It’s time for radical commonsense yet you won’t find either in social housing however hard you rally

Radical is a very underused term in social housing and with good reason.  Despite more than 20 years working in social housing I have yet to see a radical response to any government’s housing policy never mind a radical proactive strategy or a radical grasping of the housing agenda by the ‘sector.’

Tomorrow sees the (ahem!) radical ‘rally’ in which the ‘sector’ calls for an end to the universally acknowledged housing crisis……within a generation!!

A generation is by definition between 25 and 33 years when we live in an age of short termism and immediate termism being the norm.  The #HomesforBritain campaign is 5 to 7 parliaments in length (!!!) and is about as radical as the sector gets.  Every government in each 5 year parliamentary term cannot see past that 5 year plan despite the political rhetoric of long term economic plans which couldn’t even work for Stalin but the ‘sector’ for some unGodly reason thinks any government can!

Yet that same purported homogeneous sector – in reality hundreds of very different social housing markets inter and intra-regionally – has faced real radical ‘reforms’ over this parliament and if the Tories do not lose office in May this year then a further 5 years of intensely radical attacks will descend on the social housing model.  For ‘welfare reforms’ you can validly read social housing attacks and many of them are still to become operational especially monthly and direct payments which hold hugely significant changes.

We also see some existing attacks that are being hardened such as the bedroom tax to apply to the mixed-age pensioner couple (and I strongly argue to all pensioners) and the overall benefit cap being reduced to £23,000 per year will mean social landlords cannot afford to house the larger family as the financial risk is too great.  Be in no doubt that the so-called ‘welfare reforms’ are massive attacks on the social housing model and they are individually and collectively radical attacks.

All of the above are clear and known issues and to which we can add the proposals to ban those under 21 from receipt of housing benefit and other crackpot plans of IDS such as stay off the dole for a year and we give you a social home free of charge!

A rally to call for an end to the social housing crisis over 7 parliaments is hardly a radical response unless you define radical as being woeful, timid and not a hope in hell’s chance of having any pertinence.  It may seem radical in comparison to 30 years of forelock tugging and welcoming any scrap of funding however meagre by the ‘sector’ in that time but that is about all.

Bedroom Tax –  just over 2 years by the general election and cumulative impact of this on arrears and evictions beginning to show.  By the next election that will be 7 years and will impact hugely.

Benefit Cap – 18 months in and add a further 5 years to that and imagine the homeless diaspora from London that will see and just how many billions more in HB that will cost!  Reduce to £23k as proposed and social landlords in the lowest rent areas will not be able to house a couple with 3 children or more!  Just where the hell such families will live is the question everyone is avoiding!

Direct Payments – the pilots revealing up to 6.6% of rent goes uncollected or about 13 times the average now.  Impact is a financial catastrophe for social tenants, social landlords and the social housing model itself.  Even if it settles down at 2% rent unpaid as DWP say it will that is still 4 times the amount of arrears as now and social landlords will become non financially sustainable.

Monthly payments of benefit – So easy but nonetheless valid (ie a no-brainer) to reduce to tenants will pay less rent and deprioritise its payment if only because all other bills and debt tends to attract interest payments on top whereas social rent does not.  Cash flow crises for all social landlords at Christmas inevitable.

All of the above also assume Universal Credit will actually work in its IT and other systemic ways yet we all know large IT projects such as merging the benefits and tax system will inevitably NOT purr like a Ferrari and more like a cat on a skateboard.

They further do not discuss sanctions or the abolition of council tax benefit in 2013 or the realisation that all of the welfare reform policies aimed at cutting the HB bill have actually increased it and in real terms.  So more blame will be heaped on the social housing model and its ‘indolent’ tenants and of course on social landlords too for this increase in actual cost these disastrous policies have manifest.  All that pain and not one iota of gain!

YET the ‘sector’ is only ‘lobbying’ (yes used very loosely too) on more properties and funding for them and NOT on or against the savagely radical attacks the welfare reforms (sic) are on their business in the social housing model.

Nothing exposes the lack of a cohesive ‘sector’ more than that.  The benefit cap does hit high rent areas far more such as London yet doesn’t impact too greatly – for now – on low rent areas oop North.  The direct opposite is true of the bedroom tax which sees for example 3 times the proportion of social tenants in Liverpool hit by it than by social tenants in London.  The inter-regional variations are there for all to see.

The intra-regionally variations require a bit more of the geek in exploring HB data which shows that the bedroom tax affects 9.5% of all HB claimants in Blackpool yet almost 31% just up the North West road in Copeland.  Or 11.2% of all HB claimants in Lambeth (and more than in oop North Blackpool!) compared with just over 4% in Westminster.

What this means is that the main social landlord in Copeland has a huge problem with bedroom tax yet the same in Blackpool does not and in fact has less of a problem than the main social landlords in high rent Lambeth.  How can all social landlords unite to fight so many different issues when they impact so differently inter and intra-regionally?  The fact is they don’t and never have.  In any other industry you would see the South supporting the North over bedroom tax and vice versa over the benefit cap as these two problems affect all social landlords and the framework in which they operate, the social housing model itself.  But not in housing!! It just does not happen.

There is not even one ‘sector-wide’ body to fight, challenge or promote the social housing model and instead we see internalised divide and conquer as the myriad of housing organisations all competing for the ever reducing drips and drabs of funding and competing against one another for a share of it.

Yet there is so much common ground to unite and fight against as whether it is benefit cap in the South and bedroom tax in the North, they both affect the social housing model…and of course direct and monthly payments and abolition of council tax benefit affect all inter and intra-regional areas.

The HB data also holds much other data to explain huge variances.  Nationally 67% of all HB claimants are social tenants and 33% private tenants.  Yet we see that falling to just 41% of all HB claimants in Harrow being social tenants and 88% being social tenants in Southwark so the impacts of the bedroom tax and benefit cap and LHA cap will be dramatically different across London.  Blackpool with just 27% of all HB claimants being social tenants compares with almost 80% in Copeland and shows that ALL housing issues are different even intra-regionally.

The same variances occur in all of the localities in the HB data whether in the NE, SE, SW, East and West Midlands and the rest.

So how can extremely blunt instruments such as the welfare reforms / social housing attacks ever hope to work?  In theory they claim to address the homogeneity of social housing….which simply does not exist.  In England we see hundreds of very different local social housing conditions and variables (and less so but still common to Wales and Scotland too.)   Imagine having to write the councils Housing Strategy in Blackpool with its plethora of private landlords and private rented housing to that of Southwark.  The aims may all start out as the same but the huge difference in housing variables makes these two radically different documents and for example relatively easy to put in a private landlord licensing scheme in Southwark than in Blackpool.

Yet this coalition also has naive theory too in wanting more smaller social housing units which again are much easier to occur in Blackpool as the unregulated PRS can modify properties virtually unrestricted yet in Southwark or anywhere else in the country with a high percentage of its rented housing being social and heavily regulated and constrained as having little chance.

YET AGAIN the ‘sector’ is quiet on these issues and does not and has not challenged the ridiculous nature of the blunt instrument that the welfare reform (sic) policies are.

If government of any and all political persuasions is not aware of these housing dynamics which they are not and that goes for all governments over the past 30 years if not more, then it is the role of the purported social housing experts of those in the ‘sector’ to inform them and make evidenced based policy.

BUT that has not happened and yet again we only see social landlords talking about the ‘generic’ lack of supply and nothing else!

Has anyone in the ‘sector’ ever heard the sector lobby that social housing SAVES the taxpayer money and it is not a scrounging subsidy receiver as it is portrayed?  No they haven’t as yet again the social housing great and good, whoever they may be, have never promoted the ECONOMIC case for the social housing model.  Yes that’s rhetorical and the answer is and regrettably has to be NO!  Why the hell not?

The ‘sector’ like any sector or industry has to sell itself and sell what it does.  Given its chief buyer is and always has been government it needs to be telling all government of how it benefits them, the cui bono or what’s in it for the approach.  Yet all it is doing is saying we want more housing in quantities and nothing else.

The sector needs to establish its expertise by telling government social housing is NOT homogeneous and has massively different variables and so crude blunt instruments cant and will never work.  It needs to be ramming it down the throats of government that social housing SAVES the taxpayer and public purse money which it does massively and NOT allow itself to be portrayed as Benefit Street or the housing of last resort.  It needs to have the credibility to tell government that UC, bedroom tax, direct payment, benefit cap etc all will not work and cannot work even in theory.

Yet it never will as it ONLY wants more units of housing and in doing that it comes across as being perceived as 100% self-interested while its major buyer in government has no rhyme or reason to do anything except cut and cut again and let the ever reducing number of social landlords fight over ever reducing funding.

If the most radical the social housing sector gets is a rally for more housing in 33 years I doubt it will even exist in 7 and that is just one more term of the Tories who want to kill off the social housing model and resign it to history

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4 thoughts on “It’s time for radical commonsense yet you won’t find either in social housing however hard you rally

  1. I think you are being a little unfair. David Orr, NHF, has been a consistent critic of the Bedroom Tax and other welfare reforms and his language in attacking it has been completely unfettered.

    1. Not denying what David Orr has said in public or in private and he has been a constant critic. What I am saying is that a rally and a generic one at that (ie not advocating social housing) is not the tactic to achieve the ends wanted and is will achieve nought.
      Government need to be persuaded of the economic benefit social housing brings and Joe Public too and they need to know that social housing is not the housing of last choice. 30 years and more of the ‘sector’ NOT promoting social housing requires 100 times more than a rally to persuade Government and the public of its many benefits

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