Friday, 26 August 2016

The Government has got its housing policies wrong

In this week’s Cornish Guardian, my article addresses the ongoing failures in the housing policy of central government. It was as follows:

As a local councillor, an increasing proportion of my workload comes from helping people experiencing housing problems.

But this is hardly surprising as Cornwall – like many other parts of the United Kingdom – has a dysfunctional housing market, which successive governments have simply failed to deal with.

The sell-off of council houses in the 1980s and the loss of so much social housing was a key catalyst which made the housing market very unbalanced. Such problems were deepened by past and present governments which preferred to see houses as “investments” rather than homes, for which they should be censured.

They should likewise be criticized for much of their approach to housing which, in recent decades, has variously included the active promotion of house price inflation and an end to rent controls, plus tax breaks for rich individuals who wish to own multiple properties.

Recent policy shifts such as the massive reduction in investment in affordable properties and the re-invigoration” of right-to-buy are equally misguided.

The cost of housing has certainly gone up and up, making it more difficult for millions of ordinary people across the UK.

A particularly worrying report has just been published by the National Housing Federation (NHF) which shows that, last year, private landlords received £9.3 billion from housing benefit payments, more than twice what they received a decade ago.

And for me, one of the most telling statistics in the report is that “nearly half (47%) of all families claiming housing benefit” in the increasingly expensive private rented sector are in work, but not earning enough to meet their housing costs.

In launching the report, the Chief Executive of the NHF said it was “madness” to “spend £9 billion of taxpayers' money lining the pockets of private landlords rather than investing in affordable homes."

This led to the inevitable war of words between the NHF (which represents housing associations), government spokespeople and the National Landlords Association (which represents the private sector). The head of policy at the National Landlords Association even accused the NHF of taking a “cheap shot at landlords” because of the failings of central government.

It is my view that the Government has still got its housing policies badly, badly wrong and I cannot fathom why they are so untroubled about subsidising expensive rents through benefit payments.

The Government has even increased the cost of new rental properties from Housing Associations, through their so-called “affordable rent” model which is also driving up the bill for housing benefit.

Anyone who has looked on the Cornwall Homechoice website over the last few days will have seen three newish “affordable rent” units available at between £640 and £660 a month, but “social rent” properties of a similar size were available at less than £400.

It all makes no sense and MPs really need to rethink their approach to housing as a matter of urgency.

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