After the relative damp squib that was the Labour Party conference the ‘All in it together (but not quite) brigade’ have laid out their version of what post 2015 election landscape will look like. David Cameron and Gideon ‘Call me George’ Osborne have given the housing sector not even a whiff of comfort. Sadly ladies and gentleman a shit-storm is coming our way. Better get the bleach.
I have blogged previously about worrying noises coming from both Conservative HQ and their Think Tank (because politicians have very little capacity for thinking these days) The Policy Exchange. The first is a lowering of the already draconian Benefit Cap. The £26,000 threshold was already too low, especially in London and the South East. It now looks likely to fall further to around £23,000. Obviously those households who insist on being poor and out of work need more punishment to inspire them into employment. The second is restricting access to housing benefit for those under the age of 21. This move is particularly disturbing as you don’t develop housing needs only over the age of 21. You need housing support when you need it, not when the clock hits midnight on your 20th birthday. To say I’m livid about this move is an understatement.
These arbitrary, callous and utterly short-sighted moves are vote winning at its finest. Unlike the much maligned bedroom tax, a restriction on the cash people can receive in benefits has proved consistently popular with the electorate. Acknowledging it is behind Labour on the cost of living crisis this is a smart political gambit, a refresher for the public that ‘tough’, ‘hard’ decisions i.e. one’s that fuck over the poor, the vulnerable (and those unlikely to vote) will be made by the Tories for ‘the greater good’. Alongside tax cuts (that only really help those at the top of the ladder) it is a solid vote winner.
Alongside the two aforementioned policies a freeze on working age benefits post April 2016, on top of a restricted 1% from 2012 (again not biting the hand that feeds) has been announced. It would be laughable how blatantly unfair these policy announcements are, if their affects weren’t so potentially horrific. These changes would be bad enough on their own however more than 50% of Gideon Osborne et al’s cuts to local and central governments budgets are yet to take effect. This will be catastrophic, not just for those at the bottom of the pile but the services, benefits and organisations that they rely on. This my friends at the Million Homes, Million Lives Think Tank is why we in the social housing sector are stocking surpluses like a squirrel in late Summer/Autumn. We know, as Martin Lawrence so eloquently put it in Bad Boys 2 [that] “Sh@# just got real”.
Universal Credit looks set to be rolled out further and more extensively than previously seen. Iain Duncan Smith taking Queen’s statement that the show must go on to very extreme lengths. Yet another senior figure in the project team has decided enough is enough. The Universal Credit Project delivery team is the only part of the civil service going through more staff than the Housing Minister position. For all of IDS’s bluster I smell bullshit in his claims of progress.
It has been a very grim week for housing, enough to dampen even my normally chirpy spirits. The thing that has struck home more than anything is how woeful an opposition the lot in Labour have been. The Tories have honed, vote winning policies set out. Ed ‘sorry my face is forgettable’ Miliband can’t even remember his own speech. The counter-points to the Tory proposals have been weaker than a comeback from your average high school kid. It’s all a bit pathetic. These policies are scary, detrimental in the long run and grossly unfair. But they will probably win the Tories the next election. Heaven help us all.