Housing: What Crisis?

street scene (2099)Last Friday evening I took a trip out to Coalpit Heath to talk housing at a meeting of the newly constituted South Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats. The title I was working to was Housing: What Crisis?. The talk was followed by a Q&A session in which members of the audience asked some cracking questions touching on a wide range of issues. We could have continued our conversation for much longer than the time available, which is always a good sign.

Below the fold is a modified version of what I said on the day. It is also available via my Scribd.com site. [Read more…]

Social care: an augury of the shape of housing things to come?

The announcement by ONS that housing associations are to be reclassified as non-financial public corporations, thereby moving at least £60bn of debt onto the public balance sheet, came as a surprise to many. It perhaps came as more of a surprise than it should have done, given that the decision rested upon policy changes that occurred several years ago. The current raft of policy proposals will see the government taking an even stronger role in directing the affairs of housing associations. They are therefore, one would assume, only going to confirm that the ONS decision has moved things in the appropriate direction.

That raises the question of the future for housing associations. There are, at least, three scenarios. [Read more…]

Constitutional ‘crisis’

Legislation DefinitionThe Chancellor’s defeat in the House of Lords on Monday over cuts to tax credits has, rightly, generated acres of commentary. I don’t propose to review the debate in detail here, other than to observe, as a number of commentators and bloggers have already noted, that on this occasion George Osborne is largely responsible for boxing himself into a corner. It is the nonsense of his fiscal charter, coupled with ringfencing of some budgets and already eye-watering cuts to unprotected services that has left him with limited room for manoeuvre.

The Government’s proposals were obviously going to cause hardship. Treasury arguments that cuts in tax credit would be compensated by rises in the national minimum wage and tax thresholds were shown to be so much hot air quite a while ago. The absence of transitional relief would have indicated to anyone who was paying attention – and, as Chris pointed out, that is perhaps rather fewer people than should have been – that Osborne was going to administer a shock to the system. The showdown with the House of Lords was rather predictable. Government defeat was perhaps less so. But it was hardly surprising in the context.

The Government’s tactic of manufacturing a constitutional dimension to this issue was, presumably, meant to scare the Lords into line. But it didn’t work, in part because it wasn’t an entirely plausible claim from the outset. The Government paid the price for its own dissembling. The failure to be straight with the electorate in the run up to the election over where cuts to the welfare bill would fall, coupled with the use of secondary legislation to sneak the provisions through the House, were its undoing. We wait to hear what, if anything, the Government’s retaliatory review of the role of the House of Lords will deliver.

It is this last point that I wanted to pick up here. [Read more…]

At JC’s invitation – 19th Oct or thereabouts

Blogging is funFollowing up a similar post at Liberal Democrat Voice earlier today, Jonathan Calder at Liberal England has reflected on what he has been blogging about on 19th October all the way back into the mists of 2004.

He invited others to do likewise. It feels a bit retro, but I’ve had a go.

I’ve had a look back through the – slightly shorter in my case – archive and discovered that I don’t post frequently enough to hit 19th October regularly. But I have usually posted a day or two one side or the other of 19th.

So here’s my ‘thereabouts’ list: [Read more…]

Alleged rights violations

The Herald carried a post yesterday that justifies a broader audience. Not for the first time this summer the paper has drawn attention to the fact that Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have submitted a dossier to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) alleging that the UK government’s welfare reforms have led to “grave or systematic violations” of human rights.

Yesterday’s post reported that not only has the UNCRPD taken note of this dossier but that the allegations were judged sufficiently credible to trigger a confidential investigation. Officials arrived in the UK this weekend to gather further evidence firsthand.

The Herald observes that “The UK is the first country in the world to be investigated in this manner”. I’ve no idea whether that claim is accurate. I’m not sure there’s any particular reason to doubt it. If other countries have found themselves under similar scrutiny in the past, does that make the situation any less problematic?

It is deeply troubling that a UK government should have allowed such a situation to arise. [Read more…]

The economisation of policy and the problem of price

Last week I found myself discussing – indeed partially defending – economics in the face of somewhat indiscriminate accusations of “neoliberalism”. I have no doubt that some economists – while rarely self-defining as “neoliberal” – find themselves in sympathy with the political project that is usually signified by that label. But that is a long way from saying that economics and economists are, by definition, the handmaidens of the currently hegemonic political paradigm. Some of them may serve as useful idiots for the cause. But that is a different matter.

During the course of this discussion I argued something along the lines that it is just as important to look at the detail as to focus on the big picture. In particular, more people need to recognise the progressive economisation of policy. This is arguably playing a role in edging us into a post-democratic world. In this context “economisation” means requiring policy proposals to pass the sort of tests that economists deem to signify that proposals are based upon “robust” evidence. The whole structure of impact assessments, one-in, one-out rules, and the activities of the Regulatory Policy Committee are components of this insidious economisation. It was argued over a decade ago – by Bronwyn Morgan – that such regulatory devices can act as a strongly conservative force on policy making. It is much easier, generally speaking, to demonstrate the costs of change than it is to even articulate – let alone measure – the full range of benefits that will accrue. So policy changes fail the cost-benefit test, and consequently don’t occur. [Read more…]

Making it to five (not out)

This blog opened for business five years ago today. The first post was Can the Big Society be anything more than BS?, reblogged from Liberal Democrat Voice. It felt like quite a big step to strike out on my own rather than post occasionally at group sites. The most recent post – yesterday’s Compassionate friends of Conservatism – just tipped me over 600 posts.

A blogging anniversary is conventionally a time to pause and reflect. I did so on the blog’s second anniversary – Reaching the terrible twos – but I don’t think I’ve done so since. Last year I was knee deep in party conference season and the anniversary was marked with a post originating at a fringe event about The Orange BookNotes from a small gathering.

I guess reflection might be even more in order this year because quite a lot of blogs fall silent long before they reach the five year mark. So I’ve longevity on my side. Not only that but this blog apparently gets used as a case study in talks about blogging for and by academics. It occasionally get accused of thought leadership and suchlike.

So one might assume that I’ve got some pearls of wisdom to share. [Read more…]

Compassionate friends of Conservatism

016d71e5-b3e1-4390-897a-79d8cfe670f3We all know that the talk of compassionate conservatism that characterised the early years of Cameron’s leadership was quietly dropped. When one of your main political strategies is taking money from the poor and disabled – reducing thousands to penury – the whole compassion thing comes across as a bit incongruous, regardless of how often you claim you were doing it for their own good.

While the party had sought to shed its image as the nasty party this proved too much of a stretch. Critics claim that the mask has slipped: there is clear evidence that the party has reverted to type.

Whether or not that is the case, we got an illuminating insight into the thinking of one of the party’s favourite think tanks today. [Read more…]

The Q#3 quintet (the while you were away edition)

Here are the five posts on this blog that recorded the most hits between July and September 2015:

I can only think that the frequent appearance of Mr J across the media over the summer has forced more people on to the internet to ask the question posed in the title of the list-topping post. It was a long, long way ahead of the other posts on the list in terms of traffic.

[Read more…]

Sell offs and sell outs

An awful lot seems to have happened on the housing policy front this week. Or at least the volume of housing talk has increased considerably.

We started the week with Brandon Lewis announcing that the Government wants to see a million new homes by 2020. But the Government then clarified that this doesn’t constitute anything as ambitious as a target. Nor does it appear they are proposing any significant new strategies, plans or actions to increase the likelihood that a million new homes might appear in the next four years. There was some reference to making it easier for people to build and to brownfield sites. But then there usually is. So precisely what this announcement signified was not altogether clear.

Lewis pitched the million homes figure into the news media during the Liberal Democrat conference. [Read more…]