Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A comprehensive plan for housing crisis

Andrew Fisher assesses Tory housing policy

The Conservative manifesto was launched today and housing was at its centre, with right-to-buy revived and extended to housing association properties.

Under Thatcher era right to buy, 1.7 million council homes were sold off (over one-third of which are now in the hands of private landlords) and most were never replaced. The proportion of people living in council housing has declined from 30% in 1979 to just 10% today.

Since Cameron's government revived right to buy in 2012 by offering higher discounts, 17,205 more council homes have been sold off. Only 2,712 have been replaced (16%). They promised properties would be replaced and they do again in their manifesto. Fool me once, shame on you ...

While David Cameron repeated Margaret Thatcher's "property-owning democracy" schtick (as if home ownership in some never specified way enhances democracy), but the reality is that right-to-buy has helped home ownership levels fall - along with other Tory policies including the deregulation of credit, rising inequality (which Danny Dorling cites as the major factor), explicit and implicit subsidies for buy-to-let landlords, and the removal of rent control in 1989. Home ownership levels today are lower than when Margaret Thatcher was defenestrated in November 1990.

Cameron and Osborne have had a clear policy to keep house prices high - and therefore out of reach for households on average incomes - through a range of policies. House building has been allowed to sink to a record low, with fewer than 150,000 homes built in every year of the coalition government. Under New Labour, only 190,000 homes a year were built, which was itself a low for a post-war government.

Constraining the supply of housing has helped keep house prices high, as have mortgage subsidies like help-to-buy, which have combined to form a pincer movement: increasing the supply of housing finance while housing supply is constricted.

The Conservative manifesto offers nothing for private tenants. In fact, private tenants are only mentioned once - and that is in the context of their landlord checking their immigration status. And of course by cutting social housing, and keeping house prices out of reach, then more people will be living in private rented accommodation - and claiming more on housing benefit.

Private tenants suffer high rents and often low pay (with the state picking up the tab in housing benefit and tax credits) - those on low or middle incomes have no chance of saving the deposit for a home (which due to inflated house prices is considerably higher than ever before), and likewise little chance of ever getting the security of social housing.

Plans in the manifesto to restrict social housing and housing benefit from young people and from migrants will doubtless increase homelessness and rough sleeping (both up under this government).

So the Conservative policy attacks the safety net offered by social housing (by reducing its supply), offers nothing to increase housebuilding or reduce prices or reduce rents. It is a recipe for intensifying the housing crisis that they have cooked up since Thatcher.

Elsewhere in their manifesto they advocate reducing the benefit cap further, deporting more people from their communities and accelerating the social cleansing of many parts of many cities - assisted by policies such as cutting local housing allowance and the bedroom tax.

The Conservative manifesto is therefore a plan to intensify the housing crisis.

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