The idea of evicting social housing tenants on higher incomes emerged in Westminster, based on some very dodgy statistics about how many tenants earned over £50,000 and £100,000. It appears that after years of saying soial housing had too many poor people, now the Tories say it has too many rich people as well. I suspect they just don’t like social housing. Now that Grant Shapps has taken up the attack, it has become a national story. The original story was broken by the Leader of the Labour Group on Westminster, Paul Dimoldenberg. In a guest blog, he accuses Shapps of tabloid-style reasoning. No surprise there then.
So Grant Shapps MP thinks it is a ‘no brainer’ to evict Council and Housing Association tenant families who between them earn £100,000 a year. He reckons that there are 6,000 such families across the UK who he says are rich enough to be able to buy their own home and should be evicted so that they can make way for a family who is in more serious need of a home.
Well, I certainly have a number of serious concerns about this proposal which has emerged out of the blue without any consultation or thought to the consequences.
In typical tabloid-style reasoning Mr Shapps raises the spectre of RMT trade union leader Bob Crow who earns £130,000 a year but still lives in a council house in north London. Interestingly, Mr Shapps can name no other high-earning individual or family to make his case and his argument rests entirely on the personal circumstances and choices made by Government ‘hate-figure-in-chief’ Mr Crow.
But the facts of these so-called ‘high-earning’ Council tents are a million miles from the isolated Bob Crow example.
A more typical ‘high-earning’ family is the one living in Grant Shapps’ constituency in a 2-bed Council or Housing Association flat where the parents both have middle income jobs earning £25,000 each and their daughter and her fiancee, again both earning £25,000, are saving for a deposit on their first home. Does Mr Shapps really think that this family is ‘rich’?
Does Mr Shapps really expect Council and Housing Association tenant families like this to reveal their incomes if it means that, by doing so, they will be evicted if they are thought by the Government to be earning too much? And how many people will decide not to work overtime or go for promotion if it means that they will creep over the £100,000 threshold and face eviction?
If Council and Housing Association tenants have to reveal the income of all family members living in their home, will it include the state pension of an elderly grandparent living with them? And will the meagre earnings of the teenage daughter with a Saturday job also be required to be included, too? Real life is very different from Mr Shapps’ easy headline grabbing and ill-thought out policies. So far he has failed to answer any of these points.
Or will local Councils and Housing Associations be told to make assumptions about their tenants’ income and then to evict those families who they estimate to be ‘wealthy’?
Mr Shapps says a family with a combined income of £100,000 should be able to buy a home of their own, but this will be different across the UK. In London, the South East and South West, a young couple with a combined income of £50,000 and living in a Council flat with mum and dad will not be able to get on the home-ownership ladder if that family is told to move out and buy their own flat. They will end up in private rented accommodation paying a lot more in rent.
And how did this £100,000 figure come about? Was it the result of research or is it a convenient figure that will guarantee tabloid headlines?
Posted on 6 June 2011. Later Paul added:
Housing Minister Grant Shapps’ plans to evict Council and Housing Association households with a combined income of £100,000 unravelled today on the BBC Radio 2 ‘Jeremy Vine Show’ when he contradicted statements he made over the weekend and now claimed that his new policy would mean that families with four or more people on average incomes would not be evicted if their combined household income is more than £100,000.
In a bizarre example of ‘policy making on the hoof’, Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 2 listeners that
- The £100,000 income threshold only applies to individuals and couples with a combined income of £100k
- Other family members’ income (e.g. children, granparents) will not be counted
However, Mr Shapps’ claim that this new policy would mean that people with high incomes would move out and allow people in housing need to take their place, was immediately in tatters when he revealed that if the high earners paid the market rent then they could continue to live in their Council or Housing Association property as now.
Mr Shapps failed to spell out how Councils and Housing Associations would gather the information on ‘high earning’ tenant incomes or how much the Town Hall bureaucracy would cost to set up, run and police. Mr Shapps also failed to answer how he would stop high earning individuals declaring that their income was £95,000 or stop the two person household declaring that they earned £45,000 each in order to dodge having to pay market rents.
By introducing a new policy of letting high earners stay if they pay market rents, he will provide very few new homes for people in housing need. And much of the extra cash generated by increased market rents will go topay for an army of Town Hall snoopers whose job it will be to set up a new bureaucracy to find out tenants’ income and enforce the new red-tape regime introduced by Mr Shapps.
Last month, Westminster’s Housing Cabinet member Philippa Roe claimed that the Council wanted to increase rents for high earners by “a little bit more”, but now Grant Shapps has revealed the truth and tenants will face a 400% increase in rents as they go from their current level of around £110 a week to market rents of £450 a week or more.
The answer to local housing shortages is to build more homes for social rent, not to divide the community and set middle earners, the low paid and high earners against each other. Giving Councils like Westminster Council the power to set their own rent levels will mean that Council rents will go up for everyone, not just those on over £100,000.