Valuing housing

House valuesOn Wednesday this year’s Housing Studies Association conference featured a panel discussion on the theme “Who is best placed to judge the value of housing – the state or the consumer?”. The panel members were Vidhya Alakeson of the Resolution Foundation; John Moss, a Councillor at LB Waltham Forest; Paul Tennant of Orbit Group and the Chartered Institute of Housing; and me.

I spoke first. My talk was rather more abstract than those of the other panel members, and perhaps more abstract than the organisers were expecting. But it was the direction my thinking took when I was preparing what I was going to say.

Here’s the text accompanying what I said on the day: [Read more...]

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Would the authentic liberals please stand up?

RaceplancoverThe arrival of Jeremy Browne’s Race Plan, published by the think tank Reform, has generated plenty of coverage in the mainstream and new media. Everyone – within the community of political nerds at least – has, for a few days at least, been talking about Jeremy. Presumably that was a large part of the point. So it’s already mission at least partially accomplished.

Much of the talk in the yellow corner is about quite what possessed JB to publish the book just a few weeks before a key election in which the party faces a wipeout. Given that much of what he’s saying isn’t Liberal Democrat policy the inevitable result will be to generate further confusion about what the party stands for in the minds of voters. You’d be hard pushed to disprove the hypothesis that he’s set the dial to maximum mischief.  Some commentators have condemned him for being self-interested. I’m not entirely sure he’d see that as a criticism.

Browne has made headlines by proclaiming his agenda to be one of promoting “authentic liberalism”, with the implication that anyone who disagrees with him is not an authentic liberal. It’s a classic tactic for marginalising those you disagree with. And given that the evidence before us would suggest Browne’s liberalism is about six parts economic liberalism to three parts personal liberalism and one part social liberalism there are likely to be many within and without the Liberal Democrats who disagree with him violently. [Read more...]

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Welfare reform: the evidence mounts

There is little doubt that IDS’s pet project – welfare reform – is having a significant impact on the lives of some of the most disadvantaged members of our society. And for every case where we might conclude that impact is positive, it would appear there is a substantial pile of cases where the impact is negative.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee made some pointed remarks about the emerging picture last week, including offering recommendations on mechanisms for mitigating some of the worst effects. It will be a while before we see the official DWP response.

Today the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launches two reports addressing different aspects of the welfare reform agenda as they affect the social housing sector. These reports are the first outputs from the Foundation’s housing and poverty research programme.*

In between these two report launches we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing IDS face Andrew Marr for yet another session of the interviewer equivalent of underarm bowling. I’ve had words about that before. [Read more...]

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European Parliament – election debate

CEE 2013If you’re in or around Bristol on 28th April you might find the following event of interest. It’s being organised by Dr Diego Acosta Arcarazo, of the University’s Law School.

I’m not involved, but I’ll be there.

European Parliament elections 2014: join the debate

The European Parliament election is scheduled to take place on 22 May 2014 and the University of Bristol is hosting a political debate on Europe between the first candidates from each of the five most voted parties in the South West: the Conservatives, UKIP, Liberals, Labour and Green parties. You will have the opportunity to ask the candidates questions on key issues such as the future role of the UK in the EU, free movement of citizens or economic matters. [Read more...]

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The bedroom tax and the Liberal Democrats

It was an uncomfortable experience reading today’s Work and Pensions Committee report on what we are now calling the “social sector size criteria” – aka the bedroom tax – and other components of housing support affected by welfare reform.

It was uncomfortable because the cross-party Committee highlights the diverse negative impacts beginning to be documented, a year on from a tranche of major changes to the welfare system.

It is a story of households who are unable to move, because there isn’t suitable alternative accommodation, being plunged into greater poverty.

It is a story of households who do move finding themselves in poorer quality and more insecure accommodation.

It is a story of self-defeating rules that save money under one heading only to incur it again under another.

It is a story of households already facing huge challenges – such as coping with severe disability – being caused further distress by being required to rely upon the vagaries of discretionary housing payments. [Read more...]

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The Q#1 quintet, and more

Here are the five posts on this blog that recorded the most hits between January and March 2014:

  1. Uncertain terrain: Issues and challenges facing housing associations (11th May 2013)
  2. Why is Owen Jones so annoying? (4th July 2013)
  3. My top ten blogs 2013 (29th Dec 2013)
  4. A voyage of rediscovery (4th Jan)
  5. Vince on “social housing” (30th Jan)

[Read more...]

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The Conservatives as keepers of the liberal flame

Over at the New Statesman on Friday Ryan Shorthouse argued that liberals should look to the Conservatives to find the party delivering on a liberal agenda. In the post he reprises some themes that he set out in his contribution to the Liberal Reform fringe meeting at Liberal Democrat spring conference.

Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs
In order to arrive at this conclusion Shorthouse adopts the strategy of giving credit for the ‘liberal’ policies pursued by the current Government to the Conservatives, while glossing over the fact that it is a coalition government and, indeed, that some of the policies cited were initially opposed by the Conservatives but pushed by the Liberal Democrats. He then takes a detour into political ancient history to identify a range of liberal measures adopted by Conservative governments past. And, credit where it is due, some of those measures – such as the factory acts, extension of the franchise, and the abolition of slavery  - were enlightened: they enhanced dignity and autonomy, augmented individual rights, and rebalanced power so that the vulnerable had greater protection against the powerful. [Read more...]

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The economics we need, not the one we’ve got

econafterthecrisisA little late in the day I’ve just finished Adair Turner’s Economics after the crisis: objectives and means, published in 2012. It is based on Turner’s 2010 Lionel Robbins lectures.

Economics after the crisis is a thoughtful book which makes a number of relatively simple but profound points.

The early pages note some of the findings emerging from the literature on happiness. In particular, it examines the paradoxical finding that there is an apparent disconnection, once national income per head reaches a certain level, between further rises in average incomes and reported levels of happiness. More money on average doesn’t appear to make people happier.  Turner notes some of the mechanisms that could generate this finding. He notes that trends towards increasing income and wealth inequalities, which seem to accompany market-based economic growth, exacerbate the problem.

These empirical results present a challenge to simplistic views about the desirability of pursuing economic growth as an overriding policy objective. Turner argues that a proper understanding of the conventional economic arguments means they don’t justify the policy anyway. It is a radical simplification of these arguments that gets used to justify simplistic policy prescriptions associated with uncritical marketization.

And that is before you consider the arguments from behavioural economics about the importance of relativities in consumption. Some of the new behavioural economics thinking moves you even further from conventional thinking on growth. [Read more...]

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On the impact of economic ideas

Supply and demand graphYesterday Noah Smith discussed whether economists’ ideas and arguments have much of an influence on policy and practice. He used an edited version of a famous quote from Keynes as his jumping off point. He then considered whether we can credibly claim that any living economist has significant influence over the path of public affairs. He mentions Paul Krugman, Robert Barro, Martin Feldstein and Greg Mankiw. These are high profile economists who are leading candidates for influence. If they aren’t influential then perhaps no economist is.

Smith differentiates influence on public opinion from influence on elites. He notes that the general public is quite frequently strongly opposed to ideas that have a strong hold within the economics community – such as free trade being a good idea or rent control being a bad idea.

Smith concludes that while there might be some dead economists whose ideas still hold sway – Friedman’s libertarianism being the prime example – whichever way you slice it living economists aren’t demonstrably influential. They are not, in Smith’s assessment, anywhere near as influential as “writers”.  [Read more...]

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