Policy-induced uncertainty

[Originally posted on The Policy Press blog, 24/07/15, under a different title. Reposted here under the original title.]

Choices of a businessmanGeorge Osborne’s recent “emergency” budget proposed many changes to state support to lower income households in a bid to fulfil the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to cut £12bn from welfare spending.

One unexpected aspect of this package was the proposal to cut housing association rents by 1% each year for the next four years.

This proposal was justified with reference to social housing rent rises over the last few years. These have pushed up the already substantial housing benefit bill. Households have needed greater state assistance in order to afford the rents being set. Bearing down on rents over the next few years will, it is claimed, both reduce the housing benefit bill and force social landlords to deliver efficiency gains.

To the unwary or unfamiliar this argument could appear entirely plausible. It is surely time to try to rein in this sort of behaviour: landlords extracting income at the taxpayers’ expense.

Yet, it is important to understand how we have arrived at the current situation and what the consequences of this policy change are likely to be. [Read more…]

Policy unpacked #10 – Social housing: heading for history or the tenure of the future?

Policy UnpackedIn this podcast I contrast some the current Conservative government’s policy proposals with alternatives offered by a couple of recently published reports, and then reflect on the current state of the debate, particularly the role of evidence.

(Running time: 28′ 07″)

Mentioned in this podcast:

[Read more…]

Developments in the ongoing Bedroom Tax saga

8610361700_dea8d85350_zYou have to admire Andrew George. Or at least I do. Commentators are busying themselves accusing the Liberal Democrats of inconstancy or hypocrisy in supporting his Private Members’ Bill to reform the Bedroom Tax. But we should remember that George has ploughed a rather lonely furrow in consistent opposition to the policy from the start, even as the bulk of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party repeatedly lined up behind the Tories to support it.

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that the George’s Affordable Homes Bill, if it were to be successful, would bring housing benefit policy closer to current Liberal Democrat party policy. In that respect the Liberal Democrats can’t be accused of hypocrisy. The more problematic issue is why the Libdem leadership supported a policy of such obvious boneheadedness in the first place.

Nor is it hypocritical to change position on a policy as new evidence comes to light. That is entirely reasonable and sensible. The more problematic issue is that the evidence that is said to have triggered the Liberal Democrat leadership change of position is not, really, very new. It largely confirms what people who understand the housing sector have been saying about the policy’s likely consequences since before the policy was implemented.

But there is some very clear hypocrisy and obfuscation in the Liberal Democrat messaging around yesterday’s events. [Read more…]

Evidence or otherwise on Housing Benefit reform

Graph diagram pie chart 3dThe mainstream media seem finally to have cottoned on to the fact that our welfare system is to undergo substantial change tomorrow. I mentioned a couple of months ago that the changes around the so-called bedroom tax were, belatedly, attracting broader media interest. And the media are connecting the deathly dry changes to the regulations to real life stories of hardship. They’ve also started to join up the dots to realise that it could well turn out that April is, indeed, the cruellest month.

Some of us have been banging on about the potentially negative implications of these changes for some months, if not years. It is good that they are now achieving some serious public profile. But it is a bit late to head off the chaos that could well follow their implementation.

What precisely will follow the raft of changes during April is a bit of a moot point. Will the prognostications of catastrophe be correct? Or will the Government’s much more sanguine view be borne out? Clearly, it is an issue of great significance.

It emerged as a key area of contention in the report on the impact of housing benefit reform published by the Public Accounts Committee last week. [Read more…]

On curbing housing benefit

The Coalition committed itself to reducing the aggregate housing benefit bill, which stood at around £20bn per year when it took office. The seemingly inexorable growth in housing benefit payments had been identified as a problem before the Coalition’s formation. It was one indicator that the housing market was sick. So the Coalition’s policy aspirations here were not particularly implausible or objectionable. Indeed, you could argue that it showed creditable determination to deal with a longstanding issue.

The issue is how it has, then, gone about tackling the problem. And to do so it has started by introduced a range of restrictions on eligibility. Here in Bristol it is forecast that something like £11million will be removed from the annual private rented sector housing benefit bill, and the local authority has been allocated £500,000 to manage the fallout. If and when Universal Credit arrives next year the cap on housing benefit will sharply tighten again for many households. [Read more…]

Housing challenges

The other day I had to give a 10 minute summary of my take on the housing challenges we currently face.

I don’t claim any great originality in what I covered. But I thought it might be useful to set the points out here.

The next stage is to draw up some thoughts on what we might do to address these challenges.

[Read more…]

Rent Asunder

[Originally posted at Dale&Co., 03/01/12]

The new year has opened with a couple of important housing stories. The first was another attempted crackdown on illegal subletting in council housing. The second, which attracted significant media attention, is the reform of the local housing allowance (LHA) – the housing benefit which assists low income private renters. A tranche of rule changes came into force with the New Year. The media coverage was sparked by the publication of a Chartered Institute of Housing report arguing that the rule changes render 800,000 properties no longer affordable to low income renters. A range of unfortunate negative consequences are argued to follow. The Department for Work and Pensions – which is responsible for this policy – is having none of it.

The Government arrived with a seductively plausible case. [Read more…]

Laying the foundations?

Yesterday saw the publication of the Coalition’s housing strategy. It brought together policy touching upon housing from across a range of Whitehall Departments. The document represents a welcome recognition of the importance of housing to the broader economy and society. It covers quite a lot of ground, although not a lot of it represents news. There were, however, some high profile new proposals.

I have decide not to post an exceptionally long blog – even for me! – on the whole document. For a change I’ve written some of my initial thoughts up as a paper. I hope some of it is of interest. [Read more…]

Tax payers and ‘the right to the city’: alternative narratives on cuts to Housing Benefit

A few days ago I tweeted that current housing policy was a “right mess”. That was in part a response to the news, reported in Inside Housing, that there is going to be an increase in the distribution of tents for homeless ex-offenders in Nottingham, in lieu of settled accommodation. But it was a more general observation that the intersection of the various current initiatives don’t seem to sum to anything bordering on coherent. A key element of the current agenda is the reform of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for private tenants. And we’re now moving into the implementation phase of the reforms.

I’ve written about the LHA before (here and here). But I return to it because the more I think about it the more I think there has been something missing from the debate. [Read more…]

Housing associations and new policy-induced risks

The Coalition government has well and truly disrupted the trajectory of social housing policy in England. That is partly a product of austerity, but also a product of seeking to implement different ideas on tenure and funding that have been brewing for some while. Current initiatives will no doubt open up new opportunities, but they will be accompanied by new risks. How this will play out is by no means clear. I have discussed the broad scope of the changes previously, starting here. The net impact could well be to the considerable disadvantage of vulnerable households. [Read more…]