Abigail Davies (of the Chartered Institute of Housing) blogged on Wednesday about her concern that social housing was beginning to be seen as a type of welfare.
I think this is a horse that is about to bolt, if it hasn’t already, and we’re going to need some very robust arguments to shut the stable door.
It’s clear that David Cameron sees social housing as a form of welfare dependency and living in social housing a ‘problem’ to be resolved. As he put it so eloquently in 2009:
“Generations of families are trapped in social housing, denied the chance to break out or to buy their own property. I don’t want a child’s life-story to be written before they’re even born, and a responsible housing policy which helps people up and out of dependency can help re-write that story.”
So, if you’re in social housing, you’re life story’s already written, unless you get out fast.
If the Tories and Liberals win the argument that social and affordable housing is ‘welfare’ making the case for it is going to be even harder than at present.
Here’s why it isn’t welfare and this is the case we should make:
Social and affordable homes help people to stand on their own two feet and look after themselves – providing good quality, decent homes at rents that low earning families can afford. Because families can afford their housing costs out of their own wages, they don’t need to be part of the mean-tested benefits system. And that gives people every incentive to work more, get a promotion or help another family member into work. A secure and affordable home is not a threat to people’s independence, but the platform from which people strive to improve their circumstances.
A policy of expanding the numbers of affordable homes will allow more people to be supported in this way, especially those who, at other times, would have bought their own home.
Secondly, we must be clearer about the ‘subsidy’ in social housing. Yes, it requires grant and government funding up-front to build it. But it pays its own way overtime. The rents from social housing more than pay back the grant it takes to build them. Britain’s ‘social housing business’ makes a profit for the country.
Council housing currently provides the Treasury with a surplus and will until HRA reforms next year. Rent revenues from homes owned by housing associations helps fund further new build, or in organisations that don’t develop, ends up accumulating as a surplus.
In a nutshell, affordable housing isn’t subsidised by the taxpayer and makes money in time.
The housing sector makes a compelling case for the importance of social housing for the poorest and most vulnerable. This is important and essential. But, if we want to make a better case to counter the ‘welfare’ argument, we need to be more robust in showing how good affordable housing helps people to work and provide for themselves.