Making the case for the right to housing

There’s plenty happening in the housing world at the moment, and I’m not just Modern Housingtalking about last week’s parallel Manchester gatherings at the CIH annual conference and the HACT House Party.

We’ve seen IPPR launch a fuller version of its proposals for shifting housing subsidy away from housing benefit and back towards bricks and mortar. It attempts to tackle the thorny issue of how to find the money to subsidize new building while still paying housing benefit to those who need it, given that a future government isn’t likely to put a lot more money into housing.

We’ve also seen some high profile housing-related programmes on the television, particular in relation to the less wholesome aspects of private landlordism.

And, perhaps more significant in the short term, Mark Carney has turned talk of macroprudential regulation into some concrete proposals for capping loan-to-value ratios. Quite how that will affect the way the market evolves over the coming months is a tricky question to answer. The industry view would appear to be “not much“. Answering the question is made trickier by the emergence from the red corner of a much stronger set of proposals for a mansion tax. It has been argued that these proposals, coming on top of the well-established support for a mansion tax from the Liberal Democrats, bring such a tax a step nearer and, consequently, are having a chilling effect on the top end of the market in London.

Although the picture is murky, there is a quite a bit of talk at the moment about the market starting to soften. And that is even before interest rates rise. So we could be entering a new phase in the evolution of the market.

For me one of the most interesting developments over the last week or so is the appearance online of a paper by Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Bo Bengtsson and Beth Watts entitled Rights to housing: Reviewing the terrain and exploring the way forward (paywalled, unfortunately).

[Read more…]

Pragmatism and principle on housing and support

rough sleeperWhat is the Coalition’s biggest policy-making failure? I suspect a short poll would generate a long list of contenders.

Quite high on the list must be irrational short-termism. Cut the Environment Agency’s budget significantly in an attempt to save money. End up paying out much more money to clear up the mess created by the flooding that an adequately resourced EA could have prevented. Type of thing.

Patrick Butler’s post today at the Guardian got me thinking about this issue. Patrick highlights the cuts that many local authorities are making to Supporting People and supported housing budgets. While this may save money under one heading – housing and support – it will without doubt incur substantial costs under a range of other policy headings – including policing and health services. [Read more…]

It’s only going to get worse

It seems that with each passing week the news on the housing front gets gloomier. A week ago the NHF published its latest Home Truths report which extrapolated current trends and concluded that if things carry on as they are then affordability – or rather unaffordability – will pretty rapidly reach new heights of absurdity. And we are barely able to grasp the implications of the longer-term scenarios for prices and rents set out in the report.

Of course, the chances of these forecasts proving accurate are pretty low. All sorts of things could, and probably will, intervene in the meantime. For example, the probability of a Help to Buy fuelled property price implosion just in time for – or more likely just after – the 2015 General Election is non-zero. And if that happens then the direction of the whole debate will change.

But the purpose of such forecasts is not to be accurate. They are a political call to action to try to ensure the future turns out differently. Given the media profile that the report achieved I would imagine the report is seen as having met its short term objectives at least.


A more substantial piece of research emerged a few days later when the third instalment of the Crisis/JRF Homelessness Monitor was published. This is an invaluable long term project documenting the impact of the changing social, economic and policy context upon housing and homelessness since the arrival of the Coalition government. I blogged about the previous report in The gathering storm. This year’s report presents a similarly gloomy picture. Jules has summarized some of the key points already. The trajectory of homelessness is very different in different regions, as are the principal causes in different parts of the country. But the overall picture the report paints is one of a deteriorating situation.

The report identifies three issues, which have perhaps had less prominence in the debate so far, that I thought worth noting. [Read more…]

Who is social housing for, and who should it be for?

Yesterday I participated in a consultation event organised by Bristol City Council. it was designed to start a debate locally about the revision of social housing allocations policy. My talk, which ranged rather more broadly than simply allocations policy, is a bit too long to include in a blog post, so I have bunged it on to Scribd. It can be accessed below. [Read more…]

Housing strategies in challenging times

[On 10/01/13 I gave a brief overview of the context facing rented housing as part of an event called Housing Challenges in Exeter organised by Exeter City Council. This is the text to accompany my presentation.]

Building a StrategyOur housing system faces significant pressures. Short term pressures generated by the fallout from the financial crisis have been overlaid upon longer term problems. These pressures are felt particularly acutely in the rented sectors. Difficulties accessing home ownership boost the demand for private and social renting. Social housing is only able to rehouse a relatively small proportion of those on the waiting list. Difficulties accessing social housing boost the demand for private renting. But in many areas the demand of private renting is such that there are access difficulties here too.

These are challenging times for those seeking to ensure populations are adequately housed.

The other key component of the context is cuts. [Read more…]

The gathering storm

A storm is heading our way. That’s the only conclusion you can sensibly draw from reading the second annual independent Homelessness Monitor, funded by Crisis and published this month.

Homelessness is a complex phenomenon, with its roots in the interaction of structural, social and individual factors. Broad economic and labour market trends can contribute to homelessness, but the housing market acts as the more direct driver. Social capital and individual resilience can reduce the risks of homelessness, while persistent structural weaknesses can slowly erode those personal protective factors and increase risks.

6964996505_6bc3262014_nThe English social safety net is conventionally seen as having a rather different structure to those of many other developed industrial countries. Our mainstream social security benefits are rather meagre by international standards, and their real value has been significantly eroded over the last couple of decades. But this is counterbalanced by a stronger housing safety net and stronger statutory homelessness provision for many types of household, although typically not for single people. It is the housing safety net, not the social security system, that breaks the link between low income and poor housing conditions. As a consequence, while the UK doesn’t do terribly well in terms of poverty rates, when looked at comparatively and cross-nationally it does rather better in terms of housing conditions.

This model is being severely challenged by the current Government’s austerity agenda. [Read more…]

Housing – winding the clock back

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 12/11/12]

Friday 9th November 2012 could well come to be seen as a landmark date in the history of English housing policy. A key change introduced by the Localism Act 2011 came into effect. The Liberal Democrats are part of the Government presiding over the change. Is it a change we can be proud of?

Local authorities can now discharge their statutory homelessness duty by allocating households a tenancy in the private rented sector rather than in social housing. This has been an option for years. But until now to pursue this route the local authority has had to secure agreement from the household concerned. The Localism Act removes this requirement. Households can be sent to a twelve month private sector tenancy without the local authority needing their agreement. This would constitute discharge of the homelessness duty.

Given the housing benefit cap introduced as part of the welfare reform agenda, local authorities in areas of high housing costs face a challenge. There are few, if any, properties in their local private sector that are affordable to homeless households.

So local authorities have been looking further afield to find properties at rents that will be affordable, given housing benefit restrictions. Homeless households could face relocating by hundreds of miles to secure suitable independent accommodation. London boroughs are reported to be in negotiations with authorities in areas including Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Merthyr Tydfil. [Read more…]

Housing the homeless in the private rented sector

The publication of Statutory Instruments is not, if I’m absolutely honest, the sort of thing to which I pay much attention. However, this week The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 was published. It comes into effect early next month. And it is going to be of considerable significance.

Following the Localism Act local authorities are now allowed, for the first time, to discharge their homelessness duty into the private rented sector without the applicant’s consent. This change brought the Government under pressure to lay down some conditions regarding the nature of the accommodation that can be used for this purpose. And that’s what the SI does. [Read more…]

Reaching the Terrible Twos

Today is the second anniversary of this blog opening for business. Happy Birthday – Blorthday? No, that sounds awful – to me. Another year of offering a largely indifferent world some more or less coherent thoughts on a range of loosely related topics.

This landmark arrives at a time when the Liberal Democrat blogosphere is going through a period of reflection. This was triggered by Stephen Tall’s comments at the Liberal Democrat Voice Blog Of The Year awards at the Brighton conference. He made the point that things aren’t quite what they used to be, with a reduction in the number of active Liberal Democrat bloggers, and the enticements of alternative social media – primarily Twitter and Facebook – seemingly proving a distraction. Several prominent bloggers – including Jonathan Calder, Richard Morris and Neil Monnery – responded. The assessment that emerged was not, perhaps, quite as downbeat as Stephen’s initial comments might have been taken to suggest.

My view is that, for all their virtues, other social media cannot supersede blogging or, if they do, then something will be lost in the process. [Read more…]

Policy and evidence – the homelessness episode part II

Last weekend the Observer ran with the story on welfare reform and homelessness. A senior civil servant at CLG had written to the Prime Minister warning that the Government’s proposed welfare reforms could result in – among other negative consequences – 40,000 additional homeless households (as I discussed here). This raised questions about a Government willing to ignore its own evidence and the accuracy or otherwise of Ministerial statements to Parliament. Subsequently Grant Shapps has dismissed the 40,000 figure because it was based upon “out of date” information and didn’t relate to current government policy. He also announced a £20m fund for integrating homelessness prevention services, rolling out a model that has worked in London to the rest of the country.

A passage in yesterday’s blog by the Guardian HousingNetwork Editor caught my eye: [Read more…]