Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

I’m not one for New Year resolutions, they’re not worth the booze stained paper they’re written on. Whilst an arbitrary date might help some on the path to negating an annoying habit/chronic cake addiction, the reality is that most of us will fail to keep to those good intentions. Governments are not excluded from such foibles, especially when it comes to housing policy. Unfortunately, unlike the Konami games of old, you can’t just use a cheat code to solve a nation’s housing market problems. A pity really, given the way housing policy is currently heading we probably need all the ‘help’ we can get.

OK Time for Plan B

For all the positive vibes coming from the Barwell/Javid axis little has materially changed so far in May’s tenure as Prime Minister. The switch in rhetoric has been welcome, and you do genuinely get the feeling that Sajid Javid is sincere in his desire to improve the housing situation facing many in the UK. However rhetoric and reality have not quite met. At least not consistently. Indeed it seems at times that Mrs May is willing to do pretty much anything to help the housing crisis, apart from actually do things that will help on a practical level. Promises of a Britain that works for the many have so far fallen flat. That needs to change, sharpish.

Right to Buy, or at least its extension to Housing Associations, is seemingly getting kicked into the long grass (FYI check out Nick Atkin’s piece on why RTB has had its day here). Positive news over better regulation for parts of the PRS and the scrapping of lettings fees should help those renting. But policy and capital funding wise the Autumn Statement proved to largely be a bust. The vast majority of the £44bn earmarked for housing initiatives has been kept for demand side interventions. And of that all bar £15.3bn had already been announced.

A give away on Stamp Duty and a continuation of policies such as Help to Buy are not really what the doctor ordered. With Help to Buy being described by the Adam Smith Institute as being like throwing petrol onto a bonfire. Whilst the Stamp Duty cut is a great example of a policy that on the surface is great for individual households but is actually bollocks at the macro-economic level – a typical state of play for housing policy in the last 2 decades.

Elsewhere, although several million has been set aside to help with homelessness initiatives. Even here Theresa May has managed to piss me off. Her response at the last PMQs before Christmas showed just how little she understands the subject. She also showed that you can be right on a technicality, but utterly wrong on the bigger picture. Being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sleeping rough. But regardless, the lack of a safe, secure and affordable home has serious detrimental effects. Still, shout out to Theresa May’s researchers for finding the one technical point where the homelessness situation wasn’t total crap. But make no mistake, as a country we’ve been regressing alarmingly on this issue since 2010.

Here Comes the New Sound, Just Like the Old Sound

Since the clusterfuck that was the Brexit vote and subsequent change of personnel in Government I’ve been hoping for a significant departure, in practical terms, from the clueless/ideologically driven housing policy under Cameron et al. Sadly, some honourable mentions aside, what we’ve had so far is more of the same.  Plus ca change. Some improvements have been made, but it’s all a bit piecemeal.

Still, it could be worse, the Conservative Party’s attempt at revamping its social media presence is nothing short of alarming. Honestly, Activate is probably the shittest thing I’ve come across on social media since Mogg-Mentum. It sounds like the start of a fight on Robot Wars for fucks sake. Who are these clowns? Have they met real life people? One only hopes that Conservatives spend more time on fine tuning their housing policy in the upcoming Housing Green Paper than they have on their current social media engagement strategy. Otherwise we really are fucked.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Emil Athanasiou (2015) Same Yet Different

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Diary of A Wimpy Kid

Following what can only be described as a remarkable General Election the UKHousing sector must take stock and build on the solid work over the last year.

The Winner Takes it All (or not)

To say this General Election has put a spanner in the works would be putting it mildly. Shout out to YouGov for having the balls to stick by that poll. I don’t think many people would have predicted a Tory minority Government, especially one being propped up by the DUP. For the social housing sector this has already had some serious consequences. In Gavin Barwell we had a housing minister who at least gave some support and hope to the sector. It is a sorry state of affairs when we’re happy with a minister who wasn’t total shit. But at least Barwell (mostly) fought our corner and, Affordable Rents aside, I agreed with a lot of the work he did.

The Long and Winding Road

Many challenges still face both the social housing sector and the UKhousing market more broadly. Barwell’s admission that the ‘new generation of council housing’ was going to be at (non) Affordable Rent levels is deeply worrying. As is the LHA Cap, particularly given that the stay of execution is only temporary, the minimal amount of Capital Funding available, as well as the slow and painful roll out of Universal Credit. Without a significant increase in genuinely social housing in this country Housing Associations will more and more focus on those who can afford to pay their rent without Housing Benefit. This is simply because the accumulative cuts to welfare support and the alterations to those who can access it are making it increasingly risky to rent to the unrentables.

As grant is (even further) replaced by private sector loans and cross-subsidising, so is exposure to risk increased. Risk that, again, is best served by renting to those off Housing Benefit and in secure work. It is a pretty horrific catch 22. For one to build more social housing, greater levels of private finance are needed, but to fund that higher levels of rent/proof of financial stability is required. Those at the bottom will ultimately miss out as dollar signs push organisational priorities.

We’re not at a Crossroads, but times are a-changing

Many have used the term ‘crossroads’ to describe where the sector is at. I hate that phrase for a number of reasons:

  1. Because it reminds of this God-awful pop group from the early 2000s
  2. Because it doesn’t reflect the gradual change in focus for the sector, or the pressures currently facing it
  3. Because we’ve been using private funding and cross-subsidising builds as a sector for decades

However, what we are seeing is a parallel split in the sector, largely across a couple of issues. Firstly in terms of the primary focus of building – home ownership and affordable rent over social rent – secondly in terms of who we’ll let to.

I bet you think this song is about you

Many in the sector are giving significant consideration to excluding the very people we should be renting our homes to. The logic to be more selective in who we rent to is perfectly sound, and as organisations we have a legitimate need to ensure financial stability and security. But that doesn’t make these thought processes anymore horrific. Smaller, more community focused organisations will (probably) continue to rent to the unrentables. However for the bigger boys and girls this, in the long run, may prove to be too problematic. Some may claim this is not the case, but looking at the tenure split of the Affordable Homes Building Programme figures and such an assertion has merit.

I am not one for melodrama, but just as the country is entering uncharted, and hazardous waters over Brexit. So too is the sector. Hopefully over the coming months we’ll get a better idea of how May (or her replacement) will deal with the bloody nose the electorate has given the Conservative Party. That we haven’t yet had a Housing Minister announced when most of the posts have been re-filled by the incumbent is not a great sign. But let’s face it, we’ve always been on the periphery. Whoever it is will need to make the best of this clusterfuck and to take housing seriously. For our part we’ll need to deliver the housing this country, and not just our profit margins, needs.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Matt BiddulphCouncil Estate (2008)

 

Hope Note Hate

As the dust starts to settle on what quite frankly has been one the of the ugliest political campaigns (Zac I’m Not saying Kahn is a terrorist sympathiser but…Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign aside) I can’t remember one quite as openly ugly, earnest reflections on who we are as a nation are needed.

Lies, Damned Lies and Vote Leave

Perhaps I was a bit naive but at the start of the EU Referendum campaign I had hoped that although tightly fought both sides would bringing meaningful arguments to the debate. That facts and figures would be used to back arguments instead of being bent to breaking point in order to fit the narrative being spun. That quite simply hasn’t happened, and instead false claims and counter claims have been thrown about by both sides. And little by little the arguments used have become uglier and uglier.

As someone who works in housing, who has a degree in Sociology & Social Policy and a Masters in Housing Policy and Practice it particularly pisses me off when rumour, misinformation, gossip and outright lies around access to social housing, and housing more generally and the EU are bandied about. I don’t blame the Poles for a lack of social housing in this country. I blame the Coalition Government for reducing the capital funding for social housing by 60% and the subsequent Tory Government for ignoring it in its entirety.

homer-simpson-quote-oh-people-can-come-up-with-statistics-to-prove

The consistent lying has been quite breathtaking, God bless FullFact, they have been working overtime trying to provide insight and context behind some of the ‘facts’ that been flying around. I will be very glad when its over just so I don’t have to put up with seeing Vote Leave politicians in a live public debate knowingly lie and misrepresent figures because their basic argument is a essentially of mixture of nostalgia and mild xenophobia. With a position that goes against the advice of the IMF, IFS, various Central Banks across the world, not to mention the overwhelming majority of economists. But don’t worry Andrea Leadsom and Gielsa Stuart are mothers and therefore knows best.

Blame the foreigner

Realistically Ms Leadsom/Stuart aren’t the worst, not by a long shot. The fact that someone like Nigel Farage gets air time is appalling. His latest stunt, from the Joseph Goebbels school of propaganda, is case and point. To his defenders he is one of the bastions against ‘PC going mad’, a chap who says it how it is. He isn’t, he’s just an opportunistic muppet, happy to rail against the EU whilst securing a great big pay cheque from it. There are chocolate teapots in this world that contribute more to this country than that oxygen thief. And for the record political correctness isn’t going mad it’s just society has decided to move on from some of the racist, homophobic and misogynistic traits it used to have. Whilst we still have a long way to go you’re just a little bit behind the curve, try to keep up.

As ugly as it is, the frenzied xenophobia masquerading as concern over the state of our country that has been plastered all over our papers is symptomatic of underlying tensions in our nation’s psyche.  Regardless of the result there are some clear issues that need addressing. There are elements of society, particularly (but not exclusively) those in the working class, who feel let down, marginalised and threatened. They have legitimate concerns over immigration (yes it’s an issue, no not in the way portrayed by a lot of our press), pay, working conditions, state support and a perceived encroachment on their lives by the state (ironically enough). Whether a Tory Government will give a damn, or a Labour Party desperate to get back in power (with or without its current leader) will dare to be seen as being too pro-working class (you do have to go back to the 80s for that mind) remains to be seen. Either way their concerns need to be heeded.

In Summary

What I am hoping for tomorrow is quite simply that, Hope. That optimism about the benefits of the EU wins out over blind nostalgia and cynical manipulation of legitimate concerns. That we opt, at least in terms of the EU, for a more progressive and inclusive approach to politics. Because bugger me it’s been severely lacking over the past few years.

What we don’t need is rhetoric that is essentially – blame the foreigner, blame the foreigner, blame the foreigner. How about blame the austerity cuts to Housing, blame the cuts to Local Authority budgets. Blame neoliberalism’s failed experiment with our economy. Leaving Europe solves none of the actual issues facing the UK. Fuelling hatred based on nationality merely deepens divisions. That helps no one.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

*Updated to expand on social housing points