More on ‘troubled families’

‘A tale of Cameron’s prejudice and hubris’ was how Red Brick described this a couple of days ago, and subsequent events have shown Steve’s words to be correct even if the picture is a little more complicated than first appeared. If the official evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme wasn’t damning enough, one of the authors – Jonathan Portes of the NIESR – tore into the programme this week in his Not the Treasury View blog. He says the programme is ‘a perfect case study of how the manipulation and misrepresentation of statistics by politicians and civil servants – from the Prime Minister downwards – led directly to bad policy’.

Portes’ problem isn’t with the fact that the TFP tried to do something but heroically failed. As he says, if government intervention is always so tame as to be successful we’ll never try anything ambitious and learn from the mistakes. No, what he’s concerned about is the duplicity of politicians in never admitting that such a programme might not be the best thing since sliced bread: no nuance was allowed the cloud the impression that, indeed, 120,000 families had had their lives changed massively and permanently. This is how Portes summarises it:

‘… the key point here – and the indictment of politicians and civil servants – is not that the TFP didn’t achieve what it set out to do. That’s unfortunate of course… [but] If new programmes never failed to deliver the promised results, that would show government was not taking enough risks. That is should not be the issue. Indeed, many social policy experts thought that the basic principles underlying the programme made a lot of sense.   The point is that it was the government’s deliberate misrepresentation of the data and statistics that led to badly formulated targets, which in turn translated into a funding model that could have been designed to waste money.’

He blames not only government ministers for this, but also Louise Casey who runs the programme. He quotes her as saying, “If No 10 says bloody ‘evidence-based policy’ to me one more time, I’ll deck them”.

As it happens, Casey had her chance to get back at Portes on Wednesday when she and two other civil servants were grilled by the Public Accounts Committee. Listening to the proceedings gives an interesting glimpse of central government policy-making. Casey says Portes has misrepresented the evidence. Her argument seems to be that while they have piles of data that show (for example) the families’ school attendance is better and they’re resulting in fewer police call-outs, much of this doesn’t show up in the part of the evaluation on which Portes bases his case. However, it’s a little difficult for even the forceful Dame Louise to sound convincing when the key finding of the department’s published report is ‘the lack of evidence that [the scheme] has had an impact on the outcomes that it seeks to affect for families’.

Listening to the PAC discussion suggests an important reason why this happened. One of the original models was the Dundee Families Project, and indeed someone from it assisted the DCLG team. But that project invested £10,000 per family over a long term, at a time when local services were, if anything, growing rather than being cut. The Troubled Families Programme spent £4,000 per family and it coincided with other services being decimated. Phase 2 of the project, we are told, will have to manage on less than £2,000 per family.

Behind the hype there are real issues here and I guess Louise Casey knows this as well as anyone: where families do have multiple problems, they are going to need a range of co-ordinated interventions stretching over a significant period of time. Aiming to ‘turn them round’ in a couple of years or less can easily be a facile exercise. Whether wittingly or otherwise, the TFP has colluded with ministers (and here Eric Pickles must be identified, along with David Cameron) who wanted to apply a relatively cheap sticking plaster to a problem while continuing to disable the services like Surestart, Schools for the Future and, of course, genuinely affordable rented housing, that are really essential in tackling these issues. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for civil servants to point this out in a hostile political environment. You can understand them – and desperate local authorities – clutching at straws. But this shouldn’t let government off the hook, and that’s why Jonathan Portes’ views, however bluntly expressed, are very important.

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Troubled families: a tale of Cameron’s prejudice and hubris

Back in 2012 Red Brick dubbed the Government’s ‘Troubled Families’ programme ‘policy-based evidence making’. The newly-released (and sneaked out) evaluation of the billion pound programme proves our point. Despite constant claims by Government that the programme was ‘turning round’ the lives of hundreds of thousands of families – to the point that they massively expanded the scheme after a couple of years – the much-delayed evaluation report says the programme had ‘no measurable impact’.

This is no surprise – if you set something up on a completely false premise you get the wrong outcomes. To justify the policy, Government took a range of statistics that reflected the disadvantage suffered by some families and misrepresented them as showing that the families were dysfunctional – not the victims of economic and social reality, or mental incapacity, or disability, or abuse, or bad housing, or poverty, but to blame for their own social pathology. They were feckless and the Government was going to force more feck on them. It enabled the Tories to stigmatise and demonise a group of families as being responsible for social breakdown and even for the riots.

Much as the media are intrigued by the unusual (for a senior civil servant) personality of the ‘Tsar’ appointed to run the programme, Louise Casey, the Troubled Families policy was another catastrophic failure by David Cameron.

Cameron was an extremely judgemental man, and many of his judgements were plain wrong. ‘You’re talking about blame’, he said, ‘about good behaviour and bad behaviour, about morals.’ He called it the ‘Shameless culture’. His launch speech was full of stereotypes ripped from the pages of the Daily Mail – sink schools, sink estates, choosing to live on the dole, rampaging teenagers. And the big lie: these families had been subjected to ‘compassionate cruelty, swamped with bureaucracy, smothered in welfare yet never able to escape.

I wrote on Red Brick at the time: Ultimately (it) reads like a script from the loathsome Jeremy Kyle Show: pointing at the Chavs and moralising about their sub-human behaviour. And it achieved one of its early aims: good media coverage, with the Daily Mail of course talking about the ‘Criminal culture at the heart of feckless families: Shocking report lifts lid on incest, abuse and spiral of alcohol abuse’.

The fundamental flaw in the analysis – that the government was taking a set of families who were undeniably poor and disadvantaged, and redefining them – without a shred of evidence – as dysfunctional and antisocial.

Jonathan Portes

Of course there were good points about service delivery which will strike a chord with anyone who has been worked with ‘multiply deprived’ families. Too many agencies, too little coordination despite too many meetings, a failure to work with each family holistically, family plans that never get delivered, bizarre rules to access services. And the central solution – a key worker for each family – offered some hope that the system, if not the family, could be turned around.

The failure of the original analysis, and the use and abuse of statistics, was compounded by setting up the project on a ‘payment by results’ basis and an extraordinarily low threshold for allowing councils to say that a family had been ‘turned around’. If a child attends school a bit more often, probably coincidentally to any intervention, and the Government gives a cash-strapped council some money for it, guess what the outcome is? Yes, the headline claim that the Government turned round more than 105,000 troubled families, saving taxpayers an estimated £1.2 billion. And as Jonathan Portes of the NIESR, part of the evaluation team, says: This was untrue: the £1.2 billion is pure, unadulterated fiction.’

Desperate for cash, councils ran rings round a complicit Government, and a programme with no measurable outcomes was deemed a success by all involved. Like Boris Johnson’s Garden Bridge, this was David Cameron’s vanity project designed to sort a problem that was defined by his own prejudice. We all pay and no one benefits. And just like Boris, not one word of apology: in the post-truth world one Government Minister even had the audacity to write an article over the weekend claiming that the programme had worked.

The real failure was that Cameron’s politics and his hubris meant that a large sum of money that could have been used to genuinely help families facing real problems was squandered.

Previous Red Brick pieces as the story unfolded


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Is the tide turning at last?

It’s always hard to spot the precise moment a tide peaks and turns. But after a year of severe depression about our housing prospects, to the point recently where I considered stopping writing about it, I have had a minor awakening of optimism.

Mind you, my newly emerging view after the major party conferences is not all that positive: just a feeling that things do not have to get worse inexorably year on year. As far as Labour is concerned, there is the flow of plain speaking backed by rigid determination to turn things around coming out of City Hall since Sadiq Khan was elected mayor with James Murray as his deputy mayor responsible for housing. There is also the final banishment of the hostility to council housing in the Party that undermined policy throughout the life of the Labour Government: it is now commonly accepted by all wings that council building is an essential part of the mix needed to solve the housing crisis.

My remaining concern (apart from the limited chances of actually getting elected to deliver anything) is the reported disagreement as to whether the planned 500,000 new social homes should all be council houses or a mix of council and housing association building. I understand the hostility towards some housing associations, but the sector must be part of the plan if we are to build the necessary homes. From a standing start, councils simply could not start producing 100,000 homes a year: it would take years to obtain the capacity and expertise. They would be set up to fail, and that is the last thing anyone wants. Associations do have capacity and, within a framework of clear Government priorities and adequate grant, they could turn the tap on more quickly.

As for the Conservative Party, there are signs that a new broom is being taken to the old housing policy. At last we have ministers and a growing body of opinion in the country accepting that the Cameron/Osborne ‘one tenure’ policy – the exclusive promotion of home ownership – is miles removed from a ‘one nation’ policy designed to provide homes that are suitable and affordable for all. They have realised that the policy of subsidising demand for home ownership in a desperate attempt to reverse its decline was bound to fail because it would add to upward pressure on prices. To stretch the analogy, Cameron and Osborne were like King Canute, but in their case they were failing to stop the tide of home ownership going out.

It is widely claimed that Labour lost in 2015 because it lacked economic credibility. Yet the Conservatives have ended up following a path on deficit reduction which is pretty close to that set out by Alastair Darling in 2010, but with a lot of additional pain. And they are now adopting the language of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to distinguish between different types of borrowing: with historically low borrowing costs it makes absolute sense to borrow to invest in homes and infrastructure. It all proves, if proof was needed, that austerity was a political choice and that many of the cuts to public services could have been avoided if different choices had been made around tax cuts.

I am not about to get carried away. The U turn is not yet a sharp 180 degree spin. As Rachel Reeves MP wrote on LabourList, the Chancellor’s speech to the Tory Conference was a “a chaotic cocktail of vague promises and u-turns that work for no one.”  Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid have not suddenly been converted to the cause of Keynsian economics. Nor will they adopt a housing policy which promotes social housing as much as I think is needed – despite the growing evidence that it would be a sound bet for the taxpayer as well as for the people needing homes. Social housing only got an occasional mention at their conference, and the Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, almost ruined the new mood by making an extraordinary comment that building council housing would deepen and entrench inequality. Thinking that moving from an unaffordable private letting or temporary accommodation or a parent’s home into an affordable council house makes life worse is beyond rational reasoning. But at last they are accepting that rented housing matters and that more ‘affordable’ rented housing is essential. It’s a start – and SHOUT’s man on the spot Martin Wheatley has written a perceptive analysis of what was said at the conference fringe meeting on housing.

The best outcome of the shift in thinking that is taking place would be if some of the new or reallocated money being announced comes out in the form of grant to enable the mayor in London and the HCA in the rest of the country to back new programmes of social housebuilding. Sadiq Khan is in a position to make great use of any funding but he will need to have full flexibility in its use and the Government will need to back him in his determination to get more affordable homes in private development.

The historic evidence is absolutely clear that it was the ending of housebuilding by councils, combined with the failure of the private and housing association sectors to replace their contribution, that was the biggest single factor behind the current desperate shortage. It is great that Labour is firmly behind a large new programme of building and it is encouraging that SHOUT’s proposed programme of social housebuilding at least gets a fair hearing at the Tory conference and garners some support amongst liberal conservative groups like Bright Blue. SHOUT’s plan would set us back on the course that we should have been on for the last 40 years.

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Investing in social housing: a good deal for the taxpayer whatever happens after Brexit

New research for SHOUT, the campaign for social housing, and a *coalition of agencies, shows that the case for investing in social housing remains very strong despite the decision to leave the European Union.

Last year, SHOUT and others* commissioned analysis from economic researchers Capital Economics to show what would happen to the economy if the Government invested in 100,000 new social rented homes each year. The research showed much better value outcomes for taxpayers in the long term as well as improved living standards for so many households.

The new analysis looks at the outcomes if we have an economically ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Brexit, assessing four different scenarios for what might happen to growth and interest rates. In the initial years of such a programme the incremental housing benefit savings and new tax receipts will be less than that needed to fund the government’s contribution to the new homes – so additional borrowing will be required. But over 50 years it would generate material savings to the Exchequer, ranging from £102 billion to £319 billion (in today’s prices).

Building 100,000 new homes for social rent each year would boost employment and domestic demand at a time when the economy is likely to be weaker. Of the alternative ways of boosting infrastructure investment, housing has the clear advantage of generating income through the rents tenants pay, which at the least cover the costs of management and maintenance of the new assets. In addition to having the direct benefit of 4 million new homes over the next 50 years, the programme would benefit all age groups and lead to significant improvements in wellbeing, health, educational attainment and ability to access work.

The short term increase in borrowing that would be required to fund the programme is estimated to be between £6.5 and £7 billion. This is equivalent to two weeks’ spending on the NHS (or less than a month’s worth of the supposed savings from leaving the EU claimed by the Brexit campaign).

Capital Economics commented:

“Not all borrowing is the same. It would be quite right to be concerned about an increase in public debt in order to fund the day-to-day costs of public services. Borrowing to invest or save, as for this policy, is prudent however and would likely be welcomed rather than met with alarm.”

SHOUT campaigner Martin Wheatley said:

“This research shows that public investment in lower rent rental housing can and should be central to Theresa May’s ambition to help those families who are “just getting by.”  As well as providing a secure home at a rent households can afford, such investment would save the taxpayer billions in the long term. Support for a council house-building renaissance, alongside development by other social landlords and the private sector is critical if the Government is to achieve its ambitions for 200,000 or more new homes per year.”

The full 2015 report can be found here.

The updated 2016 Brexit analysis can be found here.

*The research has been commissioned by ARCH (which represents Councils that have retained their council housing stock), the Local Government Association, the National Federation of ALMOs, and SHOUT.

Follow SHOUT at @4socialhousing

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Guess which shortlisted Turner Prize entrant gets Red Brick’s support?

See the complete shortlist here:

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Sadiq shows that winning elections changes people’s lives

With poor timing I suspect I’m about to get on the wrong side of history with this post, coming just a few days before the Leadership ballot result. But here goes anyway.

I’m in Labour because I believe that the Party in Government (national and local) has brought about nearly all the major social and economic advances in this country in the past seventy years. Of course I accept that there have been terrible disappointments and failures. I am also an unapologetic supporter of vigorous extra-parliamentary campaigning. However, I am unshakeable in my belief that the most important thing Labour does is win elections.

My conclusion that Owen Smith stands a better chance of winning a general election than Jeremy Corbyn has dictated my vote in the Leadership election. However I feel alone in not being very tribal about it – I think both candidates have abundant but different qualities – and abhore the attacks that have been made by both sides which have so diminished the standing of the Party as a whole.

The purpose of this post is to comment on an example of why elections matter so much. For the first time in a long time, this week I whooped in delight at a political announcement. It came from the Mayor of London. Generally speaking, the words ‘Boris Johnson’ and ‘Sadiq Khan’ should be enough in themselves to prove that winning an election changes things. But my example is something that most people won’t have heard of and many others will think is of little consequence. It concerns the seemingly obscure policy of ‘converting’ rents for social rented homes when they become empty to so-called ‘affordable rents’.

I have railed on Red Brick, sometimes in an almost incoherent rage, against the travesty of rents that are blatantly unaffordable being termed ‘affordable rents’. They are defined as rents that are up to 80% of market rents, compared to social rents which are historically nearer to 40% of market rents. As the Government and Boris Johnson moved to kill off social rented housing, mayoral grants for building new homes were restricted to supporting ’affordable rent’ homes only. The PR trick was to keep talking about the output of ‘affordable’ homes as if there was some great achievement going on. Last year, the new ‘real Tory’ Government went one step further and removed support for even these  scandalously high rents by putting all the money into home ownership instead.

Back in 2013, because government grant had been cut to the bone, the then Housing Minister Mark Prisk and Mayor Johnson hit on the idea of getting tenants to put in far more money. As I commented at the time on Red Brick, rent is the new grant.

To get hold of some grant, housing providers (mainly housing associations) were required to sign up to selling some of their existing properties (it was called ‘asset management’) and ‘converting’ some of their homes from lower social rents to the much higher ‘affordable rents’ when they became available for letting. Some associations resisted, but others revelled in their freedom, volunteering to convert many or most of their homes when they became vacant.

By 2015 a total of 19,000 homes had been approved for rent conversion in London, making a huge (and largely unnoticed) contribution to the accelerating loss of social rented homes. On the basis of Freedom of Information requests that I submitted, it became clear that as many as 82,000 social rent properties might be affected nationally, a huge share of the ‘void’ properties that come available for letting.

In London, Khan has confirmed that the policy pushed rents up by as much as £5,500 a year, putting homes that were built with your money and mine to be genuinely affordable well out of the reach of people on typical London incomes. In a totally counter-productive way, the policy also pushed up the housing benefit bill. In my view the associations who embraced the policy betrayed their roots, their mission and their communities. (I forgive those who did it reluctantly but at least complained publicly about it).

Now, because he is in power, Sadiq has said he will end this practice.  “He will work with housing associations to ensure it is not necessary to fund new affordable homes by raising rents on social rented properties.” As a result, many more homes available for reletting will be let at social rents which are within the reach of ordinary families. Sadly, I presume the policy in the rest of the country will continue, and if Zac Goldsmith had won it would still apply in London.

Whoever wins on Saturday, this example illustrates for me the vital importance of keeping the political focus in the Labour Party on winning elections – because, as Sadiq shows, Labour administrations actually change people’s lives.

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Right to buy sales are not being replaced. Period.


Even Theresa May has now been rolled out to defend the highly dodgy claim by environment ministers that council homes sold under the right to buy are being replaced. But it patently isn’t true.

There is no dispute that actual sales under RTB vastly exceed replacements: in the first four years of the ‘reinvigorated’ right to buy, sales reached 41,755 while local authority replacements only totalled 5,239. But the government claims relate to the ‘additional’ sales that have occurred, over and above what would have happened if the scheme had not been ‘reinvigorated’. In the four years to April 2012, sales averaged only 2,660 per year, so they deduct a figure (actually rather in excess of that) to allow for sales which would have happened anyway and aren’t covered by the promise. They also point out that councils have three years to start replacements, so to factor this in they allow themselves four years of starts and acquisitions to offset the first year’s sales.

So on this basis, the ‘additional’ sales in the first year were just 3,054 of the total of 5,944 actually sold, and these additional sales were offset by 5,239 council starts or acquisitions over the four years April 2012 – March 2016. So – hey presto! – the target was actually exceeded by 2,185.

The obvious problem with this curious logic is that accounting for the first year’s sales has gobbled up not only year 1 starts but those for years 2-4 as well. Which creates a slight problem when trying to account for the replacement of year 2 sales, especially as by that year (2013/14) sales had almost doubled, to 11,261. Even allowing for DCLG’s deduction of sales that would have taken place under the old scheme, 7,879 replacements still have to be found, and they have to come from a combination of the 2,185 ‘spare’ replacements from the previous year (5,239 minus 3,054) plus whatever is started or acquired in 2016/17.

Here’s where the logic starts to fall apart, because DCLG therefore ‘needs’ 5,694 starts or acquisitions in the current year (2016/17), to catch up with sales back in 2013/14.

We don’t yet have the first quarter’s figures for 2016/17 (they come out later this month). But it will be a minor miracle if they come anywhere near the DCLG’s target figure. The reason is that, far from growing, starts and acquisitions actually went down slightly in the last financial year compared with the year before (they rose to 1,953 in 2014/15, but fell to 1,852 in 2015/16). To achieve the DCLG target and allow them to claim that homes sold in 2014/15 had been replaced, output would need to more than triple in the current twelve months. Yet the LGA has already warned that councils are finding replacement more difficult to achieve, not less, which is why they have slowed down their replacement rate.

The problem does, of course, get even worse in subsequent years. By next year (2017/18) DCLG will ‘need’ another 8,512 starts or acquisitions (the ‘additional’ sales that took place in 2014/15), and a very similar number in the year after that. Barring miracles happening very soon, the ‘replacement’ promise, even under the very limited terms defined by DCLG, is a dead duck.

The National Audit Office warned that this would happen back in March. Since then, the numbers have changed slightly as extra starts and acquisitions have bolstered the earlier years’ figures. But the NAO’s basic conclusion remains valid, that DCLG are quickly going to need over 8,000 starts or acquisitions to be achieved by councils annually, or they won’t meet their target. NAO forecast a big shortfall, and there is little reason to question their conclusion six months later, even with the benefit of updated figures.

There are all sorts of reasons for this, not only to do with the rules about sales receipts but resulting from the government’s reneging on just about all the promises it made when council housing became self-financing. Coincidentally, the starting date for these promises was the same (April 1st 2012) as those about right to buy replacements. It’s proving to have been a fateful date in the history of council housing. How long do we have to wait until Theresa May realises she inherited a bunch of promises 4½ years ago that she can’t keep, and does something about them?

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Call off the pay-to-stay catastrophe

Spot the lies in this justification by the government of its pay-to-stay plans: ‘It’s simply not fair that hard-working people are subsidising the lifestyles of those on higher than average incomes’. Aside from the fact that it implies that social tenants aren’t hard-working (how else would they be earning more?), the two outright lies are that they receive taxpayer subsidies and that it is only those on above-average incomes who will pay more. In fact, all but the lowest ten per cent of earners will be within or very close to the pay-to-stay threshold, because DCLG have been forced to set a very low starting point (£31,000 outside London, £40,000 within) in order to increase the projected income from the scheme. And of course, the government never misses a chance to refer to social tenants as ‘subsidised’, even though those on slightly higher incomes with little or no dependence on housing benefit are among the least subsidised householders in the whole housing market.

Red Brick makes no apology for saying ‘we told you so’ on pay-to-stay since we were among the first to draw attention to the risks. Back in 2011, when first mooted by Grant Shapps, it would have applied only to so-called wealthy people who choose to live in council houses and whose combined earnings came to over £100,000. It was of course aimed at people like the late Bob Crow, who earned £145,000 and had the temerity to live in a housing association flat. In response to widespread criticism that, if set at that threshold, the scheme would cost far more than it would generate, DCLG shifted the starting point downwards. Red Brick predicted four years ago that this would be even more of a bureaucratic nightmare, since it would draw all tenants into having to declare their incomes and any changes to them. This point is now confirmed by Southwark council, who say that means testing tenants is an ‘expensive exercise in futility’ that could cost authorities millions to administer. If it has to be done, they want HM Revenue and Customs to do it for them.

And in any case, the extra red tape could now generate only £75 million annually, according to the LGA, rather than the £365 million that the government projects. This would add less than a paltry 0.8% to rental income, before admin costs are deducted, meaning the scheme could potentially produce no net income at all. As Jules Birch has pointed out, the government’s own assessment indicated that (at least in the first year) admin costs could be as high as £65 million, and Southwark’s warning shows that in practice this is very likely an underestimate, especially given the increasing variability of household earnings among those on modest incomes.

Even if the scheme does produce a small surplus, in a travesty of the principle that council housing is now self-financing, the money will have to be repaid to government. When council housing bought its financial independence in April 2012 by paying £7 billion to the Treasury, the government said this meant councils would ‘keep all the money they receive from rent’ and for tenants that ‘the level of rent you pay will continue to be a decision for your council’. It took barely a year for the government to issue the consultation paper which broke both these promises.

There are plenty more arguments against pay-to-stay too. It will be a disincentive to precisely those people who have jobs that pay modest salaries and who might want to try to earn more. It will encourage more tenants to exercise their right to buy, at which point of course they really will get a massive subsidy to help them buy their house, of a size unavailable to other first-time buyers. And it will lead to the further residualisation of social housing, eroding the mixed communities which were until recently an important aim of housing policy. As Natalie Bloomer commented on, social tenants are now penalised for having too many bedrooms, penalised (by the benefits cap) if they don’t have jobs, and will soon be penalised if they do. The message to social housing tenants is: ‘If you don’t work, we’ll punish you. If you do work, we’ll punish you’. And as evidence of how struggling households will suffer, the Guardian has helpfully compiled some tenant stories of what the scheme’s consequences might be.

Fortunately, opponents of this daft policy appear to have an ally, someone who says that ‘while we continue to help the worst off we will also be focused on the millions of people for whom life is a struggle and who work all hours to keep their heads above water.’ She (and that’s a clue) has set up a powerful working group that will aim to make ‘life easier for the majority of people in this country who just about manage’. Yes, it’s Theresa May, whose newly stated policy aims appear to run counter to those of the pay-to-stay scheme, and it’s Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, who joins her on the new working group. Ditching pay-to-stay would be an excellent no-brainer for the group when it first meets. After all, ending it would cost practically nothing while saving the government from a potentially embarrassing policy failure.

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Growing racism requires a much stronger government response

brexit flags

Hate crimes have increased since the referendum and the biggest increases have been in areas that voted ‘leave’. Government has launched a new hate crime plan but, typically, rather than a proper strategy it’s largely a mish-mash of small schemes, many already taking place. There’s little questioning of why racism is on the increase, and no review of politicians’ own behaviour before and during the referendum. It’s as if increased hate crime is an unfortunate accident rather than the culmination of a viciously anti-immigrant campaign – preceded by the racist labelling of Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral vote and other openly provocative measures stretching back to Theresa May’s ‘go home’ vans two years ago.

In housing, we have seen the introduction of the right to rent, which could almost have been designed as the modern equivalent of those signs saying ‘No Blacks’ that used to be put in windows by landlords until the 1960s. (Coincidentally it was also the sort of discrimination practised in the US at the same time, it seems, by presidential candidate, UKIP supporter and former landlord Donald Trump). Evidence of discrimination in the right to rent pilot in the West Midlands, found by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, was dismissed and the scheme simply rolled out across England last February. It joined the government’s rogue landlords and ‘beds in sheds’ schemes as seemingly as much about immigration control as they are about improving housing conditions.

Social landlords trying to engage with Muslim communities also have the ‘Prevent’ programme breathing down their necks, with housing staff now being trained to identify ‘radicalisation’. But does this merely bring all Muslim men with beards under suspicion, as one housing worker told me, and where is the community-sensitive help for Muslim families genuinely worried about the violent propaganda their young people might be subject to?

In short, many housing professionals and tenants are highly sceptical of the effectiveness of government schemes, whether to identify ‘illegal’ migrants or ‘radicalised’ Muslims, but are all too aware of their damaging effects on community relations.

Now social landlords have a fresh concern, given that two-thirds of social tenants voted against EU membership and all have been exposed to the ‘divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric’ during the campaign, as the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination put it when blaming both politicians and the media. Fortunately, so far there seem to have been few housing-related hate incidents, although a Polish family was attacked in their home in Bristol and children in a Harrogate play area taunted an East European migrant.

The UK government said in response to the UN committee that it has a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to hate crime. ‘We have in place one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry. We keep it under review to ensure it remains effective and appropriate – and recently published a comprehensive new hate crime action plan to drive forward the fight.’

If the legislative framework really ‘protects’ communities, then how come that race hate crime is increasing or that (according to official crime surveys) the real number of incidents is at least twice what is being recorded by police? How come that organisations working with EU migrants report more fear of hate incidents, and Tell MAMA, which monitors Islamophobia, recorded a 300% increase in incidents even before the referendum and some of the recent events in France? If (as the government plan says) ‘we will only be able to drive down hate crime by tackling the prejudice and intolerance that fuel it’, where is the self-analysis by politicians of their own views and actions, that the UN committee thinks is lacking?

Both the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Race Equality Foundation have called for a more comprehensive approach to tackling hate crime related to race or religion. One possibility that was belatedly discussed at PMQs just before the vote was to revive Labour’s Migration Impact Fund. This has since been supported by a range of think tanks, albeit with calls for the initiative to be on a much bigger scale than Labour’s (which was peremptorily closed down by Eric Pickles as ‘ineffective’ within months of the 2010 election). However, the Tory manifesto proposal, to which David Cameron referred at PMQs, was for a ‘Controlling Migration Fund’ which would not only ‘help communities experiencing high and unexpected volumes of immigration’ but also ‘pay for additional immigration enforcement’, again mixing integration measures with immigration control.

If race and religion-related hate crimes are to be tackled effectively, and better community relations pursued, the government needs to begin with a close look at its own policies and public actions. Perhaps this is what Theresa May had in mind last week when she announced a review of how race equality is handled in public services. But if such a review has real importance, why did the news of it slip out on the Saturday of an August Bank Holiday weekend?

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Pantomime villains

Whenever I’ve met John McTernan, which isn’t often, I’ve found him to be a clever and even charming man. It therefore amuses me to see him make his mark as one of a number of Labour right wing pantomime villains invited onto TV shows to argue with the pantomime villains of the left. The parody of political argument that then takes place only makes sense in a Labour Perty which has been so simplistically divided between ‘Trots’ on the one hand and ‘Red Tories’ on the other.

Of course it suits the media to set up these ‘debates’ which mainly involve the trading of the well-crafted insults and stereotypes that make up the relevant ‘narrative’. Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith are both exceptional people in their own way, and both deserve better than this. It is like mass hysteria: people I have known and respected for many years have been caught up in it all, tweeting the most incredible rubbish about one or other of the candidates. For the vast majority of Labour members like me who exist somewhere in the very large space between Momentum and Progress, despair is the most common emotion the campaign has provoked. I will vote for Owen because I think he is more likely to win an election – for me, the most important criterion – but I am happy to defend Jeremy from the more banal attacks on him.

But I digress from my main purpose. What got my interest was that John has pronounced on the issue of housing in his Financial Times column, ‘A failure of imagination blights Britain’s housing policy‘ and I wanted to take him to task on a couple of points. (NB you can sign up for some free FT articles despite the paywall).

First, where he is right: if Theresa May listened to the public, she would focus her attention on housing. Sadly, many in her Party have concluded that housing is an immigration problem, and then come to wrong conclusions (like leaving the EU). Undoubtedly the Blair Governments encouraged immigration to promote growth and to create what they liked to call a ‘flexible’ labour market, and their failure was that they did not properly consider the policies that were needed to minimise the possibility of social tensions, and in particular housing supply. John is also right about housing becoming an insider/outsider issue: those owning homes like having ever more valuable assets even if it means that the next generation are excluded altogether.

Where John goes wrong starts with the phrase ‘The UK already has a massive stock of social housing…’. He argues that the policies of ‘the left’ are predictable – build more council houses – and not a solution. And then, he falls into superficiality: ‘For all the romanticisation of social housing, modern consumers do not want to live in the massive monocultural housing estates of the past’.

So where has John been for the last 30 years? Social housing has been in serious decline as a tenure, quite deliberately so as Governments have encouraged home ownership and private renting. It is the rapid decline in social renting that is at the heart of the housing crisis facing people on low incomes, and it is about to get much worse if the Housing Act is implemented. The millions on housing waiting lists are also consumers and they want to consume a genuinely affordable rented home from a responsible social landlord. Why should their wishes be discounted?

The systemic bias in favour of private solutions has obscured the catastrophic failings of the market tenures. The ‘private sector smartness’ that John so admires is just not enough: it takes tough public sector operators like Ken Livingstone and Sadiq Khan to encourage, mould, cajole and force the profit-hungry development industry into making a real contribution to tackling the housing crisis. John seems to have missed the fact that the mantra of ‘mixed communities’ has been shared across the housing world for decades now – we just argue about the mix that is required and the overriding need to match the affordability of homes with the incomes of the people who need to live in them. Numbers matter, but what is built and for whom matters a lot as well.

And finally John lauds Michael Heseltine’s London Docklands Development Corporation and ‘the one figure with the breadth of vision’ Lord Andrew Adonis. Despite its many other achievements, LDDC delivered very little for people in housing need in the East End, and Adonis’ support for the redevelopment of council estates in inner London (although I think he has pulled back a bit from his original analysis) would take us on the same path: more homes, but not for the poor.

Sadly, proud true Blairites like John still fail to acknowledge that it was a catastrophic error not to build more social housing in the decade after 1997. The Tories have done even worse, but that’s not the lesson Labour should draw. New Labour was mesmerised by private sector solutions that did not deliver good outcomes. Above all, the hostility towards the very idea of council housing was one of New Labour’s most dreadful blunders – a blunder that must not be repeated.

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