in the housing budget look certain whoever wins the election. He posed the question; “Do plans already surfacing in think tanks and Tory local authorities signal a radical assault on social housing?” An indication of their plans was contained in a Green Paper they published in April 2009. They included scrapping top-down regional planning targets with bottom-up local incentives. Other than encouraging more shared ownership and backing local housing trusts it is not clear, Birch writes, what the party would do in government. Former Labour housing minister Nick Raynsford had a clearer idea. He believed that there would be drastic cuts in investment as well as the dismantling of the regional planning framework. “What we saw in 1979-80 would be mild by comparison with what is going to happen if the Conservatives win the next election. If you add in the ideological pressure coming from places like Hammersmith and Fulham that is profoundly hostile to social housing and is social engineering on a grand scale, you have the making of a policy that would be disastrous around the country.”

In July 2009 Tory controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council was accused of social cleansing when plans were made public about their proposals to demolish council estates within the borough. The plans, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, showed that the council hoped to move out tenants and replace them with private homes and retail developments. Council leader Stephen Greenhaigh, who also headed David Cameron’s Conservative Councils Innovation Unit, states in the report, The Principles for Social Housing Reform, believes council housing is “warehousing poverty” and entrenches welfare dependency.

Stephen Greenhaigh denied the council had any plans to move low income residents out to other areas of London but the question remains where people will go if as plans contained in the Council’s Local Development Framework go ahead to demolish large council estates in White City, West Kensington as well as Hammersmith and Fulham. The council sent a leaflet to all tenants on the White City estate giving them a guarantee that they will “not be left without a home or moved out of the borough” should demolition take place. There was no guarantee, as with other council estates in London under threat of demolition that any tenant exercising the option to return, would be offered a home at the same rent as they paid previously.

The Freedom of Information request, submitted by Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Ealing and Shepherd’s Bush, disclosed how Stephen Greenhaigh and town hall officials helped to draft the proposals in the Localis report. Even more remarkably one note discussed how to handle a backlash from residents. A note states that social housing is “not about giving somebody a £1 million home for life. “Another note says it is “hard to get rid of people” and Porteresque accusations of gerrymandering or social engineering need to be faced head on.” The note adds “funding is needed for political problem of management” and “warns that “political pain is a factor – can local politicians accept the level of pain involved in making it happen”

The plans that Stephen Greenhaigh proposed were the same as ones included in a report, published in April 2009, he wrote, with John Moss a chartered surveyor and Conservative parliamentary candidate in the 2005 general election, and published by the thinktank Localis. The introduction to the report, The Principles for Social Housing Reform, includes a quote from David Cameron that an incoming will not retreat from social reform because of the current crisis in public finances. “My Party understands something crucially important Fiscal responsibility needs a social conscience, or it is not responsible at all.” For the authors of the report, that meant applying their social conscience to the state of social housing in inner cities.

Greenhaigh and Moss write that “social housing has become welfare housing where both a dependency culture and a culture of entitlement predominate. There is real concern that the current social housing system is failing the very people it was designed to help. Social housing was meant to help people out of the slums. Instead many social housing estates have become the very ghettos of multiple social deprivation that they were supposed to replace.” Whilst this is true it is because of the criterion that determines the allocation system – local authorities are obliged to house the most vulnerable. A fact accepted by the authors when they write, “Estates where deprived households are concentrated because of housing policies are not places sought by people with any choice.” Another reason is the failure by successive governments to return the revenue from the sale of homes under the right to buy legislation. What seems to prick the social conscience of the authors, certainly in London, is that council estates are situated in the inner cities on prime real estate which are worth billions if they were in private hands.

As the authors write, “While the social case for reform is undeniable, the financial case is just as strong. A conservative estimate values public sector housing stock at around £300 billion and yet the return to Registered Social Landlords and councils on this capital investment is barely 1 per cent. There are huge social, economic and financial pay-offs if we get the reform of social housing right. The current social housing is warehousing poverty in the core of our great cities – cities which need to be the very engines of economic growth.” The language used by the authors has a Victorian resonance; they reassure those who cannot house themselves that social housing would be provided for them but believe that the system should be only for people – the deserving poor – who, as they state, work hard and play by the rules.

Greenhaigh and Moss were so confident that their plans will be put into practice after the success of their party’s chances in the forthcoming 2010 general election that the last paragraph of the introduction of the report is solely about their introduction. They write; “Now we just need the incoming Conservative government – which will have an unprecedented opportunity with so many of our councils also being in Conservative control – to be bold and be brave and act on its social conscience by listening to the housing professionals who are fed up with tinkering around the edges and embrace a reform agenda that will contribute hugely to fixing our broken society”

The proposals contained both in the 2010 Budget and later in the year the Comprehensive Spending Review could never be described as tinkering around the edges. The June 2010 emergency Budget announced £11 billion of welfare savings to be rolled out by 2014. The 2010 Spending Review promised hopefully that welfare costs would fall over the next four years. One housing magazine, 24 Housing, described 2010 as the year that shook housing. Summing up in its December issue what had changed since the general election in May it stated, “Seven months on and the socio-political landscape of this country has changed forever. With funded ring-fenced in areas such as health, education and overseas aid, housing was always going to be vulnerable to George Osborne’s spending axe – and so it proved” It isn’t just the reduction in the housing budget, it added, that has shaken social housing to its very foundations, and it’s the radical reforms to tenure, welfare and benefits that will force housing providers to take a long hard look at how they operate in the future” Following the Comprehensive Spending Review another housing magazine, Inside Housing, believed that the sixty per cent cut to the housing budget heralding the end of social housing. Its editorial put the measures into their historical context thus: “What became known as asocial housing was conceived by William Beveridge in 1942 and brought to life by Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1945. The hundreds of thousands of homes build in the following decades formed the backbone of the welfare state” The package of reforms, it ends, means the end of social housing as part of the welfare state. Abigail Davies, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said, “This clearly appears to be the end of government funded social housing, if not necessarily the end of the provision of asocial housing”

Whilst the cuts announced by George Osborne in his Budget and in the Comprehensive Spending Review were a surprise it was no surprise that the Conservative took the axe to the boards that set the regional housing targets. Eric Pickles had warned in August 2009 that any incoming Conservative government would abolish them. He abolished them on July 2010.Local authorities had already begun tearing up plans for new housing in May when he wrote to them to confirm that the regional targets were to be axed.

Just as significant as the demise of the bodies that set the regional housing targets was the scrapping of the independent housing affordability watchdog, the National Housing and Planning Unit. Its remit was to advise on how to improve the affordability of housing. A review of the body at the end of 2009 had found that it was successfully fulfilling its role, and recommended it should also conduct research into local housing markets on behalf of local authorities. Before its demise the Advice Unit had calculated that England need to build 240,000 homes a year to meet demand. Peter Williams, chairman of the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, wrote a letter to housing minister Grant Shapps before it was disbanded warning that the UK faced increasingly severe social and economic consequences of the failure to build more homes. He added “getting back to the level of house building we saw before the recession is nowhere near enough. We need to deliver half as many again extra homes.”

Another organisation that was seen as superfluous to requirements by the new government was the Tenant Services Authority. Its abolition was announced by Grant Shapps at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference in June 2010. Addressing conference delegates he told them that the “TSA is toast”.

Not to be outdone David Cameron in a speech in Birmingham in August stated he wanted to see the end of lifetime tenancies for new council tenants. “There is a question mark about whether, in future. We should be asking when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period?” His speech was to coincide with the publication of a consultation paper on the subject. Yet the Conservative Party went into the general election stating that it had no policy to change the current or future security of tenure of tenants in social housing. Within a year one of the measures introduced as part of the 2011 Localism Act was the abolition of the automatic long term security of tenure for new social housing tenants. Under the Act, landlords were now allowed to offer fixed term tenancies of only five years as standard if they choose to do so with extension dependent upon good behaviour.

As Professor Rebecca Tunstall of York University writes in her review of the Coalition’s record on housing, “The Act contained what was described as “a radical programme of reform” for social housing (HM Government 2011p.ix), giving local authorities and ‘registered providers’ new options on the length of tenancies, and local authorities on new options on access to and allocation of social housing. The idea was to more closely target tenancies on the periods of greatest need and through this to discourage infinite long term occupancy of social housing.” Professor Tunstall adds social housing allocation by local authorities reformed, with the entitlement to a social home no longer being less strictly determined by housing need, and at the same time greater priority being permitted for economically active households. The automatic long term security of tenure for new social housing tenants was abolished.

The Conservative-led coalition’s approach to social housing besides being ideologically driven must also be seen in the context of the deficit and in which savings had to be made to the overall housing benefit budget. Again, as Professor Tunstall writes, “Spending on housing benefit constitutes a major element of total government expenditure on housing policy across the UK, although it does not directly build, maintain or improve any actual housing stock. Rather than being an investment in housing stock, it is paid to landlords for existing homes” It was people renting in the private sector that bore the brunt of the cap on housing benefit. From 2011, the cap or ‘Local housing Allowance’ was set at the 30th percentile of local market rents. In addition, the LHA was capped at £400, regardless of household size or actual rent. From 2013, LHA caps increased in line with a new, generally less generous measure of inflation (the consumer price index rather than the retail price index) – meaning that the number of properties at rents where the housing benefit would cover all the cost was progressively reduced.

Polly Toynbee and David Walker in their book Cameron’s Coup in their chapter called Waging War on Welfare write “The most devastating cut was invisible to the naked eye. From 2010 all benefits (other than pensions) have been up rated annually using a lower measure of inflation, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), does not include housing. (The higher measure, the Retail Prices Index (RPI), was kept for tax thresholds and grants to business – and pensions). As a result claimants are losing at least 10 per cent of the value of their benefits over the next decade and onwards. This not only cut the DWP bill, it guaranteed the poor would go on getting poorer in relation to everyone else. Here the Tory legacy is formidable. In addition, the government decreed an even more direct cut in the value of benefits: from 2013 to 2016 no payments are to increase by more than 1 per cent – except pensions” Also the annual benefit cap for individual households was fixed at £26,000.

The onus on implementing the cuts was passed to local authorities. Council officers were press ganged into administrating the bedroom tax. The benefit helping poor households pay council tax was cut. Toynbee and Walker write, “From April 2013 councils had to devise their own systems, but must exempt pensioners. Support grants were cut by 10 per cent, so councils either passed the cut on to the poorer or subsidised payments out of their depleting resources. The majority pushed the reductions on, but within a year arrears were mounting among the 2.3 million households required to pay council tax for the first time”

Of all the measures introduced by the Conservative-led coalition aimed at reducing the housing benefit bill it is the so-called bedroom tax that will be remembered. Toynbee and Walker write, “The Coalition, prejudiced against social housing, did no research and rushed ahead with a cut in housing benefit for all working-age tenants deemed to have ‘spare’ rooms. The government tried to call it ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’but inevitably it became the bedroom tax. It a class measure, a demonstration of housing inequality, when most ‘spare’ rooms are in homes owned by their occupiers. Half a million households in the UK or one in eight social tenants were affected. Housing benefit was cut by 14 per cent – an average of £12 a week – for one spare room and 25 per cent for two” Such a policy, imposed without any impact assessment gave rise to numerous decisions. One family was charged for the rooms left vacated when their two sons went to fight in Afghanistan. Another family was charged for the empty room after their daughter died. The government rushed to exempt the homes of service personnel and other instances where ‘spare’ rooms were necessary for medical reasons.

So did the medicine work? Less than five per cent of affected claimants downsized in the first year. Two-thirds of those affected were disabled, 220,000 had children and were reluctant to move because of the impact it would have on their education. In many instances, councils had no ‘spare’ smaller flats and instead the only option was to rent more expensive homes in the private sector. Toynbee and Walker commenting on the policy write “nothing stamps the character of the government as clearly as its assault on the welfare state and its campaign to turn public opinion against the needy. Its legacy is a cruel, less civilised country and a hardening of hearts.”

The hardening of hearts was evident in the comments made by Stephen Greenhaigh in an article he wrote for the website Conservative Home about social housing which revealed the thinking behind the proposals contained in his report Principles for Social Housing Reform. They were read out in the House of Commons during a debate on social housing on 5 May 2011 by Labour’s Andy Slaughter. In his article he linked Boris Johnson’s victory in 2008 to the distribution of social housing in the capital. Greenhaigh wrote, “Boris Johnson’s stunning victory in our capital city was largely a suburban revolt. Why is this? The current state and levels of social housing in our inner cities provide part of the answer. All our inner cities have relatively high levels of social housing compared to their suburbs. Today social housing has become welfare housing where both a dependency culture and a culture of entitlement dominate.”

Slaughter added that such comments “should have received more attention from the media, and I wish that they did, but I think there is enough morality in the governing parties for them to go back and look at what they are doing in relation to housing policy and to think again. We are talking about future generations of people in this country who are growing up in conditions that are wholly uncivilised and wholly unworthy of this country”(Karen Buck’s contribution to the debate deserves mention. She said, “We all agree that the problems facing social housing are complex, long term and difficult to resolve. We know that the supply of social housing has been squeezed for decades, principally through the non-replacement of right-to-buy stock during the 1980s and 1990s, but it is a shame that more properties were not built under the Labour government”

How true, when Labour was elected in 1997 it had the opportunity to resolve the crisis of social housing and failed to do so. It failed to put a stop to council house sales which caused the crisis in social housing, it refused to return to local authorities all but a pittance of the receipts from council house sales and tried to offset the remaining council housing stock to housing associations through the stock transfer option.

Toynbee and Walker’s words about a less civilised country fell on deaf ears following the 2015 general election. Housing policy during the years of the coalition was but a precursor of what was to follow. In the first week of October the government published a new housing bill. It was another nail in the coffin of social housing and another attempt to increase home ownership. The latter was to be achieved by allowing housing association tenants the right to buy their homes. Not for the first time the front cover of Inside Housing magazine summed up the situation. Its headline was “low-cost rented accommodation set to decline as government focuses on ownership”. Its editorial explained that “Higher earning private renters will be bumped into home ownership, but this will be at the expense of secure housing for people in the greatest need. The directing of funds towards Starter Homes and away from new homes for affordable rent effectively means this is a problem that more families will be facing in the future”

The housing bill produced numerous responses on the Guardian newspaper Housing Network site. An article, by Colin Wiles, titled “David Cameron is on track to kill off social housing. The sub-headline added that no one who had followed the past five years of Tory policy will be surprised that government wants to scrap the requirement to build affordable homes. The article analyses the subtext to the bill; “To understand Conservative thinking on housing policy, it is worth scrutinising some of the reports produced by their favourite think tank, Policy Exchange. A 2010 report on making housing affordable argued that “social housing increases child poverty, mental health issues and inequality of opportunity and wealth. A 2011 Policy Exchange report on growth in cities called for election 106 agreements to be scrapped altogether.” They were scrapped as part of the proposals announced in the bill. Who is the author of both of these reports, the article asks – a policy geek called Alex Morton who was the director of the Policy Exchange think tank and who now works for David Cameron in Downing Street, as a special adviser on housing and planning.

In its last issue of the year Inside Housing published a four page review of 2015. One of the sections highlighted the people it considered to be the villains of the year. It mentioned the deputy chief executive of the Accord Group, who was jailed for stealing £325,000 from them despite being on a salary of £147,000. He was jailed for three years. The section mentioned one other person – Alex Morton. He was included, it explained, because “Many in the (housing) sector would (also) point to number 10 Downing Street adviser Alex Morton, who has been blamed for allegedly pushing government policies such as the rent cut and selling high-value stock” (Among the reports he wrote whilst he was director of Policy Exchange included one that recommended ending expensive social tenancies.)

On 2 November the Housing Bill was given a second reading. The Secretary of State, Greg Clark, in his speech laid not so much a broad strategy for housing that included a mass housing building programme but merely a justification for the extension of the right to buy to housing associations. The bill, he said, sought to correct a “30-year injustice that council tenants have had the right-to-buy their homes but housing associations tenants have not” Furthermore, the funds to compensate housing associations for their loss will come from the sale of council homes. (Clauses 56 to 72 require the forced sell-off of affordable council homes to fund an extension of the right-to-buy to housing associations homes.) The Bill marked the end of the stream of money from section 106 agreements which will now be diverted to subsidise starter homes for first-time buyers. On this specific point Andy Slaughter rose to state that the common thread running through the Bill is an attack on social housing which will exacerbate the social cleansing the Tories are carrying out in London. In response John Healey, Labour’s housing spokesman, said the fundamental flaw with the Bill and the government’s plans is that they “put all their chips on starter homes and on home ownership” He added, “The Secretary of State devoted most of his speech to home ownership, but that fell each and every year since 2010” John Healey ended his response by saying that “the Bill is driven by the politics of the Conservative Party, not the housing needs of the country. Like the cut to tax credits, this Bill is the Chancellor’s work, with his political fingerprints all over it. Above all, it fails the same low and middle-income working families that the Tories claim they will represent. It will lead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and buy, and (will) be a huge let-down to those who believed the Tories election pledges. The Bill will prove to be bad policy and bad politics”

On this particular point Alan Brown, the Scottish National Party’s housing spokesman highlighted the idiocy of the policy by comparing the estimated amount that the right-to-buy discount payments to housing associations, approximately £1012 billion, and the £12 billion the Government is proposing to cut from the welfare budget.

As Clive Betts, chairman of the House of Commons Local Government committee, mentioned that irrespective of the merits or otherwise of the starter homes, the provision will not add a single property to those being built over the course of this Parliament. Over the past decade 250,000 homes have been built as a result of 106 section agreements. Furthermore he highlighted the control the Bill would give the government to micro-manage planning permissions on brownfield sites and local authorities will lose their influence to negotiate infrastructure deals. In the case of major infrastructure projects, it will be possible for housing to be approved with no local consent. The Royal Town Planning Institute has described the increase in the powers of Whitehall in this matter as “extraordinary”.

Finally he pointed out the different views between the effect of the right to buy will have in how many homes will be built. David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, believes that the right to buy proposals that more homes will be built which is contrary to what the Chartered Institute of Housing have stated. They believe that the sale of affordable homes to fund the extension of the right to buy could mean the loss of 195,000 affordable rented homes in the next five years.

Not surprising the Conservative and Labour candidates for Mayor of London contributed to the debate. Zac Goldsmith supported the Bill but proposed an amendment that would see a net gain of affordable housing in London as a result of the policy to sell off council housing. Sadiq Khan replied by stating that the Bill would damage London’s social mix, accelerating the exodus of poorer people out of the capital. London would lose substantial amounts of affordable family homes and that the city’s low and middle-income families will be squeezed out to fund the sell-off of housing associations homes nationwide. He finished by saying that “This Bill is a missed opportunity. It will not fix London’s housing crisis; in fact it will make it worse. It will not deliver the genuinely affordable homes Londoners need to buy or rent.”

Jim Fitzpatrick quoted from a House of Commons library briefing paper which confirmed what Sadiq Khan mentioned that there was no requirement in the Bill to replacement homes sold under right to buy locally. He quoted also from the briefing given on the Bill by the Local Government Association that the extension of the right to buy should not be funded by forcing councils to sell off their homes. David Lammy in his contribution said that the Bill will see the decimation of social housing. There was no other area of government policy, he said, where Conservatives would support the idea of giving money to those who have and taking it from those who have not – the poor.

Boris Johnson was in support of the extension of right to buy to housing associations – an historical injustice – and also stated that it must be right where possible “to sell off high-value council homes and use the proceeds to fund not just the subsidy (sic) but the construction of new homes” He tried to justify the sell off of social housing by comparing London with other capital cities. He said, “Members might not be aware that London already has a huge stock of social housing, with 33 per cent of homes in the centre of the city social homes of one type or another, compared with only 7 per cent in Manhattan and 17 per cent in Paris. Across the whole of Greater London, the figure is 24 per cent. High-value council homes in London could be sold, with the proceeds used to build more low-cost homes in London” Whatever the intentions of what is being proposed – and in spite of what the Mayor of London has said on the subject about not wanting to see a Kosovo style situation on his watch – the Bill will see the social cleansing of the poor from most of inner London.

Justin Madders, one of the Labour Party’s 2015 general election in-take, said the greatest omission from the Bill is any kind of plan to meet the existing need for social housing. He described the Bill as a “misguided, rushed, contemptible, and ideological, back of a fag packet disgrace” Another of the new intake of Labour MPs is Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge, and who is equally unhappy about the Bill. It was, he said, a Bill promises a bleak future for young people, struggling to find a home of their own, and too often relying on their parents for financial help. He mentioned the impact would have on local authorities. In particular he cited the case of Cambridge city council which spent years working on a long term strategy to put its housing finances on a strong, sustainable footing as well as developing a business plan stretching over three decades. The Bill, and the cut in rents proposed in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill are combining to scupper all that hard work. “Cambridge City council estimates that the Bill will result directly in the loss of a quarter of our housing stock. Far from securing the city’s housing finances, as was planned, the Bill means that the financial projection is for it to go into deficit. That is where the government’s so-called long-term economic plan takes us”

Roberta Blackman-Woods, summarising the Labour Party’s opposition to the Bill, said she feared there would be another five years of failure to add to the previous five years. In 2014, “the Tories built the fewest affordable homes for more than two decades – fewer than 11,000 homes for social rent compared with 33,000 in Labour’s last year in office. Spending on housing benefit has risen by £4.4 billion since 2010, because of ever increasing rents. It is the same old Tory story: a 36 per cent rise in homelessness and a massive rise in rough sleeping” She ended by saying the Bill is “an all-out assault on social housing, a smash and grab on council stock and a power steal from local authorities and councils. The Bill does nothing to address five years of failure; indeed, it does not detail how a single affordable home will be built”

It wasn’t just the progress of the government’s Bill through Parliament that focused MPs minds on housing just before Christmas, the Labour Party a couple of days before the House of Commons shut up shop until the New Year recess chose to have a debate highlighting what it considered the Government’s failure on housing since 2010. John Healey, in moving the debate stated that the government had a shameful record on housing. There had been “rising homelessness, falling home-ownership, escalating rents, deep cuts in investment and the lowest level of house-building since the 1920s” He claimed when he was housing minister in the final year of the previous Labour government, “we got under way the largest council house building programme we had for more than two decades”

The Labour Party, having previously tried to wash their hands of council housing, through its stock transfer policy as well as its disinclination to repeal the right to buy legislation, was left with no alternative than to loosen the restrictions that prevented local authorities from building homes again. (Three times the Labour Party conference had passed resolutions in support of council housing but to no avail.) It was an admission that neither housing associations nor the market could fill the void left by local authorities.

As to why the Labour Party, and in particular Gordon Brown, failed to switch to the internationally agreed accounting rules used in the rest of Europe as regards investment in public enterprises is a mystery. It was a mystery that puzzled John Perry, policy adviser for the Chartered Institute of Housing, as he wrote in the letter in The Guardian in July 2009. “Investment in council housing should not be in the main measure of public debt in the first place. Elsewhere in Europe investment in public enterprises which have a significant income is not counted against general government borrowing. So why won’t the government move over towards European accounting rules, and give itself more freedom to
invest in services where that investment will generate extra income?”

Ironically it took the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney in a speech in 2014 to reiterate that markets must be balanced with a social contract based on a “trinity of distributive justice, social equity and intergenerational equity” to achieve a society in which people place their trust. “Capitalism loses its sense of moderation when the belief in the power of the market enters the realm of faith. In the decades prior to the crisis such radicalism came to dominate economic ideas and became a pattern of social behaviour. To counteract this tenancy, individuals and their firms must have a sense of their responsibilities for the broader system. Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital but investment in social capital.”

Although the debate nominally was about the record of the government for the five years from 2010 John Healey included in his speech the present government’s proposals contained in the July Budget and the autumn statement. He said, “The Housing and Planning Bill strangles the ability and obligation of both private and public sectors to build the affordable homes to rent and to buy that are badly needed. In addition there is an extraordinary forced sell-off of council homes to fund an extension of the right to buy, with no prospect or commitment of one-for-one replacement in the local area” He added that in the very last sitting of the Housing and Planning Bill the government introduced plans to scrap secure tenancies for council tenants. The decision will force council to offer fixed-term tenancies of between two to five years which is something David Cameron proposed in 2010.

John Healey mentioned that the Housing and Planning Bill puts 33 new centralising powers in the hands of the Secretary of State, from directing starter homes to be built instead of affordable to fixing rents for so-called high-income tenants. The powers, he said, “include a legalised annual cash grab from councils, which totally undermines their ability to plan for housing need in their area. The Bill also rips up the contract of localising local finance for housing, which until this point has been the subject of all-party support. Ministers will have sweeping new powers to award “automatic planning permission” – the so-called “permission in principle”. That is not simply a policy for dealing with brownfield sites; it is a power and policy for any site allocated for use in a local plan. There will be no need to apply for full planning permission, no limitations on what sort of development can be built and no planning gain or obligation on developers.”

In response the housing minister Brandon Lewis said that in speaking for more than 32 minutes John Healey made no mention of any measures by the Labour Party to solve the housing crisis. The minister defended the measures proposed against rogue landlords in the Bill, the extension of right to buy to housing associations tenants, the starter homes initiative as well as making the system that helps people to develop their own plans for house building more efficient and faster.
Since the 2015 general election the Labour Party has not only to contend with attacks from the Tories but also from the Scottish National Party. Alan Brown’s speech contained several swipes at Labour’s record on housing. “There is no doubt that the roots of the current housing crisis stem from the Housing Act 1980 – an Act that Labour contemplated introducing before it lost power…. Labour could have invested in a council housing building programme but, like the Tories, in the main chose to leave affordable housing to the markets and to social landlords.

We have heard about the sorry state of affairs whereby the coalition government actually built more council housing in
five years than Labour did in 13 years.On the council housing
theme, I point out that in Scotland the Scottish National Party has now delivered more than 6,000 council houses, which compares to a grand total of six that Labour delivered when it was in power” Alan Brown asked as regards the Housing and Planning Bill what council is going to invest in England in council housing in the future as its stock will be at risk of getting sold off. The same, he said, will apply to housing associations. It effectively privatises housing associations and will lead to social cleansing.

There were a number of notable contributions from backbench Labour MPs, in particular from Karen Buck, Helen Hayes and Theresa Pearce, all representing constituencies in London. Helen Hayes, who sits on the Communities and Local Government committee WAR ON
SOCIAL HOUSINGsaid, “The minister for Housing and Planning came to the committee and could not give any assurances that the numbers underpinning his proposed radical reform of housing policy add up. Next month, will be asked to vote on a set of ideologically driven, uncosted and unproven proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill, which is a pitifully poor response to the biggest housing crisis that this country has faced since the second world war”

It is not only politicians who have been venting their feelings about the Bill. Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, the construction workers trade union, described the Bill as “dictated by right-wing ideology”. He added the government’s aim is to “strip Britain of all social housing” Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack writing in their recent book Breadline Britain: the rise of mass poverty agree; “Over the last thirty years, housing policy has been dominated by one overriding aim – to boost levels of homeownership” All political parties, they continue, have signed up to the “ambition of greater home ownership, promoting it in a myriad of ways, from the relaxation of lending rules in the 1980s to the promotion of low-cost homeownership schemes. But while most of those able to jump on board the homeownership drive have been the winners from this strategy, greater reliance on markets has proved increasingly dysfunctional for those left out. Council house sales have greatly outstripped the volume of new building, leaving a greatly depleted social housing stock unable to cope with demand, so that families in need, and the young, have been left increasingly dependent on an underregulated and expensive private rental market. The core failure of the housing system has been one of the key drivers behind the rise in poverty, restricting housing choice, trapping rising numbers in unacceptable housing conditions and putting growing pressure not just on household finances but also on the benefits system”

Peter Hetherington, former editor of the Guardian’s Society section wrote recently in the paper that the government had turned housing policy on its head. “A long-cherished obligation to provide a roof for those on low-income has been abandoned Home ownership is all.” From 2016, as part of George Osborne’s vaunted ‘national crusade’ to build one million private houses build by 2020 English councils will have a legal duty to rush through plans for “starter homes and no obligation whatsoever to deliver affordable and social rented housing” He adds the housing and planning bill is being fast-tracked through Parliament and the full impact of this proposed legislation even alarms those with no political axe to grind. Under the present system developers – section 106 agreements – were legally obliged to provide an element of social housing (cash or some community facility was an alternative) in new housing as a precondition for planning permission. The proposed Housing and Planning Bill removes this requirement. The chancellor is diverting funds to help hundreds of thousands onto the housing ladder through subsidising home ownership at a time when the demand is for affordable rented housing. Unsurprisingly, Hetherington writes, this is being labelled the biggest housing revolution since the 1980s (a week later the housing minister in the House of Commons stated that “we have announced the largest Government house building programme for 40 years” Earlier in the debate John Healey said the minister was prone to a bit of “bullish bluster” Dictionary definition: bluster, to speak boastfully) Hetherington concludes that the government is in denial about the scale of the problem.

It is not just the ‘usual suspects’ who have warned that the one-dimensional blinkered housing policy of the government will run aground upon the rocks and once again sink the economy. (Campbell Tickell consulting – at the heart of housing – in their September briefing has an advert on the back page promoting their services and asks if Perfect Storm
2.0 is on the way?) Again they are not the only people who are warning of the consequences of the government’s direction of travel of a vital sector of the economy. Savills, the property consultants, in their quarterly report for Autumn 2015 put the spotlight on the future of sub-market housing. In its introduction it considers the impact of policy changes. “The Conservative Government has made housing in England a key issue for this parliament. They are particularly intent on reversing the decline in owner occupation seen over the last two decades. To do so the Government is moving ahead with a range of reforms which are focused on increasing the supply of market housing. It remains to be seen how successful this approach will be given the number of outstanding questions
It adds that the policies likely to have a long lasting effect on the sub-market housing sector and the ability to provide enough homes across the spectrum of housing need. In particular the future role of housing associations is clearly up for debate and the Government wants to see them acting more ‘efficiently’, delivering more market and sub-market homes for ownership rather than social or affordable rent. It remains to be seen whether the economy will be able to ride out the impact of a ‘perfect storm’ if it fails to alter course. There can be no doubt that the impact of any crash will mean that the men, women and children below deck in social housing will struggle to survive.

In an analysis of the situation it comes to the conclusion that the housing market ‘needs’ sub-market housing. It states the case thus; “Annual housing need in England for nearly 250,000 new homes and the Government has recently adopted a ‘target’ of 200,000 new homes per annum over the course of the parliament. Even if we were building this number of homes, current pricing means that 70,000 of these households would not be able to access the market unassisted every year. That’s 350.000 households over the term of a parliament.”

This is not the first time that Savills warned about the dangers of a lop-sided housing market. In 2013 in Bridging the Gap in Housing they showed that reduced market turnover and the low levels of new housing supply were preventing 500,000 households per annum from moving onto and up the housing ladder. Transaction levels remained repressed and housing supply continued to fall short of need.

Housing supply was hindered by the erosion of government support for sub-market rented housing and the failure of housing associations to fill the gap for additional sub-market housing. It proved that the analysis by Savills for a healthy submarket was correct. S

Since housing associations are central to the plans of the government to increase home ownership Susan Emmett from Savills sets out a summary of their analysis in an issue of Inside Housing. She writes that the direction of government policy, which focuses so fervently on home ownership to the detriment of other tenures, risks delivering fewer not more homes overall. It will leave a gaping hole (as if hit by an iceberg?) where truly affordable housing used to be. That is because, she explains, discounted Starter Homes will be unaffordable for buyers on average salaries in the majority of London boroughs and areas in the south of England. Our analysis shows that a 20 per cent discount to the average house price makes it possible to borrow enough in just 45 per cent of all local authorities in England. It is not a surprise that she writes that there are still many unanswered questions about the policy. (Her article begins by even questioning whether it’s worth the debt and massive deposit involved to become a home owner. If H M Bateman, whose observations of social gaffes graced the pages of Punch magazine for decades, were alive he would surely have drawn one about ‘The journalist who questioned the sacrifices of becoming a homeowner’.)

There are other matters to be considered about the policy, she adds. “Such a narrow emphasis on building for home ownership disregards one of the basic principles of developing housing for the open market: absorption rates. House builders will only deliver new homes at the speed at which they can sell them. Nobody wants large amounts of unsold stock on their balance sheet” Thus by making Starter Homes the new ‘affordable’ tenure it reduces the pool of other sub-market housing. The government’s approach, Susan Emmett writes, “is diametrically opposed to what we really should be doing to speed up housing delivery: diversifying tenure. You can build twice as fast if half of the homes delivered to the rental or affordable sector and not competing with those for market sale. That’s assuming that the market is moving and sales are being agreed”

Susan Emmett ends by reiterating that what must be remembered is that the property market is cyclical and that demand for homes is driven by economics factors including interest rates, mortgage availability, wage growth, and consumer confidence rather than just housing need. Two disappointing economic indicators just before Christmas will not have helped housing market recovery; firstly, there was the worse than expected borrowing figures and, secondly, growth figures for third quarter of the year were revised down. Following the publication of the economic forecasts Emmett’s final word of caution is timely; it is that developers must bear in mind the risks associated with building for market sale. The same Emmett writes applies to government policy. It remains to be seen whether the government will change course to avoid their plans hitting an unforeseen obstacle. It would seem not from the “bullish bluster” of the housing minister, so far. (The Independent in its editorial 8 December 2015, titled Home Truths, was rather uncomplimentary about Brandon Lewis as well as expressing doubts about the government’s housing policy. “Mr Cameron’s failure to address the balance of supply versus demand in the housing market will leave a lasting black mark against the Conservative legacy. A lack of credible leadership is to blame. There have been four Conservative housing ministers in four years. The current incumbent, Brandon Lewis, has been virtually erased from all public announcements on housing by Mr Osborne, but it reflects poorly on his record that he is so invisible when he is responsible for solving the nation’s most significant domestic problem” It notes also the lack of government funding available for social housing.)

Even a Conservative commentator such as journalist and author Peter Oborne thinks the situation unsatisfactory that it is near nigh impossible to find somewhere affordable to live in London or the South of England unless you are rich because of the greatly overheated market. He writes, “To believe that those of modest means are not entitled to live in the cities, towns, villages, communities that they also serve, to assert that only wealth confers the ‘right’ is indefensible: to believe that it is of no consequence to society when families are separated, communities and neighbourhoods uprooted and destroyed is frankly insane. It is also a betrayal of genuine Conservative values”

Before the Bill goes to the House of Lords it returns to the House of Commons for its third reading on 5 January 2016. There have been more than 150 submissions to the Committee regarding the proposals contained in the Bill. They range from councillors, councils, housing associations, tenants, builders and such bodies as the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. They include the group, Architects for Social Housing. In their submission titled, The End of Social Housing, they outline their objection to the Bill. They believe, “The Housing and Planning Bill is one of the most dangerous and far-reaching pieces of legislation (that will be) passed in this country in a long time, yet its true impact has been unreported in the mainstream press and is largely unknown to the general public” It lists the reasons why it finds the Bill so obnoxious. They are, briefly; extending the right to buy to housing associations, oblige local authorities to sell ‘high value’ council housing, pay to stay, class housing estates as brownfield land thus making it easier to obtain and the subsidising of starter homes.

Whether the government will be forced to change course as it did over the tax credits U-turn may well depend upon badly the Bill is savaged, as with the tax credit proposals, when it goes to the House of Lords. Battle plans are well in at an advanced stage and the Lords are battled-hardened from their previous encounter. This particular ‘Dad’s Army’ are ready to show that “they don’t like it up them” to the government once again. Liberal Democrat peers, reports Inside Housing, plan to lineup a not so thin line, numerically speaking, of 102 members in support of any amendment to the Bill. The Labour Party plans several attacks on the Bill with a number of amendments and with the support of crossbench peers should be able to defeat the government on any vote. Furthermore the House of Lords economic committee is currently holding an inquiry into housing and has heard evidence from the economist Kate Barker, who chaired an inquiry a decade ago on housing supply and in 2014 wrote the booklet Housing: Where’s the plan? The committee also heard evidence from Danny Dorling, Oxford University professor and author of All that is Solid: the Great British Housing Disaster.

It says a lot about the priorities of universities and the study of housing that there is now only one degree course in London on housing – quite extraordinary considering the housing situation in the capital – and even that is not about housing policy but housing practice for housing professionals to improve their career prospects. (Likewise politically, housing has been downgraded. In Attlee’s post-war government the housing minister was a member of the cabinet.) Professor Rebecca Tunstall, who was a prodigy of Professor Anne Power at the London School of Economics, left to join the staff of York University, which is one of the last bastions of housing research. Housing is now studied at the LSE only as part of a public policy course. It is also significant that for neither Professor Danny Dorling nor Dame Kate Barker are housing academics. Dame Kate Barker is an economist and Professor Dorling is a social geographer. (A month after the 2015 general election on June 15 the House of Lords held a debate on affordable housing. It was at the instigation of Labour peer Lord (Larry) Whitty. At one and the same time it was an effort to state what policies Labour would have introduced had it won the election along with some helpful suggestions to the Conservative government – let local authorities borrow against their assets – and a request not to proceed with the extension of right to buy to housing associations)

Near the end of Danny Dorling’s book he makes it clear the motivation for writing the book. He writes, “This book has been concerned with why it is that the activity and dignity and freedom of millions of people in Britain, and hundreds of millions of people around the world are at stake because they cannot get secure access to decent housing. Or, to put it more as a politician might, these are people who are not free to be who they could be, to do what they could do, to hold up their heads and live without fear of debt, to live where it would be reasonable to live. These people could be you. They are the majority. In economically unequal countries it is not that poorer or just average people do not work hard enough or try to save enough; it is that we have allowed a few to become too rich, with the result that most of us find it hard to find suitable places to live in at all. Because of actions by the rich -such as buying property for investment purposes and turning 1970s flats back into giant 1920s-style townhouses – housing becomes more and more of a struggle for each successive generation in the UK. People need to stop thinking of decent housing as something that only a few deserve, and realise that it is something we all need. In almost all rich countries we have never had as much housing available as we have now. Never has our financial model for allocating that housing been more obviously wanting than it is now”

Furthermore, he continues, “The way we organise our housing influences many other aspects of our lives, including our preferred way of getting to work and hence how far from work we live. Public transport and other public policies are more easily improved when housing policy is improved. By contrast, the more individualist is the housing policy that a country adopts, the more individualist its transport becomes. More and more people will come to rely on cars to get them to almost any destination and the more people rely on cars, the more segregated each residential neighbourhood becomes. Make renting attractive and affordable; dampen the expectations of speculative gains on buying property, and poorer areas rise in attractiveness, while places that were mainly popular because they were expensive become both less popular and less expensive. Left alone, the market fails to move towards that equilibrium… Think about what else goes wrong when housing goes wrong. How hard is it to recruit teachers in a city where the prices and rents are astronomical?”) Ditto nurses, doctors, bus drivers, public sector workers and restaurant staff.

With the property boom – and bust – very much in mind, Dorling writes, “Housing shows how markets can fail and a failure in this area matters more than in almost any other area of our lives. That is because we need housing every day, all of us, all of the time” (Elsewhere in his book Dorling gives his definitive definition of what housing is. He writes, “Housing is of greater political consequence than most other areas of government policy. It’s as near as most people personally get to what is called the greater economy. Employment comes a close send to housing, but most pensioners, children and many others are not employed, whereas everyone is directly affected by housing, all of the time”)

There is an apocryphal story of a former famous footballer who ordered champagne for himself and his female companion from room service in the hotel he was staying for the night. When it arrived, the waiter asked him ‘where did it all go wrong?’ The same question could be asked of housing in the UK. The answer is not so much that demand has outstripped supply: it goes deep into the prevailing economic ethos of the times and a belief that the rich must be rewarded. It is a question that David Marquand sought to answer in his book Mammons Kingdom. The book, he begins, was born of incredulity. He assumed that after the global and financial crash of 2008 there would be a sea-change in the economic orthodoxy as there had been after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s. He was wrong. He writes, “Just as the crisis of the previous half-century, the crisis of 2008 and its aftermath tore gaping holes in the intellectual system that had underpinned the assumptions of central bankers, ratings agencies, business schools and professional economists for a generation, and had shaped the politics of international economic institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund. On a deeper level, the crisis exploded the dogmas spawned by that system: that government intervention in the economy does more harm than good, that markets should therefore be left to regulate themselves, that rewards reflect productivity, that, since ‘rising tide lifts all boats’, the forces that make the super-rich richer also benefit the poor, that the information available to buyers and sellers in the market place is symmetrical, that the choices made by unfettered economic agents are rational and that the booms and busts which had been capitalism most obvious hallmark were no more” He was to be disappointed. The hunt for a new politico-economic paradigm to replace the current one never took place. He searched in vain for a modern day Roosevelt who called upon his fellow Americans to ‘drive the money changers from the temple’, instead the years since the crash has been a search for a cleaned-up version of business as usual. Marquand believes that, like a psychoanalyst, in order to resolve the problem it is necessary to dig deep into the buried riches of British history and culture. Cultural changes did far more than technological or economic ones to topple the elites of the post-war era and herald the neo-liberal mindset.
Will Hutton is one of the people whom David Marquand singles out as having tried since the 1980s to provide a narrative to replace the neo-liberal ascendency of the past thirty years. Will Hutton is nothing if not a trier. Will Hutton over the past thirty years has tried through books such as The State We’re In to have politicians, in particular Tony Blair after the 1997 general election, adopt his ideas for a very different economy and society. In his latest book, a sequel to his earlier book, How Good Can We Be, he writes “New Labour’s landslide victory was my generation’s chance. The electorate wanted a government that would address the obvious deficiencies of Thatcherism by providing a more just economy and society with less inequality and les outright poverty, underpinned by renewed, improved and responsive public services”
Will Hutton also was to be disappointed. What the electorate got was a continuation of the Thatcherite settlement. Blair baulked at almost all the substantive reforms that Will Hutton advocated in his book. In his latest book he writes, “Before the 1997 election Blair and his immediate circle were mildly sympathetic to the thrust of the arguments in The State We’re In. But the left of his party told him they had not come into politics to create stakeholder capitalism; Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson meanwhile, already bitterly at odds, were united in their belief that the agenda would be portrayed as anti-business and corporatist and that Labour could not risk derailing what promised to be a successful election campaign by allowing its policies to be seen to be overtly influenced by one ‘left-wing’ writer/writer/intellectual.”

New Labour “Did not want to portray itself as a great reforming government, improving the lot of ordinary people as part of a wider challenge to the deformed institutions of contemporary British capitalism. It preferred to do what it could under the radar and not frighten the horses. After all, the economy seemed to be working as free market theory said it would. Reform required political bravery, a willingness to take on powerful vested interests, convictions that they needed reform and a readiness to risk being called anti-business. New Labour had no appetite for any of that.”

Hutton writes, looking back on the warnings about the impact of marketisation society and the shredding of the social contract now seem self-evident. The sale of council houses has a few rivals as a self-defeating policy. “The sale of council houses without replacing them would lead to cherry-picking of the best properties, leaving behind concentrations of the disadvantaged into ghettos of the worst, rising long-term homelessness and an explosive rise in the housing benefit bill as ever more tenants were forced to rent privately (at increasingly extortionate rents), so that more of Britain’s population receive cash allowances to pay their rents than any other (country) in the OECD.”

The announcement that the Conservative government’s proposal to extend the right to buy to housing associations tenants came after Will Hutton’s book was published. Although he is no longer editor of the Observer, Will Hutton still writes a column for the newspaper. On 20 October 2015 he wrote about the government’s decision to do so. The headline to his article made it clear what he thought of the decision: The broadening of right to buy will inevitably worsen the housing crisis if housing associations are forced to sell to tenants as the impact on the market will be catastrophic.

The British housing market is crazy, perhaps the craziest in the world, he begins. Hutton explains why; “Would-be homeowners, with minimal deposit, now need to earn more than £100,000 a year to buy an average house in much of London and the southeast. Yet prices are still rising.” The rest have to rent but even that has risen by 10 per cent from the previous year. Hence social housing has never been more important. What the government is proposing is a ‘double whammy’ for social housing. To compensate housing associations for the sale of their stock, local authorities will have to, by law, sell off vacant ‘high value’ stock. Hutton believes that offering huge bungs to sitting tenants of both council and housing associations is perverse.

Danny Dorling believes that vested interests in British housing are currently stoking up the embers of the last crash to create a new crisis. Who are the ‘vested interests’? Why they are none other than the pantomime villains – the banks. Let Will Hutton explain; “Everything has its roots in unaffordable property prices. As Adair Turner, former chair of the Financial Services Authority, argues in his remarkable new book Between Debt and the Devil, banks in every country are diverting an ever higher share of their loans to real estate. That amounts to now 60 per cent of all lending across 17 countries, (as shown by recent research by three economists about the banking system in these countries) doubling over the last 50 years. It is real estate that is the principle cause of the increase in private sector debt, rising in the UK from 50 per cent of GDP in 1960 to 170 per cent today -a much more concerning figure than public debt (Ann Pettifor, the economist, highlighted the dangers of First World debt some years ago). Individual banks like lending against real estate: it is such good collateral that they rarely lose money, so they – and their regulators – judge that they can allocate less of their capital to underwrite any risk, making it especially profitable. The more they lend, the higher the price and the more secure the collateral.”

The snag, Turner says, is that it interacts with the capacity of today’s banks to create money. As they are obliged, even under the Basel agreements, to hold such tiny reserves of their own capital, modern banking has become a debt creation monster – churning out mortgages and naturally inflating real estate prices because real estate is in fixed supply, as Mark Twain remarked. Although this is a global phenomenon it is particularly acute in densely populated Britain with tight planning laws and property largely untaxed. British banks have become an acute exemplar of a global trend, directing as much as 85 per cent of all their lending to real estate and thus driving property prices to incredible heights.

To change this situation, Britain will need to tax property more, relax planning laws build more housing and above all control the debt process monster. This would have the effect of unwinding the spiralling house prices rise and lessen the prospect of another financial crash and at the same time avoid the devastating impact it would have on millions of people who have a mortgage millstone around their neck. Hutton believes it would also make “conservative politicians” feel less inclined to pillage social housing for opportunities for home ownership because the whole structure would work better. (Hutton also believes that the Labour Party can learn the lesson of its defeat and make a comeback in 2020)

The situation is not going to change in the foreseeable future, writes Hutton, “Prices will carry on rising. Already people in their early 30s owe twice as much debt as their parents, the next cohort of 30-year-olds will owe even more – facing the prospect of servicing a mortgage until they die. Ultimately, there will simply be too much debt in relation to income, and like any Ponzi scheme, the whole edifice will unravel – generating yet another banking crisis while real estate prices fall back, but not before an epidemic of housing distress.”

Will Hutton ends his article by lamenting that it is a commentary on our times that what he calls ‘mainstream Labour’ when in power and right to the 2015 general election did not have the courage to state the bleeding obvious when it came to housing. National debate, the Labour Party and the country are the poorer as a consequence. It is to Will Hutton’s credit and perseverance to point out again, to coin a phrase the state we’re in. As Private Fraser from Dad’s Army might have said ‘we’re all doomed’, unless there is a wholesale structural and democratic overhaul of the state.

The credit for putting into context what the government is proposing to do belongs to Will Hutton. He writes, “The great intellectuals of the Enlightenment movement proposed that if society was to transcend theocracy, anarchy or despotism, then it had to be underwritten by such a social contract embodying notions of social justice. To organise society as an individualistic war in which each person was pitted against another was barbaric, while other models, slavishly following the rules of one religion or one supreme leader, denied freedom” By raising the pursuit of home ownership above all other models of tenures in the Housing and Planning Bill the Conservative Party has, in its own barbaric way, pitted one person against another person. The Conservative government has declared war on social housing.


The Housing Times Issue 3


“The so-called housing shortage, which plays such a great role in the press nowadays, does not consist in the fact that the working class generally lives in bad, overcrowded and unhealthy dwellings. This shortage is not something peculiar to the present; it is not even one of the sufferings peculiar to the modern proletariat in contradistinction to all earlier opposed classes. On the contrary, all opposed classes in all periods suffered more or less uniformly from it. In order to make an end to this housing shortage there is only one means: to abolish altogether the exploitation and oppression of the working class by the ruling class. What is meant today by housing shortage is the peculiar intensification of the bad housing conditions of the workers as the result of the sudden rush of population to the big towns; a colossal increase in rents, a still further aggravation of overcrowding in the individual houses, and, for some, the impossibility of finding a place to live in at all. And this housing shortage gets talked of so much because it does not limit itself to the working class but has affected the petty bourgeoisie also.”

The writer adds that “The growth of the big modern cities gives the land in certain areas, particularly in those which are centrally situated, an artificial and often colossally increasing value; the buildings (that were already) erected on these areas depress this value, instead of increasing it, because they no longer correspond to the changed circumstances. They are pulled down and replaced by others. This takes place above all with workers’ houses which are situated centrally and those rents, even with the greatest overcrowding, can never, or only very slowly, increase above a certain maximum. The result is that the workers are forced out of the centre of the towns towards the outskirts; that workers dwellings, and small dwellings in general, become rare and expensive and often altogether unobtainable, for under these circumstances the building industry, which is offered a much better field for speculation by more expensive houses, builds workers dwellings only by way of exception.”

The only way of knowing that the above quotation didn’t come from someone who has written to a newspaper in their exasperation about the way the current Conservative government has allowed the richer sector of society to take advantage of the poorer sector of society as regards the provision of housing is the archaic language. It was in fact written by Frederick Engels in 1872 and taken from a series of articles he wrote for a journal in Leipzig. The series of articles were in response to a series of articles written by a follower of the French revolutionary socialist Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon and Engels had been colleagues but had gone their separate ways as to how the changes they wished to see being achieved. Proudhon said, “I am a revolutionary who is profoundly conservative” and set out to foster a social revolution by non political means and without recourse to violence, propagating his views through the means of newspapers – he was a compositor by trade as well as a writer – to get workers to withdraw from the state and organise themselves into bodies somewhat akin to trade unions or mutual societies. The three articles were translated into English and reprinted in a booklet, cost two shillings and sixpence, in London in 1887 and given the title of The Housing Question.

The differences between Engels and Marx, and Proudhon were philosophical; both wanted to see the working class become the ruling class as it was they, the workers, who were in the majority and who produced the goods from the factories upon which society depended. Both agreed on the ends but not the means. As Edward Hyams in his biography of Proudhon writes, “Their points of view were far apart, Marx being dedicated to the idea of political revolutionary action while Proudhon thought that property could be destroyed only by an economic association of the workers which, by taking the task of production away from the proprietors, would cause property to wither away of neglect.” The issue of ownership of property had long been central to Proudhon’s beliefs. It was the subject of an essay he wrote in 1840 which asked the question ‘What is Property?’ which concluded that property is theft. (Proudhon’s essay arose as the result of his local Academie asking for entries as to how the cause of the continuously increasing number of suicides and how might they be halted)

Also to be taken into account was that Engels was German and Proudhon was French and there had recently been a war between their two countries. So when articles began to appear in the Leipzig journal by an unknown supporter of Proudhon a response from Engels was almost guaranteed especially when the anonymous writer of the articles to the Leipzig journal put forward views as to how the housing shortage, caused by an influx to cities of people to work in factories, could be solved in accordance with the beliefs of Proudhon. Engels in his response believed that the writer of the articles was using the housing shortage as an opportunity of “enlighteninghe differences between Engels and Marx, and Proudhon were philosophical; both wanted to see the working class become the ruling class as it was they, the workers, who were in the majority and who produced the goods from the factories upon which society depended. Bothhe differences between Engels and Marx, and Proudhon were philosophical; both wanted to see the working class become the ruling class as it was they, the workers, whohe differences between Engels and Marx, and Proudhon were philosophical; both wanted to see the working class become the ruling class as it was they, the workers, who were in the majority and who produced the goods from the factories upon which society depended. Both agreed on the ends but not the means. As Edward Hyams in his biography of Proudhon writes, “Their points of view were far apart, Marx being dedicated to the idea of political revolutionary action while Proudhon thought that property could be destroyed only by an economic association of the workers which, by taking the task of production away from the proprietors, would cause property to wither away of neglect.” The issue of ownership of property had long been central to Proudhon’s beliefs. It was the subject of an essay he wrote in 1840 which asked the question ‘What is Property?’ which concluded that property is theft. (Proudhon’s essay arose as the result of his local Academie asking for entries as to how the cause of the continuously increasing number of suicides and how might they be halted) were in the majority and who produced the goods from thehe differences between Engels and Marx, and Proudhon were philosophical; both wanted to see the working class become the ruling class as it was they, the workers, who were in the majority and who produced the goods from the factories upon which society depended. Both agreed on the ends but not the means. As Edward Hyams in his biography of Proudhon writes, “Their points of view were far apart, Marx being dedicated to the idea of political revolutionary actionhe differences between Engels and Marx, and Proudhon were philosophical; both wanted to see the working class become the ruling class as it was they, the workers, who were in the majority and who produced the goods from the factories upon which society depended. Both agreed on the ends but not the means. As Edward Hyams in his biography of Proudhon writes, “Their points of view were far apart, Marx being dedicated to the idea of political revolutionary action while Proudhon thought that property could be destroyed only by an economic association of the workers which, by taking the task of production away from the proprietors, would cause property to wither away of neglect.” The issue of ownership of property had long been central to Proudhon’s beliefs. It was the subject of an essay he wrote in 1840 which asked the question ‘What is Property?’ which concluded that property is theft. (Proudhon’s essay arose as the result of his local Academie asking for entries as to how the cause of the continuously increasing number of suicides and how might they be halted) while Proudhon thought that property could be destroyed only by an economic association of the workers which, by taking the task of production away from the proprietors, would cause property to wither away of neglect.” The issue of ownership of property had long been central to Proudhon’s beliefs. It was the subject of an essay he wrote in 1840 which asked the question ‘What is Property?’ which concluded that property is theft. (Proudhon’s essay arose as the result of his local Academie asking for entries as to how the cause of the continuously increasing number of suicides and how might they be halted) factories upon which society depended. Both agreed on the ends but not the means. As Edward Hyams in his biography of Proudhon writes, “Their points of view were far apart, Marx being dedicated to the idea of political revolutionary action while Proudhon thought that property could be destroyed only by an economic association of the workers which, by taking the task of production away from the proprietors, would cause property to

wither away of neglect.” The issue of ownership of property had long been central to Proudhon’s beliefs. It was the subject of an essay he wrote in 1840 which asked the question ‘What is Property?’ which concluded that property is theft. (Proudhon’s essay arose as the result of his local Academie asking for entries as to how the cause of the continuously increasing number of suicides and how might they be halted) agreed on the ends but not the means. As Edward Hyams in his biography of Proudhon writes, “Their points of view were far apart, Marx being dedicated to the idea of political revolutionary action while Proudhon thought that property could be destroyed only by an economic association of the workers which, by taking the task of production away from the proprietors, would cause property to wither away of neglect.” The issue of ownership of property had long been central to Proudhon’s beliefs. It was the subject of an essay he wrote in 1840 which asked the question ‘What is Property?’ which concluded that property is theft. (Proudhon’s essay arose as the result of his local Academie asking for entries as to how the cause of the continuously increasing number of suicides and how might they be halted) German workers on the miraculous efforts of Proudhon’s social panacea”. Not only did Engels object to the contamination of German workers of Proudhon’s panacea but his solution to the housing question which was that workers should become homeowners. Such a proposal did not spring from “the womb of the revolutionary idea” but from the ruling class.

Engels quotes at length from an article which appeared in a Spanish newspaper on the subject. “The cleverest leaders of the ruling class have always directed their efforts towards increasing the number of small property owners in order to build an army for themselves against the proletariat.” (Engels quotes also from a letter written by Eleanor Marx in 1886 of a visit to Kansas and what happened to some workers who bought their homes in pursuit of the American. She writes, “We saw some miserable little wooden huts, containing about three rooms, still in the wilds; the land cost 600 dollars and was just enough to put the little house on it which cost a further 600 dollars, an hour away from town, in a muddy desert.”)Engels adds that in this way the workers would be burdened with heavy mortgage debts in order to obtain even these houses and thus they became completely the slaves of their employers; they were bound to their houses, they cannot go away and they are compelled to put up with whatever working conditions are offered them.”

It was a scenario that was all too prescient considering what has happened over the past thirty-five years since the introduction of the right to buy legislation of 1980 by the Thatcher government and its proposed extension by the current government to housing associations. The mention of having to accept working conditions dictated by their employer is resonant about the way workers in recent years have been subjected to zero-hours contracts and is proof of the triumph of capital over labour since the rise of the neo-liberal agenda in the 1980s with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister as well as Ronald Reagan as President of the United States. The triumph of capital over labour has been exhaustively documented by Thomas Piketty in his defining opus Capital. He writes that the shocks that buffeted the global economy between 1914 and the end of the Second World War, along with the consequent advent of new regulatory and tax policies reduced capital’s share of income to historically low levels in the 1950s. The reversal of this reduction, along with other geo-political events, such as the collapse of the Soviet Empire, in the 1980s titled the balance in favour of capital where it remained until the financial crash of 2008.

Although the sell-off of council housing wasn’t part of her manifesto, Margaret Thatcher had council housing in her plans from the time she was briefly housing minister in 1974. (In her first speech as leader to the Conservative Party conference she declared her belief in a “property-owning democracy.) Simon Jenkins, former editor of the Times and the Evening Standard, in his book Accountable to None tells the story of the occasion when he invited to the House of Commons to see Margaret Thatcher following a number of articles that he had written on London housing estates. She began their meeting by saying “I want you to show me these terrible council estates”. Jenkins responded by saying there were good ones and bad ones. After a cup of tea Simon Jenkins left by himself. Twenty years later in her memoirs she was just as ‘opinionated’ about council housing. In the Downing Street years she wrote, “The state in the form of local authorities has frequently proved an insensitive, incompetent and corrupt landlord.”

The right to buy legislation forced local authorities to sell their housing stock. By doing so she set out to break what she believed was a way of life that was diametrical opposed to her belief of a property owning democracy, not one that was subsidised by the state. As Jenkins writes, council housing “symbolised the enslavement of the individual to the state. Council housing was a challenge to Thatcher’s belief in a home-owning democracy build on private savings and initiative.” To Thatcher helping people to buy their home was part of a political crusade. “Thatcher was unconcerned at the planning or investment of her policy. She simply wanted council houses sold and no more council houses built. Right to buy meant that central government breaking a local contract between landlord and tenant, and turning the landlord into a forced seller. The 1980 Right to Buy Act, followed by a housing act almost every year for a decade, asserted central power over local authority housing sales.” Central government also kept the estimated £18 billion receipts from the sale of nearly two million council homes.

It was James Callaghan; former Labour Prime Minister, who when asked to explain his defeat to Margaret Thatcher in the May 1979 general election best summed up the zeitgeist of the times. He believed, he said, that there was a “sea change” taking place public attitudes to politics as well as in other fields of public life. The post-war consensus was fracturing and being replaced by a new political discourse. That discourse centred on the writings of the political economist Frederick Hayek who believed that capitalism worked best when free from government interference.

Andrew Gamble in his book The Spectre at the Feast writes, “What as surprising given the intellectual and political self-confidence of the Keynesian generation was the speed with which the ideas of neo-liberalism jumped the barrier into practical politics.” He adds that “By the end of the 1980s, with a speed which breathtaking, neo-liberalism had successfully redrawn the terms of the debate. The political message of neo-liberalism was that the outcome of Keynesian political economy was accelerating inflation and growing state intervention. To achieve her objection meant being prepared to take on politically all the vested interests which had helped perpetuate the policies which were tying down capital in increasingly ossified economic structures. Margaret Thatcher summed up her objection in an interview with the Sunday Times in 1981; “economics are the method, the object is to change the heart and soul.”

Council housing was the first to receive the emotional and mental make-over. Stuart Hodkinson in his article the Neo-liberal project, privatisation and the housing crisis, writes that Thatcher brought a “clever, divisive and thoroughly dishonest discourse to the table, encompassing processes that were not solely about selling public housing to private owners, but generating a change of ethos, culture or organisation along private or market lines.” So successful was Margaret Thatcher in this regard that in 2002 she was able to tell diners at a dinner in her honour that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair.

With the return of a Labour government in 1997 it was hoped by many of its traditional supporters that it would mean the return of council housing. They were not only to be disappointed but to be betrayed. Shortly after the 1997 election visited the Aylesbury estate in Peckham to tell the residents that they had not been forgotten. Sadly over the following decade any hopes they had of any improvement in their homes were to be dashed when the price for the repairs to the estate was to be transferred from council control. When Labour MP Ken Purchase asked Tony Blair in the House of Commons about allowing local authorities to restart building homes to provide for the million of people on council waiting lists he was told that Labour would provide the opportunity of a million more people to own their homes during his premiership. So, as Stuart Hodkinson writes, far from disowning the neo-liberal policies of Margaret Thatcher his “government embraced them, blocking new council house building, introducing a market consumerist approach to social housing, and seeking to transfer 200,000 homes a year to the Registered Social Landlord sector a year under the cover of bringing all social rented homes up to a (very) minimum standard by 2010.

Whilst at the same time as the waiting list for homes was increasing the Labour government embarked on a multi-billion scheme called the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder programme to demolish thousand of homes in a number of towns and cities in the north of England with the aim of tackling ‘areas of market failure.’ As Anna Minton in her book Ground Control writes, “Pathfinder started as a response to a market phenomenon of low prices and continued despite the improved market which came with boom times. With the economic downturn, the programme is now being scaled back, showing that it’s not the policy which has the impact on the market but the market which calls the tune. The problem with the policy which displays an excessive reliance on the market is not only that it disregards people’s lives but that when the market is down, it all but grinds to a halt.”

When it became clear to Labour that housing associations were unable or unwilling in the case of some sections of the private sector to fill the void left by local authorities Gordon Brown turned to the economist Kate Barker to provide a solution to the growing housing crisis. She recommended increasing the supply (In her interim report she blamed house builders for deliberately constraining supply but it was omitted by the Treasury, in her final report). Unfortunately by the time Gordon Brown agreed to build a million more homes, events overtook his plans with the financial crash caused by the sub-prime housing crisis in America. Labour’s last chance to redeem itself as regards came as he prepared to fight the 2010 general election. As William Keegan, associate economics editor of the Observer in his booklet ‘ Saving the World’ – a reference to Gordon Brown’s slip of the tongue in response to a question about his attempts to refinance the banks – writes his social goals appeared to have clashed with the desire to continue riding on the crest of a wave of well-being associated the asset price boom. Thus, he writes, “at one meeting under Brown as prime minister to discuss the general scene, one aide suggested that there was a serious housing crisis and an urgent need to build more social housing. To which someone who at the time was a trusted, if controversial, aide, riposted: ‘If we did that it would hit house prices and we should lose the election.’” (At the same time a consultation paper was circulated about offered to cut stamp duty for buy-to-let investors)

Lose the election they did and if the Conservatives didn’t win the election outright, they were able to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It is said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. More accurately politicians make promises before elections and break them after they win. This was certainly true of the promises made by David Cameron as regards housing. As Stuart Hodkinson and Glyn Robbins in their essay the return of Class war Conservatism? Housing under the UK coalition government, write, “Amid speculation that a Conservative government would end council tenants’ security in England, a week before the May general election Cameron gave his personal assurance that social housing would be safe in their watch.” He said, “The truth is that in the last few years, it’s been Labour minsters who have thrown social tenants’ right of tenure into question, and it’s been this Labour government which forced up social rents for councils so that they’re in line with housing associations rents. The Conservative position … is very clear: we support social housing, we will protect it, and we respect social tenants’ rights”. (As part of the Coalition agreement the Liberal Democrats dropped one of their two housing promises in their election manifesto. The second promise made it into the agreement, but instead of scaling back on support to home owners they agreed to support the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme which did the opposite. It failed to receive as much coverage as the broken promise over student fees.)

After the Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010 the “clear” promise had given to proposals to scrap the statutory right to life–time tenancies for new social housing tenants in England and Wales with only two year “flexible tenancies” guaranteed. The amount of money allocated to housing was halved from £8 billion to £4 billion for the following four years. In the week following the Comprehensive Spending Review the front cover of Inside Housing magazine showed a picture of Lord Beveridge and George Osborne. Its headline was “THE END OF SOCIAL HOUSING 1945-2010”. Its editorial summed up the impact the review would have on social housing. “This is a bleak week for social housing. What became known as social housing was conceived by Liberal peer Lord William Beveridge in 1942 and brought to life by

Clement Attlee’s Labour’s government in 1945. The hundreds of thousands of homes built in the following decades formed the backbone of the welfare state, offering a safety net that lifted people out of squalid, overcrowded slums. The new rows of social homes frequently acted as a springboard to a better life- council tenant made good’ tales are hackneyed but true. The reforms (sic) by the current government would end this.”

Rebecca Tunstall, professor of housing at York University’s Centre for Housing Policy begins her review of the Coalition government’s record on housing by stating that the Coalition’s housing policy changes have all further reduced the extent of the UK’s central government involvement in housing, the ‘wobbly pillar’ of the welfare state as well as extent of contribution made by the public sector through local authorities. (Whilst the Attlee government brought under public ownership a variety of essential services, council housing, Cole and Furbey write, was relegated to a second-class service, meeting residual rather than universal needs, marginalised by economic pressures and political priorities and largely discredited as an efficient or equitable tenure. As a result council housing was an easy target for the Thatcher government during the 1980s. As Cole and Furbey in the book the Eclipse of Council Housing, write “There was one omission from the services undergoing sweeping post-war legislative reform: housing. The future role of public housing was never subject to the radical reappraisal accorded to education and health. As a result, council housing missed the boat.”)

This seems hard to explain in a post-war Britain as housing in the major cities had suffered heavily from enemy bombing but even harder to explain in a post 2007 world. (There was nobody “whose passion it was to do housing”, said Hazel Blears, former Cabinet member whose department included housing, as to why it was treated so poorly by her government when Owen Jones interviewed her for his book Chavs. Nye Bevan had responsible for housing in Attlee’s government but his passion was to establish a national health service.) As Ben Marshall, research director of the polling agency Mori writes, “Housing is central to health, well-being, prosperity and aspirations. There are significant economic, social and political returns to expanding and improving housing stock. Conversely, the housing market can play a destabilising role in the wider economy and disrupt public policy intentions. Recognition of this, and a growing sense of crisis, has seen housing return as a key issue again.”(The housing economy: boom, bust and consumer sentiment, 2012) For ideological reasons Margaret Thatcher by introducing the right to buy legislation wanted to offload lessen the influence of local authorities whilst at the same time create a property owning democracy: similarly Tony Blair’s government wanted to transfer what remained of the housing stock to housing associations as part of his belief that it could be managed better in the culture more akin to the private sector and, as in the Attlee government, education and health were considered more important.

The Coalition government continued in the same vein of loosening even further the link between central government and local government as regards housing by passing in 2011 Localism Act. This would mean the end of central government ‘creaming off’ a proportion of a local authority rental income. Following a settlement local authorities were to become entirely self-financing and from the government standpoint subsidy-free. As Professor Tunstall comments, that the Coalition by not seeking to dictate the diverse housing system it affected its ability both to achieve its immediate policy goals and to address structural issues, such as the failure to build sufficient homes to meet the demand. It made the decision to “reinvigorate” – offering substantial discounts – right to buy all the more inexpiable.

In conclusion Professor Tunstall writes, “By 2014, towards the end of the Coalition’s government’s term, the problems identified and acknowledged by the Coalition, remained unresolved. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England said that he felt that the housing market still had “deep, deep structural problems”. In 2014, demand ran even further ahead of supply; there were still affordability problems, and tenure and spatial polarisation. The fragmentation of governance of new housing development and fraying of welfare safety net had been increased intentionally by the Coalition in the name of localism, economic goals and restructuring. Lenders had reduced their risks through demanding larger deposits, but this created knock-on problems of access to housing. The individual and systematic risk relating to home ownership remained, and additional risk had been transferred to households and social landlords.” The ‘wobbly pillar’ has become even wobblier.

Tax – was the one word that Carney failed to mention in his interview with Sky news in May 2014 but was mentioned by Polly Toynbee and David Walker in their book Cameron’s Coup. They write, “How property is taxed in the UK is a dysfunctional absurdity – and everyone knows it, but no party dares touch it. Capital gains from homes went untaxed, yet to mention it brought apoplectic Daily Mail splutterings about an Englishman’s home”.

It was not only a capital gains tax that was unmentionable it was the introduction of a land tax. The idea of a land tax has been mooted for mooted for than a century. In 2011 Sir James

Mirrlees, the economist and winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences led a review of the UK tax system for the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The final report from the review, Tax by Design’ set out a picture of coherent reform with the aim of identifying the characteristics of a good tax system for any developed economy and recommended how the tax UK system might realistically be reformed in that direction. Mirrlees’s review noted the ‘perverse’ incentives provided by the current system that can encourage demolition or vacancy when reduced rates or zero rates are applied to empty or derelict land. Mirrlees writes, “If property is subject is subject to tax and land is not, then, if the property is not being used, a tax incentive for demolition is created. If empty or unused property is taxed at a lower rate than property being used, then a tax disincentive to use is created. A Land Value Tax avoids these problems.” (Mirrlees review, the taxation of land and property, chapter 16, page 376) The Mirrlees review concluded: “The economic case for a land value tax is simple, and almost undeniable. Why, then, do we not have one already? Why, indeed, is the possibility of such a tax barely part of the mainstream political debate, with proponents considered marginal and unconventional?”

For academics Hodkinson and Robbins the failure to introduce such measures as a land tax are deliberate. Housing policy, they state, “is being used as a strategic intervention to unblock and expand the market, complete the residualisation of social housing and draw people into an ever more economically precarious housing experience in order to boost capitalist interests. For them the Coalition government’s housing policies reflect a radical resurrection of the Thatcherite agenda, or what Ralph Miliband called “class war conservatism”. They see the ongoing global economic crisis and the apparent need to reduce the public budgetary deficits incurred by the measures to recapitalise the banking sector as an opportunity by the Conservatives within the Coalition to complete the unfinished neoliberal revolution started by over three decades ago by the Thatcher government. Their essay revisits the main ideological contours and materialist drivers of Thatcherism, and discusses the centrality of housing privatisation and related welfare restructuring which it entailed. Hodkinson and Robbins’s position is that “privatisation of housing was undoubtedly a central foundation to Thatcher’s strategy for hegemony.”

Achieving her objective required the spread of individual property rights through privatising the public rental stock and the development of a policy discourse in which individual self-reliance and private market provision were constructed as morally and economically superior by the state as she explained in an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 1974. She said, “Conservatives believe that the right way to meet our housing needs is to spend money on helping more and more families to become home owners rather than to subsidise them indefinitely as council tenants … three families can be helped towards home ownership at the same cost to public funds as it takes to keep one family in a council house … Council housing creates its own demand. It can also create homelessness and bad housing.”

George Osborne’s attempt to increase home ownership was the Help to Buy initiative aimed at first-time buyers. The Help to Buy initiative whereby the state underwrote the mortgages of first-time buyers was of limited appeal and was extended to include not just to new properties but to any properties worth up to £600,000 and not just to first-time buyers. It was a modest success outside of London due to the high cost of getting on the property ladder. Figures released by the Department of Communities and Local Government showed that the scheme has assisted 1,758 households with a combined income of over £100,000 since its inception in 2013 even though they are among the richest ten per cent of earners. As Martin Wolf, chief economic commentator of the Financial Times, in 2014 wrote it was the signal it transmitted to people trying to get out on the property ladder. George Osborne admitted to cabinet colleagues that a little “boom” in house prices before the 2015 general election would do no harm.

Hodkinson and Robbins conclude that the Coalition has continued the broad direction of travel taken by Thatcher and New Labour. George Osborne in his post-2015 general election Budget finally got his chance to introduce what has become known as the ‘pay to stay’ proposal whereby council tenants earning above the average annual income would be required to pay a significantly higher weekly rent. Savills, the property consultants, found that in a study they commissioned that the majority in London of those affected by the proposal would be neither unable to afford the cost of the market rent of their home to buy their home.

Although commenting on housing policies of the Coalition, now that they governing without their Coalition partners, George Osborne latest proposals have speeded the direction of travel of the Conservatives as regards social housing. As Hodkinson and Robbins write, “We are not just witnessing a continuation of neoliberal policies but a radical intensification of their logic wrapped up in a far more overt class politics. Regardless of tenure, renting housing will be more expensive than ever before, less regulated and more precarious for all tenants. Such a strategy works hand in glove with welfare reforms that will gradually expel 100,000 of low income households out of their neighbourhoods into cheaper, lower quantity housing in areas where employment is impossible to come by, paving the way for a new wave of gentrification that will further enrich property owners. Such measures will only worsen the real housing crisis”.

Hodkinson and Robbins on the thirtieth anniversary of the Right to Buy Act organised a conference held during the summer at Leeds University to discuss the impact the Right to Buy Act and whether it can be seen as a major cause of today’s housing crisis heralding as it did the start of the neoliberal agenda and its emphasis upon home ownership. Two of the speakers were Peter Malpass, housing academic and author of many books on housing including Housing and the Welfare State, and Sarah Glynn, author of the book How the other Half Lives. It would be amiss to end and not include their views on the merits of the welfare state, home ownership and social rented housing. Their views are taken from Sarah Glynn’s book and provide the prefect riposte to the neoliberal agenda for housing. She writes, “Peter Malpass has shown how the shared prosperity of the welfare state actually provided a golden age for the growth of homeowners, but now that home ownership is being forced on those who have not yet bought, and can often least afford to do so, more and more people are facing an insecure economic future where home ownership becomes an additional burden.” So, as Sarah Glynn writes, the ability to rent good quality, secure and genuinely affordable homes is not just a housing issue. “More, and better, social rented housing would also allow fewer people to become effectively mortgage slaves, working long hours and not daring to do anything that might upset their employer and put their job at risk.” Echoes of what Engels wrote.


The Housing Times Issue 2

The National Housing Federation, in their efforts to make sure that housing wasn’t ignored by politicians during the 2015 General Election campaign organised a rally at Westminster Central Hall to highlight the housing crisis. An article in Inside Housing in February reminded its readers that it is fair to say that the election campaign of 2010 did not shine much of a spotlight upon housing. Their reporter wrote, “Public interest was low, politicians largely treated it as an afterthought and the housing sector was fragmented and, as a result, its voice made little impact at the stump.” Not so this time; time travel forward to the 2015 General Election and the housing sector – by which is meant all those that shelter under the National Housing Federation’s umbrella and not local authorities – has learned its lesson ahead of the election. For the previous five months an organising committee had been making plans for the rally in March. The rally was to be the climax of the campaign titled Homes for Britain to put pressure on politicians to end the housing crisis within a generation and to set out proposals by which this could be achieved. David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, adding his support for the campaign, stated, “With the election fast approaching, we need to put housing at the top of the public agenda…we simply cannot afford to let this moment pass us by. Never have we been in a stronger position to send out a clear message that strong leadership and real action is required to end the housing crisis within a generation”.


To help getting that message known to the public the campaign hired an advertising company. In particular they wanted to get their message across to politicians and journalists and so in the weeks prior to the rally Westminster underground station, the nearest to the Houses of Parliament, passengers were able to read about the rally as they waited on the platform. This was followed by an advertising campaign across the rest of the United Kingdom to remind voters during the election campaign that housing was an issue that deserved their attention when it came to voting on polling day.

Although the motives behind the rally by the National Housing Federation were laudable in their efforts to highlight the housing crisis there was also an element of self-interest involved. It was also to be a show of strength to the invited politicians and to whatever party was in power following the election that housing associations through the National Housing Federation were happy to be their coalition partners in their plans for housing. David Orr in a letter to The Times, 7 February, 2015 makes clear to the government that they were “ready to play our part but need the new government to meet us halfway by providing real leadership and a commitment to solve the housing issue” (In another letter to the paper a week later he wrote expressing his opposition to the plans to extend the right-to-buy to housing associations.)

David Orr didn’t say what he meant by real leadership and what the government needed to do to meet him halfway. Some indication can be gleaned from the National Housing Federation’s policy paper titled Surplus NHS land; a best value alternative. It states, the NHF, as part of the Homes for Britain coalition, “want the next government to publish a long-term plan within a year of taking office that sets out how” it will end the housing crisis within a generation. An important part of that plan will be measures to increase the supply of land for housing, and releasing surplus or underused public land. Public land belonging to central government, the Greater London Authority, the NHS and local authorities could help deliver as many as two million new homes. Cabinet Office figures show the public estate held by central and local government in England is worth £370 billion.

Savills, the property agents, in their autumn 2014 report called Public Land: unearthing potential estimated that public land could deliver as many as two million new homes based on their analysis of public records of the central government estate in England and the land holdings of the Greater London Authority. It showed that one of the biggest landowners in the United Kingdom is the National Health Service with total assets valued at more than £31 billion. Hitherto the NHS followed well established ways of disposing of land which include selling on the open market but the Department of Health, in order to encourage the process, set up the £100 million Growth and Efficient Fund to incentivise and support NHS organisations to make savings by releasing land for housing by 31 March 2015. In the chancellor’s autumn statement in December 2014, the government increased its ambition for public sector land by confirming its aim to release land with the capacity for up to 150,000 homes between 2015 and 2020. So it is not surprising that the NHF issued policy paper when it did. To elaborate the policy paper states, “This policy paper sets out the alternatives to the NHS’s traditional and well-established approach to disposing of land, which usually involves selling it at market price. Working with housing associations, this new approach would offer an ongoing revenue stream from the NHS estate through the development of affordable housing, rather than a one-off capital gain, achieving even greater financial returns over the medium to long-term. By working in partnership with housing associations, the NHS could use the profits from its estate to cross-subsidise the building of high-quality supported housing schemes for patients recovering from mental health problems.”

The policy paper goes on to say to argue for an alternative definition of best value. Too often best value is interpreted as achieving the maximum upfront price for land. It argues, “The Federation believes that best value should be qualified in terms of wider, social economic and environmental value, not simply price, and has been urging government to broaden to broaden the definition of best value along these lines.” In fact policy paper quotes another publication, following a seminar hosted at the health think-tank offices, the King’s Fund, in which David Orr participated, Making Creative Use of (the) NHS estate makes the same case and it is obvious they are singing from the same hymn sheet.

The NHF’s interest in surplus public land for housing follows the announcement in June 2011 by housing minister Grant Shapps that it was the government’s intention to release surplus public land for housing. A progress report was issued a year later. Some indication of the government’s thinking on the matter of releasing public land for such purposes as proposed by the NHF was seen by the appointment of Tony Pidgley, chief executive of Berkeley Homes Group. The housing group, as one newspaper stated, focuses “on upmarket homes in London, building 10 per cent of all new homes in the capital” They could have chosen someone from the public sector with experience in building homes for rent. It is quite obvious that the government’s intentions are to sell off public land to the highest bidder which will meant that the developer comes to sell the homes they too will be to the highest bidder.

When the annual report for 2014 for Berkeley Homes was published it showed what property reporter Russell Lynch in the Independent described as a “bumper payout” for Mr Pidgley of £23.3 million. His pay award for the year to the end of April is outlined in the group’s annual report, which shows that his £825,000 salary is bolstered by £2.4 million in annual bonuses and payouts from long-term inventive plans worth £19.8 million. The size of the Mr Pidgley’s pay packet rockets him into the top hundred of UK’s corporate earners.

Another journalist, Jon Armitage, from the Independent commenting upon the results wrote that in ordinary times someone who increases his company’s profits deserves to be handsomely paid. It’s called capitalism. He adds, forget capitalism, the company’s profits have been due to old-fashioned state support. He writes, “Thanks to the taxpayer’s money pumped into the Help-to-Buy scheme supporting loans for first-time buyers, house builders have been able to sell nearly 50,000 new homes. Every taxpayer’s pound lent through this system is a pound of revenue in a house builder’s pocket.”

Furthermore, “The impact of the scheme on the property market has been far wider than that, though. It sent a clear message from the government to the whole country: we will not allow house prices to fall. The best policy message a house builder could dream of (hearing)” Meanwhile, he mentions, “the Bank of England has pushed through years of quantitative easing and sustained record low interest rates. This has had the double impact of making mortgages so cheap that Mr Pidgley’s customers can afford to pay Britain’s exorbitant house prices as an alternative to low-yielding investments based around bonds.” Thus, it is clear that only part of the success of the Berkeley Homes is truly due to Mr Pidgley. Jim Armitage concludes that given the housing shortage, it would be preferable if Mr Pidgley and his directors were paid by the number of homes they build rather than the size of the profits.

Tony Pidgley was one of the invited speakers at the June 2014 meeting of the GLAs Planning Committee, chaired by Nicky Gavron, to discuss the implications of the growing number of tall buildings in the capital. During the discussions he was asked from his perspective were tall buildings profitable. In reply he said that Berkeley as a public company wanted to be profitable and they accepted the criticism that comes with a proposal for a tall building. Besides the criticisms associated that goes with tall buildings any developer has to take into consideration that a percentage of the homes in any development would go to the local authority for social rent and you cannot build a social unit and make a profit. This, he admitted, was offset by knowing if you had a heart attack that, for example, a nurse might be allocated one of the flats which was reassuring if you had a heart attack.

Unlike Tony Pidgley, who reconciled himself about the hoops he had to jump through in order to gain planning permission by stating that some public good might result from his gymnastics, David Orr’s justification for his attempted land grab of surplus public land by claiming what he was seeking to do was in some way helping to solve the housing crisis, was for all intents and purposes nothing more than an attempt to give a more altruistic hue to the aggrandisement of the NHF. In his closing speech to the rally he mentioned the plans of the government to dispose of surplus public land. In doing so it convinced me the message that it wanted to convey to the public, and the government, was that they were the people to be entrusted to solving the housing crisis if given the means to do so – the land.

It was for this reason that I decided to write a response to what I saw as a sheer arrogance of David Orr and the National Housing Federation in claiming that the Homes for Britain rally was the united voice of the whole housing sector. Not quite, your honour, although the rally was backed by the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National House Building Council, the Residential Landlords Association, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Homes Builders Federation and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Organisations representing tenants, such as the Defend Council Housing campaign, weren’t invited. Eileen Short handed out leaflets about the Defend Council Housing campaign outside Westminster Central Hall. Glyn Robbins, from Defend Council Housing said, “I think the whole thing was a bit of a sham.” Also housing policy is devolved to the other representative bodies in the UK.

It was not my intention when I sat down to write a response that it should be any longer a couple of hundred words, enough for a letter to Inside Housing magazine. My response had taken on a life of its own. The scope of the response began to widen to include the many reports that have written about housing in recent years in particular those written by the policy think-tank Policy Exchange under its former director Alex Morton. He has since left to become part of David Cameron’s team in Downing Street, which may explain the increased emphasis there has been on housing in recent years. In 2010 he wrote the report Making Housing Affordable, a new vision for housing policy as well as the report that recommended that local authorities should sell off vacant and expensive social housing to fund a programme of new social housing. (An unintended consequence, or not, of such a policy would be the social cleansing of poor people from areas where they would be unable to buy on the open market.) One of the other reports on housing that was published by Policy Exchange was written by Natalie Elphicke, wife of Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke, S

which sought ways to replace government investment in housing because new lending to housing associations by banks has reduced to around two-thirds since the banking crisis. Her solution was the promotion of investment portfolios offering long term returns with the object of increasing the housing supply. The close links between the think tank and the Conservative Party were evident when George Osborne in his 2013 Autumn statement asked Natalie Elphicke, along with Keith House, leader of Eastleigh council in Hampshire, to consider the role that local authorities could play going forward in helping to meet the housing needs of their local population within the current financial context to ensure good value for money and fiscal discipline. That in plain language was an order not to produce any recommendations that would breach the government’s fiscal consolidation. In future, local authorities and the land they owned were merely to become enabler for other organisations, like housing associations, to build homes. The authors in the foreword review state that councils have the confidence to do so much more as Housing Delivery Enablers. Local authorities were to change from being statutory providers to midwives.

This was a view that was in total opposition to the report produced by the GMB trade union on housing in 2014. It was written to serve notice that an incoming government will need to make affordable housing a central part of its incoming economic and social strategy and local authorities. The report acknowledges the number of new homes that Housing Associations have built has been impressive “but has gone nowhere near making up what used to be built by local authorities.”

A couple of hundred copies of my response were printed and distributed to as many newspapers and television networks as possible in the couple of weeks before the rally. One of the first journalists to receive a copy was Hilary Osborne of The Guardian. Hilary Osborne is the newspaper’s business and property reporter. She was invited to chair a meeting on housing hosted by the Green Party representatives at City Hall on 3rd March. I took the opportunity after the meeting to speak to her and explain why I had written the riposte to the forthcoming rally in the hope that she would mention it in any article she might write about the rally. In a portent of what was to come nothing became of the meeting. The only people to whom I sent copies that responded were the academics Danny Dorling and Rebecca Tunstall. (Both sent emails, Danny Dorling mentioned that my essay had proved helpful when Radio Four’s Today programme interviewed him about the rally. I sent a copy of my essay to the Today programme.) A couple of copies were sent to Inside Housing magazine before the rally. No mention was made in their coverage of the rally.

In spite of the hard work in organising the rally there was little coverage on the evening television news programme and in the following day’s newspapers. The event, from the point of view of highlighting the housing crisis to the general public failed, although it may not have seemed so to all the people who organised the rally and made it a success. Yet housing as an issue was too important for the politicians to ignore during the election campaign. It was just that their solutions to the housing crisis showed just how out of touch they were and how little thought how they would work out in practice. This was highlighted by Natalie Bennett; leader of the Green Party, in a couple of interviews she gave when asked about her party’s housing plans. In both the interviews with the BBC’s Today programme and LBC’s (London Broadcasting Company) Nick Ferrari, she was unable to say how her party would be able to finance the building of 500,000 homes. Russell Lynch, property reporter for the Evening Standard, wrote that housing ought to be the biggest issue of the election, certainly in London, and that both the Conservative and Labour had failed to produce any “grown-up solutions” to tackle the basic problem: the fundamental lack of supply. Instead, he wrote, “we’ve got both sides indulging in ‘back to the future’ electioneering, with David Cameron stuck in the 1980s and Ed Miliband harking to the bad old days of the 1960s and rent controls”

Increasing the fundamental lack of supply was something that Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors considered to be one of the “thorny issues” that blocked a solution to the housing crisis. It was something also remarked upon by Christine Whitehead, housing academic at the London School of Economics. Nearly all of the promises made by the parties were about increasing demand, and to some extent decreasing the tax base. None had any idea how they were going to provide the number of homes to be built that they promised.

The prize for the silliest housing policy went to the Labour Party. The mansion tax, a property tax, whatever its merits or otherwise, the decision to use the proceeds to, as Ed Balls proposed to “help save out NHS” and not solve the housing crisis wins the prize for being the dumbest policy by a political party in the 2015 general election. Simon Jenkins, writing in the Evening Standard the week following the election called it a “stupid tax” and it was no wonder that both its “parents”, Vince Cable and Ed Balls, lost their seats.

As for what Russell Lynch calls David Cameron’s “big hope”, extending the right to buy to over one million housing associations tenants, funded by further huge discounts on the sale of council homes, it was, he writes. It was done for the sake of sprinkling a little Thatcherite “aspirational” magic dust that could even land London councils with a £2 billion bill. Russell writes, “Housing associations are private bodies and charities with legal obligations to trustees to get the best price for their assets. Hence the government will need legislation to order them to offer big discounts to tenants. Councils will sell off their most expensive homes to fund these discounts although they will replace those sold off on a one-to one basis, the Tories say.”

Cameron and his Tory colleagues “must be living in a parallel universe. Since 2010, councils in England have sold off about 25,000 homes and have built 7,500, according to research from property consultants JLL. Less than a third of homes sold have been replaced – hardly surprising when the affordable-housing budget was cut by 60 per cent in the October 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.”

The proceeds from the right to buy sales have exceeded the amount from all other privatisations that have occurred since 1979.During the 1980s council sales receipts amounted to £18 billion. For Margaret Thatcher Right to Buy was part of her political crusade, writes Simon Jenkins in his book The Tory Nationalisation of Britain. “She simply wanted council houses sold and no more build”, writes Simon Jenkins. (In her memoirs the mention of council house sales receives one line) Yet if the object was to increase home ownership it failed as recent figures have shown. With the inexorable rise in house prices many former tenants sold up and pocketed the profit. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information requests from 91 local authorities have shown that 37.6 per cent of former council homes are now being privately let at market rents. In 2013 the Daily Mirror disclosed that the son of a former housing minister in Thatcher’s government had a property portfolio largely consisting of ex-council flats.

Like Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron seems to be on a political crusade. When asked by the Sunday Telegraph in 2011 as part of the celebrations to mark its sixth anniversary, what he considered the most significant piece of legislation of the past sixty years he answered the 1980 Right-to-Buy Act. It is therefore no surprise that his government have decided to extend the right to buy to housing associations tenants. It is a move that has been almost totally opposed by everyone other than the government.

Stephen Howlett, chief executive of Peabody Housing Trust, began his article in the Financial Times on 28 April 2015 thus, “David Cameron (has) put forward what could be one of the worst policy ideas ever: extending the right to buy to allow housing association tenants to purchase their homes for less than they are worth. It would make the housing supply crisis worse, by removing housing associations capacity to build more homes. It would push up rents, by creating a buy-to-let bonanza. It would make areas such as central London less affordable, damaging the economy and forcing people to live far from where they work. It would be economically disastrous, potentially adding as much as £60 billion to the national debt.”

He goes on to say that of the homes that have been bought under right to buy (he means council homes but cannot bring himself say so) one in three has been privately rented, often to recipients of housing benefit, whose rental bills are paid by the government. Therefore if there is an extension of the right to buy to housing associations this “would mean higher rents, with the taxpayer footing the bill through increased housing benefit payments. This would be a compulsory transfer of social and charitable assets, at a discount, to people who have already benefited from sub-market rents and security of tenure. With these former tenants transformed into landlords with the ability to make a significant profit, a social asset would be lost and the community changed forever” As proof he adds that it has been shown that only one in ten social homes (he means council homes but again cannot to mention them by name) sold under this scheme has so far been replaced. Also the strength of his argument would have been more powerful if he had the magnanimity to mention the devastating effect that the right to buy legislation has had on housing since the passing of the Right to Buy Act in 1980. By failing to do so it makes the justification of a publication that has no sectional interest all the more imperative.

The Financial Times in 2015 focused on housing with several articles questioning whether the proposals to extend the right to buy to housing associations, plus the ‘new and improved’ (enlarged) discounts to council tenants, will raise as much as much as they planned. That is because council homes in the more expensive areas of London do not become vacant as frequency as homes in homes outside of the capital. A study by Savills, the property people, showed that the government prediction of £4.5 billion a year looks optimistic. Before the 2015 summer recess the housing minister Brandon Lewis stated that the government has not calculated how many high-value council homes will become vacant each year in a written parliamentary answer. Since the government hoped that most of the proceeds from local authority sales would come from high-value in London it is a major blow to their plans.

Following George Osborne’s budget in July the Financial Times in an editorial believed that there was little in the measures he announced to boost the supply of new homes and

that considering the growth of the population over the past decade the failure to provide them needs to be explained. The editorial does so. It states “successive governments have been unwilling to confront vested interests – mostly notably existing homeowners – who resist new developments. In their approach to this problem, the Conservatives have been found wanting. Government policy has focused on boosting demand rather than supply, subsidising first-time buyers with policies such as ‘right to buy, ‘help to buy’ and ‘rent to own’. George Osborne recognised the need for measures to help build homes. But the chancellor is still doing too little to boost supply while one new policy – a sharp reduction in the rents charged by Britain’s social landlords – may worsen the problem. By cutting social rents in this way, Mr Osborne aims to reduce the housing benefit bill by $4.3 billion by 2021. That is understandable. But his policy will cut the supply of homes, too. The way in which they finance construction programmes is to borrow against future rents. The Office of Budget Responsibility says the drop in guaranteed rental income is likely to lead to housing associations abandoning plans to build 14,000 new homes.”

In conclusion, “Mr Osborne’s housing policy looks confused. The government spends £1.4 billion a year subsidising people trying to buy a home, but cuts rental subsidies for those on benefits. While the government tries to boost house building by shaking up the planning system, its attack on housing associations will reduce construction. Britain’s housing shortage is an immense economic challenge that requires a lot of joined-up thinking in government. There is little to suggest this is happening.”

Martin Wolf, chief economic commentator of the Financial Times, is the author of several books on such subjects as globalisation and global finance. His latest book is about the lessons to be learned from the financial crisis in 2008. Writing in his column in May 2015, the Tories are wrong to buy votes with ‘right to buy’ homes, declared that he found the right to buy policy highly objectionable. “It is a direct transfer of large amounts of public wealth to a fortunate few. Only a silly fixation with public debt rather than the public sector’s balance sheet masks the scale of the transfers”

If the fixation with public debt was the only motive behind the report Ending Expensive Social Tenancies published by the Policy Exchange think tank, founded by Michael Gove and Francis Maude, it would be excusable but that is not the case. The report written by its former director Alex Morton may have began life as an exercise by which selling off council properties in rich areas such as London would fund a large scale social housing programme in excess of 80,000 homes but such is the political dynamism of the proposals that they will be seen as a means of socially cleansing poor people from the posh areas of cities such as London by the Cameron government. All the more so since “expensive social tenancies” is a misnomer. They are only considered “expensive” by such people as Alex Morton by virtue of their location and because of the cost of renting similar properties in the private sector. By selling off such properties he believes it will help provide more homes elsewhere. Such a policy should be seen for what it is, social cleansing by any other name.

Of all the reports that have written on housing in recent years and in particular on how to solve the housing crisis the Policy Exchange report called Ending Expensive Social Tenancies will be remembered as being the one that was most akin to contraptions invented by Heath Robinson. (For younger readers Heath Robinson constructed complicated machines to perform simple tasks.) Heath Robinson’s machines were S

harmless creations; the Policy Exchange report is one that raises questions about the social cohesion of society, community and the demarcation of cities by wealth. It is a throw-back to the nineteenth century and the separate existences of the rich and the poor that ironically the former Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli highlighted in his book The Two Nations. It is an irony that seems to have escaped the author of the report. (“Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feeling, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by different foods, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws”. Benjamin Disraeli, the Two Nations.)

Alex Morton in the executive summary to his report sets out the situation as he sees it as regards the housing crisis. He writes, “The country is in the grip of a housing crisis. Housing construction is falling. Social housing waiting lists hit an alltime high of 1.83 million in 2011. Private rents keep rising. The 2010 spending review cut housing capital spending by nearly half to £4.5 billion over four years. Government needs to make even more cuts in future reviews. Housing cannot realistically expect more money” His report argues that a cost- free way to fund building more homes is to sell expensive social property when they become vacant. The concept of being cost-free is to be interpreted only in a monetary way. Then there is the use of language; he refers to the proposal to sell off “expensive social tenancies” as a reform. David Marquand in his book Mammon’s Kingdom writes “Policies designed to further marketisation are ‘reforms’”. (See also Professor Fairclough’s book on the language of New Labour) Furthermore there is the use of what I consider to be questionable questions in a poll, conducted by pollsters Yougov, to support the proposal. (People should not be offered council houses that are worth more than the average house in their local authority? and People should not be offered council housing in expensive areas?)

The method that has been adopted to define “expensive social housing” is also questionable. The report proposes a regional medium to define “expensive social housing”. It rejects a national-wide definition or one based on local authority boundaries. A definition based on local authorities would mean areas such as Kensington and Chelsea would keep too much of their “expensive” stock which would defeat the object the report wishes to achieve.

The report has calculated that the total value of “expensive” housing stock is £159 billion using English Housing Survey data but this amount will only be accessed slowly over time because it is likely to have a lower annual turnover rate as tenants are less likely to leave desirable properties in desirable areas. Despite this drawback the Policy Exchange report states that “the annual total of £4.5 billion a year this reform could raise is roughly equal to the figure of £4.5 billion spent on capital investment on housing during the period of the current spending review” and will pay for hundreds of thousands of new social homes.

The report believes that selling a “high expensive social” property is the best option. In order to justify doing so it rejects the option of right to buy as it leads to a loss of revenue for the government. It is the report’s contention that the right to buy does not work for more expensive properties as they require large discounts and that only selling them at market price can unlock their value. The report states, “We would argue that giving expensive social housing to a single lucky household in unfair to the more than 1.8 million households languishing on the waiting list.” Yet for the same reasons it can be argued that it is unfair to deprive the more than 1.8 million households languishing on the waiting list the option of the right to buy give one lucky household. If there had been no right to buy would such an unworkable bureaucratic proposal such as selling off vacant high value council properties to help solve the housing crisis have been worth the effort.

The report ends by stating that sale of more “expensive social housing” should be mandatory policy. “Local authorities and registered providers should be required to value their vacant stock and sell expensive properties. This would have to be incorporated into law. Change could begin prior to this, with government sending out guidance on how to assess the value of vacant stock to begin the process. The costs of valuation will be tiny”

He argues that there is a strong case that housing associations charitable status carries a responsibility to use scarce resources appropriately. Alex Morton believes that the report will recycle assets to benefit housing associations tenants and that the government needs to commit to a swift plan of action. “Plans for secondary legislation should be set in motion as soon as possible in the next few months” Within a few months of writing his report Alex Morton had left as director of the Policy Exchange think-tank and became part of David Cameron policy unit in Downing. His proposals took more than a few months to become part of the plans for the Conservative government after the election but within the next few months will become part of the government housing bill.

Martin Wolf, writes as regards the government’s plans to extend right to buy to housing associations, writes “This is a flagship policy of a party supposedly devoted to both the market and careful stewardship of public funds. Yet it amounts to nothing less than the expropriation of private property. It would also shift important parts of the charitable sector’s housing stock into expensive private lettings, for the benefit of the lucky tenants turned landlords.” Furthermore, he adds, the extension of right to buy will undermine the efforts of housing associations to increase their supply of homes. Who, he asks, is going to give large amounts of money to charities whose assets are being looted at the behest of government?

Under the policy, Wolf believes, “it is quite unlikely councils will reimburse housing associations for the full market value of lost property, as the government says they will. As important, it should not happen. Local authority funds are under enormous pressure from the government‘s past and prospective programme. To force them to use their scarce assets to fund such arbitrary gifts is unconscionable. Most significant of all, the programme will do nothing to solve the biggest housing problem, which is the lack of additional supply. The feeble defence offered by the government is that it is helping people to fulfil an ‘aspiration’ for home ownership.”

Martin Wolf ends thus, Conservatives, of all the parties, “should understand that it is not the job of the government to fulfil all the aspirations people possess, unless doing so responds to a fundamental social need. One can readily justify support for the poor, the sick, the elderly or the very young. But how can you justify handing over huge amounts of money to people who happen to win the housing equivalent of musical chairs? One cannot. Providing selective transfer of resources to a favoured few cannot meet that fundamental criterion. This is a corruption of policy making. Yet this is one of the British government’s flagship policies. The government should think again. It will not but it should. Its offer to tenants of housing associations of a ‘right to buy’ is worse than a crime, it is a blunder.”

Martin Wolf’s use of the word ‘blunder’ to describe the decision by the government to proceed with its plans to extend the right to buy for housing association tenants harks back to the decision of the Thatcher government to proceed with the poll tax. In their book The Blunders of our Governments Professor Anthony King and Professor Ivor Crewe write that once those outside of the government got to know of the details of the Local Government Finance Bill they were uniformly astonished and dismissive. They write that “The great majority of the organisations that responded to the government’s (wholly cosmetic) consultation exercise including the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and the Institute for Fiscal Studies were critical. So was the broadsheet press. The Financial Times called for a reformed property tax, and The Economist was excoriating.” Despite losing hundreds of seats in the local election held in May 1990 the government ignored the calls within the party to drop the bill. The government had to rely on loyal backbenchers and bullying tactics to get the bill, which Margaret Thatcher regarded as “flagship” policy of her third term as Prime Minister, through its parliamentary passage.

In conclusion, King and Crewe write, “The Thatcher government’s folly was on a truly heroic scale. In short, some of the best and brightest in British government nevertheless contrived to produce one of the worst and stupidest pieces of legislation in modern British history” It remains to be seen whether history will be repeated as regards the extension of right to buy to housing associations.

The Conservative Party’s 1987 general election manifesto contained a commitment to abolish the unfair domestic rating system and replace it with what was perceived as a fairer system in which all members of a household contributed. Whilst a good idea in theory as has been seen it made no sense in practice. The 2015 Conservative Party’s general election manifesto contained proposals for a housing bill to extend the right to buy for housing association tenants believing it was unfair that only local authority tenants were allowed to become home owners.

Since the sell-off of housing associations homes will disproportionately affect London it was only appropriate that the GLA’s housing committee at its monthly meeting in July decided to look at what might be the consequences of such a decision should it happen. A number of people from all sides of the housing sector appeared before the committee to give their views. Pat Turnbull, speaking on behalf of the London Tenants Federation said, “The London Tenants Federation is very concerned because they see the proposal as another nail in the coffin of social rented housing” She quoted what Tony Lloyd from Shelter said about the right to buy policy. He said, “It wasn’t a policy to encourage home ownership – it was to encourage less social housing” What Pat Turnbull wanted was for the committee to consider standing united with the housing associations to prevent the proposal being passed into law. Richard Blakeway, deputy Mayor for housing, speaking next failed to do so.

Among the guest speakers was Lord (Bob) Kerslake, former head of the civil service and currently chairman of Peabody Housing Trust, as well as chairing the inquiry into how housing supply can be increased in London. In his opening remarks he said, “The policy has difficulties both in principle and in practice. On affordable housing, we can see a significant

loss of affordable housing, which will be very hard to replace through the one-to-one policy that has been described, by Richard Blakeway. The reason we can say that is because the experience so far is that for every six sold only one has been replaced.” He added the challenge will be in the delivery and whether the numbers add up in terms of income and cost. “Also there will be a challenge about where that new affordable happens. The preponderance of sales will very much orientate towards central London boroughs whereas the builds may well be somewhere very different. Thirdly, there is the timing issue here. Inevitably, you are likely to see a surge of sales in the early period and it will be very hard to replace that except over quite a long period of time” (Later in the discussions Lord Kerslake questioned whether the assets the government wants to sell belong to them. As regards Peabody Housing Trust, it was founded over 150 years ago from a donation from the Anglo-American businessman and philanthropist George Peabody.)

The chairman of the committee Tom Copley wanted to know from Richard Blakeway, given the situation that Lord Kerslake described as regards replacement of council homes, what the situation will be for housing associations. In reply he said housing associations had very different delivery processes.

Less equivocal was the mayor Boris Johnson. When assembly members questioned the Mayor on 15 May he said, “To make this policy (both forced sales and right to buy for housing associations) it has to deliver more homes. It would be the height of insanity to use the proceeds of council homes sales in London to help build more homes outside and away from London because it is in London where we have a housing crisis.”

Jim Ripley, chief executive, Phoenix Community Housing, in reply to a question about the effects of right to buy on housing providers, said that the government right to buy decision has resulted in a double whammy for him. Phoenix wanted to build 500 new homes and were about to go to the market. That is not now possible and he blamed the government for interfering. Moody and Fitch, the credit rating agency, have given them a negative credit risk. That applies across the board to all housing associations.

Then there is the minus one per cent rent settlement. For the government that is great news in terms of keeping the housing benefit bill down as well as tenants but what it means to housing associations is a hole in their business plans. For Phoenix that will be a loss of £150 million over 30 years. Jim Ripley believes the ‘elephant in the room’ is the pay to stay proposals. It is going to force people to buy. In Lewisham the social rent will go to two or three times. He wondered why “it is not acceptable – to this government – to subsidise rents if you happen to be earning over £40,000 but it is acceptable, for the government, to give people who want to buy their homes a £105,000 discount. He was not the only person to ask whether it is right to play political football with social housing.

Another point raised by Lord Kerslake is the very substantial outflow of funding from London under the proposals for right to buy to the rest of the country. He said, “To my mind, it would be perverse outcome given the housing crisis in London.” Richard Blakeway, concluding the discussion, said that the policy “is on a journey” and will evolve. The Mayor is in extensive discussions with the government to ensure that the money raised from right to buy sales in London stays in the capital.

The other way the government hopes to raise money is from selling high value council homes. There too, according ^

to Richard Blakeway, the policy seemed to be on a journey. He was asked by Tom Copley, chairing the meeting, as to how many high-value council homes he expected to be sold in London each year under the policy. Richard Blakeway in reply began by saying that all the data available is based on a series of assumptions. “Broadly speaking, the range of council house sales that we anticipate will be needed if the policy worked on a national basis will be between 3,000 and 4,500 per annum. How many of the sales would be in London, asked Tom Copley. The answer was given by James Clarke, housing policy manager for the GLA. He replied “It is between two-thirds and three-quarters from inner London, we think, because London is where most of the council houses are located”

On this point Cllr James Murray, cabinet member for housing for Islington, mentioned a study commissioned by Islington showed that over the first five years of the policy that around 3,500 would be sold. In Islington it would be 34 per cent of their housing stock, for Camden it would be 38 per cent of their homes, five per cent in Haringey and none in Enfield. He added, “The burden of the policy is very much weighted against the inner London boroughs. That is not to say this is only an inner London borough problem. The study showed that there will be fewer lettings available in Islington and Camden; it will mean that people who are homeless or seeking alternative accommodation then would have to move to outer London to find somewhere that they could at least initially afford. This would mean that the pressure on private rents, temporary accommodation and social services in the outer boroughs would go up. It would push people out of the centre forcing the outer boroughs and putting a strain on the outer boroughs.”

The forced sale of high value properties would affect their new build programme. He said, “Every home we are building in our new build programme is above the threshold because new builds, by virtue of being new, well designed are going to be more expensive than some of the older flats within our housing stock. There is a real threat that the plans could put an end to our new build programme. It means that every home, once completed, will be over the threshold and presumably therefore we would be forced to put it up for sale.”

Cllr. Philip Glanville, cabinet member for housing in Hackney, told a similar story of what was happening in his borough. “We are building 900 new rented homes and they already allocated to people on those estates where we are ding the regeneration. Therefore, you are creating a degree of uncertainly over the next ten years about those homes.”

Hackney, like Islington, he said, have commissioned a study. “We have our own plans to deliver affordable housing and this (policy) has really dropped a bomb right in the middle of those plans. If you add that together with the other reforms, the government has introduced in the Budget in terms of reducing social rents, the pay-to-stay elements and renewed right to buy, you are seeing a collapse in the supply of social housing, even in those boroughs like Hackney and Islington that are building homes as fast as they can. It makes it very challenging to deliver new housing. I do not think it makes it unnecessary unviable but, if we did not win those exemptions on new-build homes, it clearly would make it unviable and we would have to ask ourselves why we would bother building”

Kensington and Chelsea would suffer the most under the proposed plan. Laura Johnson, director of housing in the borough, said, “We would probably have to sell every familysized home that became available because of the values in Kensington and Chelsea. We would be in a position where we were able to let only bedsits and one-beds because every two, three and four bedroom flat would probably be above the threshold being set out at the current time.” She added that “We are very concerned about the economic impact on people in Kensington and Chelsea and live in our council homes. They are managing to provide employment for local employers, who often employ in the service sector on a living or minimum wage and will not be willing to travel across or outside of London to fill those positions. Therefore, it will have a knock-on economic effect, which is beyond just the provision of council housing”

Ron Hollis is the Local Authority Tenant Representative on the London Tenants Federation. He mentioned how the plans would affect Lambeth. “Our concern with high-value council homes is that the hard fact is that this will mean the removal of working-class families from London. There is no way that this policy can work unless you remove a whole tier of the community out of London. I hesitate to use the words ‘ethnic cleansing’ because that implies that only one particular group is going to be affected. The fact is that we are talking about an economic group. Young families, often, and long-established families who have lived in and been part of the communities for generations will be forced out”

He made the connection between housing associations and local authorities. “At social rented levels, there is a huge interaction between local authority housing and housing association properties because, obviously, local authorities have significant rights of nomination for housing association stock. If the housing associations lose stock, then that is gone.”

The Heath Robinson complexity as regards the financing of replacing right to buy homes was raised by Cllr. Phillip Glanville. He explained that in Hackney, they had around 70 homes under construction at the moment to replace homes sold under right to buy. “One of the challenges about replacing right to buy homes is the complex financial mechanisms the government set up to use those receipts. Not only do you have to be onsite within three years to develop your replacement property, but you cannot use any other form of subsidy to replace it and has to be 30 per cent of the value of the property” The complex financial mechanism means that it is difficult the ‘like for like’ replacements which means the receipts go back to the government. He added, “It is not (possible) under the current financial mechanism that is being used. There is also a presumption that they should be provided at affordable rent. We are choosing to provide them at social rents”

Cllr James Murray expanded on the difficulties of providing homes to replace stock that had been sold. “If you look at what has happened over the past few years in terms of the replacement under the right to buy programme, the number has been something like one replacement home for every ten that has been sold. That has not necessary even been a like for like property. It could well be replacing a good family home for social for social rent with a one-bed for affordable rent and so it is not even replacing like for like.”

Another Heath Robinson factor that has to be considered is that interest payments have to be added to the amount if the money is not spent. Cllr. Murray explains, “If you do not spend the money within three years, you have to pay back the extra interest for the three-year period” As regards the forced sale policy he stated that it is going to be a disaster. You simply cannot build replacement homes in your local area. “As has been illustrated, if you build new homes within your borough they will be above the threshold from day one.”

In reply to a question from a Conservative member of the assembly, Andrew Boff, about the consequences of forced-sale receipts being pooled nationally rather than being ring-fenced for the London area Laura Johnson said there would be a “Net outflow of money from London to the regions because, on any year, from the predictions that we have done on sales, the bulk of the money is generated from the sale of high-value voids in London, probably between 40 and 60 per cent. If it (the money) were pooled nationally, you would see funding going from London from the sale of high-value wards to other areas of the country”

It was a this point in the discussions that Richard Blakeway said that the replacement rate was about one-in-six not one-in-ten. In response Tom Copley wanted to know if there was a distinction between homes replaced due to right to buy and a council’s development programme. Richard Blakeway had to ask his colleague James Clark, housing policy manager, for a clarification. He said, “There are two issues here. One is that the data is really poor and so you (who you?) are not really clear. Data on council completions does not distinguish between different types of completions and where the funding comes from, but there is an assumption that because of the volume of right to buy receipts, most of the new council properties will have right to buy receipts with them” He confirmed also that proceeds would be distributed on a national basis. Richard Blakeway also clarified that uncommitted receipts from right to buy sales reverted to the GLA rather than the government. Tom Copley wanted to know whether that would be the case under the sale of high value properties. It was a question that Richard Blakeway wasn’t able to answer.

Stephen Knight, Liberal Democrat, wanted to know whether it was possible to replace homes in central London from the sales of high-value sales. Cllr, Glanville said the sums do not add up to do what the policy was designed to do, unless it is, for example, a Georgian terrace that is worth over £1 million. “Then you might be able to carve up the receipt and get somewhere near the replacement. If you are selling a more humble two-bedroom property in inner London, a council flat, then you are not going to get another two-bedroom property in the centre of London at a social rent as a replacement. You are simply not”

Nicky Gavron, Labour asked about what impact the policy would have on housing lists. In reply Cllr. James Murray said that as a policy the boroughs of Islington, Hackney and Kensington and Chelsea would expect to lose loads of homes but you cannot build homes somewhere else and hope it will somehow help people in inner London. Nicky Gavron added that the people who are going to hit hardest on the waiting lists will be larger families and as a result the welfare bill is going to go up because people will be forced into the private sector.

Ron Hollis, London Tenants Federation, suggested not to become distracted by the one for one issue. “The fact is, if we look historically at the issue, one for one has not happened. There is absolutely no evidence that any of the mechanisms suggested by the government are likely to make that happen. If we look at the whole mechanism, I have spent several weeks trying to find any economist who will do more than use a basic pocket calculator to explain to me how the figures work. The fact is that they do not. The policy has all the hallmarks of something that happened late at night on the Tube between Westminster and Victoria rather than any kind of thought-out economic philosophy.”

(In 28 October 2013 Kris Hopkins, housing minister, replying in to a letter from Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, stated the government considered it unreasonable to extend the right to buy to housing associations. There was no mention in the letter of the possibility of funding the extension through the sale of high value council homes. Kris Hopkins in April 2015 described the policy as “sensible and affordable”.

The meeting was near its end and Tom Copley asked Richard Blakeway to state what he would be his lobbying priorities to government. He began by saying that he had already held talks with boroughs and housing associations and others about this policy from the outset. He added, “I would say that the foremost priority for us is to ensure that the resources that could be generated in London through the exercising of the right to buy by housing associations tenants and the sale of council homes are retained in London”

The Mayor, he said, had set out four principles including many of the points made by speakers around the social-economic mix of London. Suffice it to say the primary objective is to ensure that the resource is retained in London. As to whether the policy is a viable one as regards the discounts and the debt servicing can be challenged. Richard Blakeway was challenged as to whether the replacement homes would be social rented homes. He said there would be a mix of “affordable products”. Reading the transcript of the meeting the prevailing parameters within which the government’s proposals were taking place was one of inevitability and acceptance, with a couple of exceptions from the representatives of the tenant organisations.

Following the meeting Richard Blakeway has written to Tom Copley to give a more detail estimation of the number of sales that would sold homes as a result of the high value homes proposal. It is estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,500 per year. The lower end of the range is based on data supplied by Hometrack and the publicly available land registry data. The upper end of the range is based on GLA analysis of data from various sources including the English Housing Survey, the Local Authority Housing survey and the Land Registry. Still there is uncertainly because to local valuations and stock turnover data. On right to buy sales, the letter states, it is not possible to accurately predict the level of sales because the policy is demand led. The GLA expects that the level of sales could be between 10,000 and 30,000 over five years.

Shortly after the George Osborne’s Budget Inside Housing magazine dutifully published an interview with David Orr to reflect on his ten years as chief executive of the National Housing Executive and to discuss the new government’s new environment (sic) for housing associations. He was in a quandary he told his interviewer, “Should he speak out and risk alienating the politicians who hold all the cards for five years, or moderate his criticism and risk being seen as a collaborator with a government which many now believe is overtly hostile to the sector” He realised that the present situation was a watershed moment for housing associations but remained keen to keep the line of communication open. “We’re still having the conversation with government (about right to buy). For as long as we’re having the conversation there’s a possibility that things will improve. I don’t think it’s a broken relationship, but I think it’s stretched” (Perhaps he should be reminded what Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the American Revolution, said about hope; “he who lives upon hope will die fasting”.) In doing so he echoed what Jim Ripley said that the early indications are that a small number will find the government’s proposals a challenge to survive. S

In response to the interview with David Orr I sent a letter to the magazine. In it I wrote that there was no point in talking to the government. Sadly, I wrote, that he was in denial regarding the relationship with the government. Parodying Monty Python’s Blue Norwegian sketch I wrote that that their relationship is broken, it is no more; it has ceased to be. It was time for a war-time leader and added that even Winston Churchill’s predecessor realised after the Munich agreement that there was no point in talking any further to someone who was hell-bent on their destruction. I reminded readers that the Defend Council Housing campaign hoped for years to get the Labour government to repeal the right to buy legislation. They failed; it never did. I ended by advised housing associations to get a war-time leader who was prepared to do more than more just talk. My letter wasn’t published.

Tom Murtha, a former regional officer of the National Housing Federation, in his Inside Housing column in April

2015 about the government’s proposals to extend the right to buy to housing associations stated that the proposals were another nail in the coffin of social housing. “Many housing associations have complied with the government’s policies to reduce social housing and this is their reward. I hope that this newfound zeal to defend social housing will serve to unite the sector to oppose the proposal”. He regretted that the other disastrous policies introduced in the past five years have not been met with a similar amount of opposition.

He harked back to the 1980 when the Conservative government introduced a similar proposal to include housing associations in the legislation giving council tenants the right to buy. He recalls that although the bill was passed by the House of Commons it was defeated in the House of Lords. He writes, “The Lords pointed out that if rented stock was sold at substantial discounts then housing associations, which were charities, would be parting with their assets for the benefit of those housed today at the expense of those needing housing tomorrow” (Sadly the same argument could be said to have applied to council housing and public assets but it seems they were sacrificed to save housing associations) The argument was accepted and housing associations were excluded from the legislation. Tom Murtha ends thus, “Can we learn anything from this today? The first point is that the sector was united in its opposition to the government and was not afraid to campaign hard against it. This spirit has been missing in recent years” Did Tom have David Orr in mind?

David Orr and the NHF throughout the summer of 2015 the NHF continued to have talks with the government which involved a plan under which associations pledged to build more low-cost homeownership homes in return for the right to buy being adopted voluntarily. At the National Housing Federation’s conference in Birmingham in September 2015, Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, announced that a deal had been agreed with the NHF. It was a deal that David Orr saw as an ‘offer he couldn’t refuse’ considering the alternatives. Whilst the NHF’s decided to do a deal with the government other professions -the lawyers, the doctors, the police and teachers – have refused to accept the imposition of government policy and have decided to stand and fight the government.

Was the decision to do a deal with the government worth the opprobrium considering what happened to the Liberal Democrats when they did a deal with the Conservatives in 2010? As the junior partner they were unable to prevent the Conservatives pushing through many policies that they opposed. The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee in its report published in February 2016 highlight areas where the deal could unravel. In particular, the areas where housing associations seek exemptions from the right to buy. The report states, “It is unclear from the voluntary agreement whether individual housing associations will be able to create their own criteria for exemptions or to judge each sale on a case by case basis. The voluntary agreement did not address the issues caused in areas with very high property values or where there was limited land available for new development. It is important that all the provisions of the deal are spelt out, including the circumstances in which housing associations have the right not to sell, as detailed in the agreement” Also the voluntary deal offers housing associations flexibility in how they replenish the housing supply following a sale but this flexibility would be undermined if (my italics) the public commitment to full reimbursement were reneged upon by the government. (It is noticeable that the big housing associations voted for the deal whilst the smaller ones, fearful of their future, didn’t).

Has Greg Clarke the authority within the Conservative government to see that they keep the government keeps its side of the agreement? From past experience the NHF should not build their expectations too high. Greg Clarke at the 2014 Centre for London conference was asked about the prospects of more powers being devolved to London. He was pathetically indecisive, noncommittal and evasive. It was obviously a decision above his pay grade. Greg Clark although appears quite amenable but he didn’t get to his present position by being a softy. He still retains the distinct Liberal Democrat quality of someone whose principles can be moulted into pragmatism that allows him to ascend the ‘greasy pole’ and keep his present cabinet position.

Tom Murtha, from the perspective of a housing campaigner, sees the deal with the government as one that will cause the slow death of social housing. The NHF is taking a giant leap of faith in putting its faith in the government to deliver its part of the deal. In the space of a year, from wanting the government to hand over surplus public land to expand the housing association sector, a year later David Orr is hoping that they will keep their promise to reimburse housing associations for their losses from right to buy sales – there is no statutory obligation. Failure to do so would leave his strategy in tatters. His legacy would be that he oversaw the beginning of the end of housing associations as they have been known over the centuries.

Over the centuries there have been times when decisions by out of touch governments and rulers have led to the founding of publications to resist the imposition of laws, or for the repeal of long-established laws. It is the intention of this publication to follow in that long and noble tradition and oppose the efforts of this government to impose the Housing and Planning Bill upon people who are not in the fortunate position to buy a home or who chose not to do so. What the Conservative government is trying to do is best expressed by Colin Ward, the author of The Hidden History of Housing and many other books. He wrote, “Ours is a society in which, in every field, one group of people makes decisions, exercises control and limits choices, while the great majority have to accept these decisions, submit to this control and act within the limits of these externally imposed choices. It happens in work and leisure, politics, and education, and nowhere is it more evident than in the field of housing” ■

Terry McGrenera, the House Party: Homes for Londoners


The Housing Times Issue 1

The Conservative Government has declared


on Social Housing

Newspapers, journalists like to think, are the first draft of history, so when historians in years to come examine the property supplements published by newspapers they will be puzzled. The London Evening Standard each Wednesday has a property section which is as thick as the rest of the paper. The homes advertised are usually at the top end of the market and beyond the pockets of the millions of Londoners who read the paper as they make their way home from work to their humble abode. For millions of Londoners owning their own home has become increasingly harder largely because the numbers of homes built over the past three decades has decreased making the homes advertised in the property supplements beyond their means.

Times and attitudes towards housing have changed since John Ruskin, the Victorian social reformer and art critic, wrote that the first duty of a State was to see that every child born therein should be well housed. (This was at a time when Great Britain had no enemies and the ‘condition’ of the country was a source of concern for virtuous Victorians) Nowadays the State’s involvement in housing has become as tenuous as it was in Victorian times. David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, in giving evidence to the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee in October 2015, said, “The actual direct investment by Government in housing associations is now very small. It is about £1 billion a year. It sounds like a lot of money but, in the big scheme of things, it is a very small amount.” The 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review saw the end of direct funding of social housing. Capital investment for housing was cut by two thirds. For Inside Housing magazine the decisions heralded the slow death of the tenure. (It is rather ironic that a few weeks after I sent the layout for the front cover stating the government had declared war on social housing to the printers that Inside Housing magazine published a letter which came to the conclusion that the government’s objective as regards social housing is to complete its demise)

Since 2010 some of the diseases that were associated with Victorian times caused by malnutrition have risen. Cases of malnutrition and other ‘Victorian’ diseases have risen in England in what is seen a consequence of cuts to social services and rising food poverty. NHS figures show that 7,366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July 2015, compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years. Cases of other diseases prevalent in the Victorian era include scurvy, scarlet fever; cholera and whooping cough have increased since 2010. It is hardly surprising considering the rise in number of people living in overcrowding housing conditions

If, as it is said, history is written by the winners, the history of the last thirty-five years has been the story of the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer. That is certainly true as regards housing for people either owning their own home or who bought the home they rented from the council. Rising house prices have been a stable headline on newspaper front pages. Ever rising house prices were seen as good news. Times have changed again and now the reverse is true as it means more children – grown adults – living with their parents as they cannot afford the deposit for a place of their own or having to borrow from the Bank of Mum and Dad.

It was this situation that led two young journalists to write a book – the Jilted Generation – to try and understand for their own sake as much as for any other reason how they were going to face the future without the legacies that their parents had inherited from earlier generations. They concluded that the most important legacy that their parents inherited was the availability of housing to buy or rent. Besides the economic cost of housing that their generation is suffering they mention it is often the unexamined social costs that exact the highest price. Housing is, they write, “society’s fundamental building block. It’s completely defining. Housing is not just a traded commodity, not a mere space in which people reside, but a focal point for the narrative of their lives, providing shelter, security, a bedrock of certainly in an uncertain world” For their generation that is not the case. They blame what passed for housing policy over the last thirty five years.

In Anna Minton’s book Ground Control there is a chapter called Housing: the untold story. It is the story of how the legacy of social housing came under attack from housing policy over the past thirty five years. It is the story of the right to buy Act, stock transfer, the Pathfinder scheme to demolish structurally sound homes in the north of England and, if Andrew Adonis has his way, of demolishing all council estates in London to create bijou City Villages in the name of regeneration.

Malcolm Dean, formerly social affairs editor at The Guardian, in his book Democracy under Attack echoes the sentiments expressed by Anna Minton in his chapter on the disappearance of the housing correspondent. He writes “Social housing dropped out of sight despite the millions living there and the huge changes taking place. A whole host of stories were being ignored: the rise of housing associations and the fall of council housing; the stock transfers from councils to housing associations which the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee reported were bad for taxpayers; and the emergence of a virulent anti-housing lobby led by the Campaign to Protect Rural England” It is the story of all the people who have struggled to be heard and housed. It will be the first duty of this publication to tell such stories.

Terry McGrenera