Monday, 15 September 2014
Housing crisis is class war
Andrew Fisher, author of The Failed Experiment ... and how to build an economy that works, on the class war being waged in the housing system
The National Housing Federation (NHF) has made the headlines this morning by describing home ownership as an "exclusive members' club", citing the fact that first time buyers need 10 times the deposit they did in the 1980s.
There are very simple reasons why this is the case - and no political party is yet offering change of a necessary scale to address the dysfunctional housing system. I deliberately don't use the term 'housing market' because it should not be one. As I've posted before 'housing is a right, amassing wealth is not'. But also, for many people there is no functioning housing market - they are locked out, as the NHF now says.
And so the rest of this post focuses on the locked out. The cuts to housing benefit (to individual entitlement not overall costs), and the imposition of the bedroom tax and benefit cap have forced people to leave their communities, forced a rise in homelessness and forced more families into overcrowded and substandard accommodation.
This is the system for the poorest - low and middle earners as well as benefit claimants who have no prospect of buying a home. With this increasing need for social housing, you might expect the government to be building more but planning approvals for social housing are down 44% in the last year. Research by the Home Builders Federation shows only 3,824 social homes approved in Q2 2014 compared with 6,873 in Q2 2013. The problem is even more acute in London, where the housing crisis is gravest, with social housing approvals down 53%.
So if the government is failing to build social housing to meet growing demand, is imposing the bedroom tax and benefit cap on out of work households, and cutting housing benefit entitlement for in and out of work households, what is it's solution?
The answer frankly is that it has no answer - except underwriting the debt of those who can afford to buy. And for those worst off in the UK's housing system, 57% of councils have scrapped the only nationally recognised form of regulation of services such as hostels and sheltered housing. A survey by Inside Housing suggests that councils, hit hard by budget cuts, do not have enough staff or resource to continue to undertake assessment. So council cuts means that non-mandatory regulations have been binned.
Even more distressing news is that there has been a dramatic increase in assaults on housing staff. So mostly low or modestly paid council staff are taking the brunt of the backlash for policies imposed on the poorest by a cabinet of millionaires.
While those workers have unionised workplaces, the desperate victims of the UK's housing policy have no support, no organisation and are not only under severe financial pressure, but face eviction, homelessness and even deportation from their communities.
There is an urgent need to organise the housing dispossessed, i.e. those not in what the NHF describes as an "exclusive members' club". Class war is being waged in housing - the non-portfolio'd mass needs to fight back, but against the government and private landlords, not council workers!