Housing as a political football is wrong and so is Dromey

Oh dear Jack Dromey you have just signed your death warrant on any chance of respect for you from the housing sector.  I say that in regard to an article an exclusive no less in Inside Housing.

The article begins “Labour will soon be launching tough proposals for the private rented sector, shadow housing minister Jack Dromey told delegates at a homelessness conference.” He said “…the PRS strategy would be a ‘radically different model’ from the Conservative policy and he would ‘make it work’.”

Yet when asked what this was he said simply wait and see!  Oh dear, what a political buffoon Dromey is turning out to be.  Strong words reader?  Not at all and here’s why.

The shadow housing minister is invited to speak at a homelessness conference; an audience that knows it is best suited with a Labour rather than a Conservative administration for so many reasons but in short always likely to be a receptive audience for a Labour Housing Minister. Add to this rampant rises in homelessness and in rough sleeping and huge disquiet amongst housing professionals over Shapps mismanagement of housing policy and also the general public’s outcry over the same as in last week’s news of London boroughs exporting its homelessness oop north – the social cleansing HB diaspora – and everythign was in his favour.

He should have taken charge of the housing debate to set the agenda and lead on it.  But what does the hapless Dromey do?  Some vague and woolly announcement about an announcement at some time in the future (aka Shapps strategy) and hope that saying I will be tough on the housing sector ‘bogeyman’ – the private landlord – will score some brownie points with the sector.

Ineptitude of the highest order and yet another political buffoon at the housing helm!

Dromey has been long enough in post to master his brief, sees a largely unanimous housing sector and general public dissatisfaction with the current housing and homeless policies, has a chance to set the agenda, an agenda that doubtless would have been discussed massively at the upcoming annual housing bash in June – the CIH conference – Yet despite everything in his favour he announces I will announce something in ……July and after the CIH conference!

Aside from the political ineptitude of missing a huge opportunity to influence the sector and take control of the housing agenda, what he actually said is, unfortunately the real problem.

Housing is not and shouldn’t be a political football for Labour to boo the private landlord and the Tories to raise three cheers and defend.  Housing is a national asset, a national issue and a national problem.

Yet successive governments over the last 30 years have used it as a political football and that is WHY housing now is in such a state of economic national emergency.  Dromey in a woeful attempt in taking a swipe at private landlords sees that trend continuing and he has massively misjudged the housing sector, the general public and the national housing problem in doing that.

Simply portraying the private landlord as the bogeyman is not only inept and wrong, but it positively works against the social housing model and directly allows the bogeyman private landlord to flourish. This ‘bogeyman’ position allows Tories to dismiss the social housing model as the politics of the dinosaur socialist rather than the right thing to do economically for the country.

Private landlords have to charge 50% – 100% more because it is not subsidised as social housing is cry the Tories.  Labour then play politics with housing and overlook the bloody obvious – that far more ongoing revenue subsidy is paid to the private landlord through increased HB claims than is paid to social housing in capital subsidies.  Or looked at from another angle, the fact that initial capital subsidy is invested in social housing saves the country about £6bn per year in HB costs – the revenue subsidy we pay private landlords.

The social housing model is a great example of invest to save in just economic terms let alone the many other benefits it holds for defeating the other ‘bogeymen’ of worklessness and dependency or even stifling private sector employment as some Tories state the high cost of benefits prevents people taking up work.  Whatever way you look at it from political-economic dimensions, it is in the country’s best interest to have lower cost rented housing.

Housing remains a political football for the left and the right to argue about political theory and perhaps one of the few subjects left that allows such political discourse to be at the head of the agenda.  As a result of this the economics of housing comes way down the list of priorities when it should be at the head of the agenda. Yet just raising the issue that the social housing model is right and makes sense sees the proposer slapped down as being a dinosaur as housing is always viewed in political terms.  Look at the bottom line – the simple economic basis – and it makes sense.

Why can’t Labour simply tell the public that the argument is no different to buying a house – the greater the deposit the lower the ongoing payments.   The so-called subsidy the social housing sector receives is the deposit and reflected with ongoing payments of HB at much lower levels than the private landlord charges.  The alternative is to put down zero and get hammered with much higher ongoing payments.  It’s a simple argument that the general public can easily understand.

Dromey at a homelessness conference missed a huge opportunity.  Homelessness is created by high housing costs – the ending of ASTs by private landlords being a major direct cause – and its operation in dealing with its effects is severely constrained with the lack of housing for those homeless to move to. This is further constrained by the SAR policy of this government which prevents those homeless from finding move-on properties.

In summary, if Dromey is the best that Labour can put up against the national scandal that is housing, the national scandal that is homelessness, then whether you are on the left and care about the social horrors this creates or on the right and the taxpayer cost this creates, you are going to be thoroughly disillusioned that any change will take place.  Regardless of political leanings we all know it has to change else the national housing scandal will simply get worse – something Dromey unfortunately and ineptly confirms with this woeful speech.

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