Housing Green Paper 'pitiful'
MARCH 18, 2019
No new money
Faced with public outrage following the deaths at Grenfell tower, a deep housing crisis with unaffordable homes and rising numbers sleeping rough the government promised a “fundamental rethink of social housing in this country”. But neither Tuesdays Green Paper on housing or Monday’s statement on rough sleeping pledges any new money. One of the self-proclaimed themes of the Green Paper is supposed to be “Expanding supply and supporting home ownership” but not a single social home will be built because of these proposals.
Monday’s rough sleeping press statement spoke of £100 million to end homelessness but questioning forced the government to concede that this was not new money. Just 5,900 new social homes were built last year, the lowest figure on record and housing minister Kit Malthouse was forced to concede that building would remain at a record low. Labour described the proposals as pitiful, as Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, the system needs to be rebalanced through investment in council house building programmes to create homes and decent work, as well as by introducing rent controls and regulations on private landlords.
Market will not deliver
Even the voice of big business and finance, the Financial Times, observed “Britain needs a more proactive state to help solve its housing crisis. It looks unlikely Mrs May’s government will deliver it.” The market will not deliver, and the Financial Times are right to say that “The lack of subsidy for construction means sub-market-priced housing will continue to be subsidised through rents in the inefficient form of housing benefits. So the state will still be paying off the mortgages of private landlords rather than investing in the construction of an asset owned by either the state or a non-profit landlord.”
Unite Housing workers branch secretary and Executive Council member Suzanne Muna commented, "The housing crisis cannot be fixed piecemeal - the government need to change their approach toward all areas affecting peoples ability to access housing they can afford, including supply, controls over the private rented sector, local government funding, poverty pay, austerity, cuts to homelessness services, lack of access to legal services, and the reduced welfare state. It is clear that this government has neither the competence nor the will to address these barriers."
The actual proposals concentrate on reversing some of the more disastrous policies introduced since the Tories came in to office in coalition with the LibDems. The plan to force social landlords to only offer fixed term tenancies rather than lifetime tenancies is ditched as are plans to force council to sell off their most valuable social housing when it becomes empty. These are both welcome retreats and housing campaigners are to be congratulated. We can also cautiously welcome the proposal to revise the Decent Homes standard; it should be stronger on fire safety but that will need a commitment to spending.
On coming in to office in 2010 the new Tory housing Minister Grant Shapps announced that the social housing regulator, the Tenant Services Authority was ‘toast’. A much reduced regulator focused on protecting the interest of the banks was retained but most of the tenants focused so called ‘consumer regulation’ function was cut. Unite has warned that these cuts and legal changes would have serious consequences. The 2016 Housing and planning act introduced a raft of deregulatory measures meaning that consent was no longer required from the regulator for mergers or for disposals of social housing stock. We know there has been mounting anger at mega mergers carried through against tenant wishes and the Chartered Institute of Housing as shown that Housing Associations were responsible for a net loss of 46,972 housing association homes for social rent were lost between 2012 and 2017.
Now housing secretary James Brokenshire has discovered “There is a powerful case for strengthening the Regulator so it not only focuses on the governance and financial viability of housing providers, but also on how residents are treated and the level of services they should expect.” Sensitive to the fact that Grenfell resident’s safety warnings were ignored and the increasing anger of social tenants the government feels it must change tack publicly.
Detailed proposals are lacking, Grenfell Tower resident Edward Daffarn was right to say, “Social housing is not like choosing a doctor… You can’t just up sticks and move if your housing association gets a low rating. Much more is needed to put power in residents’ hands.” There is talk of league tables, and comparisons with regulation in education and the NHS but what is needed is access to information, tenants and residents still have difficulty accessing basic information on fire safety checks, and lines of democratic accountability. That runs counter to the current model of social housing providers reliant on running up huge debts with banks and giving top priority to keeping them happy.
Although the much delayed Green paper was itself supposed to be the product of extensive consultation there are a number of ‘consultations’ announced in the document along with some potentially damaging ideas such as a renewed stock transfer programme which would further undermine council housing.
Jeremy Corbyn stated that ‘there is no solution to the housing crisis that does not begin with a mass programme of council house building’ when he campaigned for the leadership of Labour, this remains the essential starting point if the housing crisis is to be resolved positively.
This blog was written by Paul Kershaw on16 August 2018 and was reproduced from the Unite Housing Workers Branch