Social housing ‘reform’: less Localism and more Localis

There is a lot in common between the policies on social housing announced today by Grant Shapps.  None of the policies appeared in the Lib Dem Manifesto.  Apart from better mobility, none appeared in the Conservative Manifesto, which promised to “respect the tenures and rents of social housing tenants”.  Apart from the HRA reform and empty homes, none made it into the coalition agreement.  The common thread is that they have all been thoroughly undemocratically arrived at and the British people were not told any of it at the Election.

The truth is that these policies have all been developed in the back channels of the Conservative Party.  One document recommended virtually all the policies now adopted by the coalition.  A Localis pamphlet written by the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Stephen Greenhalgh, and John Moss, in 2009, called ‘Principles for Social Housing Reform’, proposed ending security of tenure, raising rents to market levels, and removing rights from homeless people.  There is only one serious departure – Greenhalgh and Moss accepted that there would have to be a commensurate increase in housing benefit payments to enable rents to rise so high – and the government hasn’t taken that one on board.

Dave Hill in his London blog traces the contact between Greenhalgh and the Tory front bench.  The more they met, and the more the front bench distanced themselves in public from the more extreme policies, the more committed they seem to have become to implementing them if they won.

There is little doubt that social housing has suffered from a great deception. 

We will have more about the new policies on Red Brick shortly, but the government’s consultation paper can be found here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/housing/pdf/1775577.pdf

 The Tory back channel policies can be found here:  http://www.localis.org.uk/images/articles/Localis%20Principles%20for%20Social%20Housing%20Reform%20WEB.pdf

And Dave Hill’s history can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/davehillblog/2009/oct/05/stephen-greenhalgh-housing-policy-timeline

Those that like to follow the personalities in housing as well as the policies will be interested to know that Greenhalgh and Moss specially acknowledge the help of “two extremely influential couples” – Julie Cowans, co-author of Visions for Social Housing, and David Cowans, Chief Executive of Places for People; and Nick Johnson, Chief Executive of H&F Homes and Kate Davies, Chief Executive of Notting Hill Housing Trust. 

 As Stan Laurel once said, “Here’s another nice mess I got you into.”

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12 Responses to Social housing ‘reform’: less Localism and more Localis

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  12. Monimbo says:

    Of the proposals in today’s package, two struck me as being particularly characteristic of an approach which aims to turn social housing (and especially council housing) into what Mark Stephens calls an ‘ambulance service’. These are the proposed powers for councils to offer tenancies as short as two years, and for them to discharge their homelessness duties through the private rented sector. While in many parts of the country they will perhaps go largely unused, one can imagine a race to the bottom taking place in London, where the likes of Stephan Greenhalgh and others will adopt them enthusiastically, and others follow suit to avoid being swamped.

    Combined with the HB cuts, it could have a dramatic effect in a relatively short time on how housing demands are dealt with. While a proportion of working households might get access to intermediate tenancies on more secure but more expensive terms, and be relatively happy with those, waiting list applicants or those accepted as homeless who have low-paid work or are unemployed face a very insecure future. Most are probably already in the private rented sector or are sharing, and looked to social housing for security and affordable rents. Now they will get neither.

    This looks like a deliberate attempt to undermine the popularity of social housing as a positive choice for those on low incomes. If there are five million people on waiting lists, the problem is clearly not insufficient supply but the wrong sort of demand, ie those people need to be shown their mistake in thinking a council house will solve their problem. In future, it won’t, it will provide only marginally more security than a private let. Demand will fall and the pressure to spend on social housing will fall with it.

    Much now depends on the good sense of most local authorities, backed by tenants’ groups, to see off these changes. Most of the ‘reforms’ in the consultation paper are discretionary: if only the Greenhalghs of the local government world decide to take them up, they could end up in the rubbish bin where they belong.

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