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 of this post


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 of this post

Private renting, quality concerns and spatial exclusion

To say that there appears to be inconsistency, incoherence or complacency at the centre of Government policy is not a particularly novel observation. Indeed, it doesn’t really narrow down what we’re talking about, given the generally rushed and badly thought through nature of current policy proposals in many fields. Nonetheless the point reasserted itself with the conjunction of two pieces in yesterday’s Observer (here and here).

A perennial problem in the private rented sector is relatively poor affordability coupled with relatively poor quality. Many private renters pay a lot for bad housing. It has been an active part of the housing policy discussions for the last 15 years at least. The Buy to Let boom of the 2000s made a difference to average quality, but not to affordability.

The fundamental issue is that landlords in Britain are unwilling or unable to provide consistently high quality accommodation for the level of rent that private tenants are willing to pay or, at the bottom of the market, able to pay. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – a picture begins to emerge?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 30/12/10]

In yesterday’s post I set out key policy developments affecting housing. So what can we discern about the current government’s approach to housing?

For a start there is a continuing emphasis upon choice. This is particularly clear when discussing how to encourage underoccupying social renters to move. The CLG rhetoric is of increasing choice and making choices easier to realise. They neglect to cross-refer to the DWP proposals to cut the housing benefit of any social renter deemed to be seriously underoccupying. The approach isn’t all “carrot”. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – identifying the pieces

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 29/12/10]

Yesterday, I suggested that it would be valuable to piece together the housing policy jigsaw in order to reflect on the picture that emerges. Policy in this field speaks directly to our fundamental values -freedom, equality and community – and how they are to be reconciled. My aim today is to identify more fully the key pieces of the current policy jigsaw.

So what can we make of the way policy towards housing is developing?

The key proposals on social housing reform in the Local Decisions consultation paper were heavily trailed. Many are embodied in the Localism Bill. They have been discussed in a number of posts here at Liberal Democrat Voice (for example, here and here) and beyond. The proposals are being pushed towards the statute book with what appears unseemly haste (as I discuss further here). Read more of this post

The continuing saga of Housing Benefit “reform”: unaware or just don’t care?

The reform of Housing Benefit for private rented sector tenants made it back into the newspapers today. The Observer ran a story on the inside pages under the headline Ministers ‘bury’ report on cuts to housing benefit. The report they are referring to is the Impact Assessment (IA) entitled Housing Benefit: Changes to the Local Housing Allowance Arrangements. At one level, it is good that this document has emerged, given that earlier there were suggestions that evidence of impact was not going to be released until very late in the policymaking process (as I discussed here). I am not sure that the charges of “burying” the document really stand up to scrutiny. Impact Assessments are not the sort of documents that are generally published to great fanfare. Although I am sure that in this case Ministers would be very happy if the IA attracted even less attention than usual.

I happened to have been reading the IA on Friday and it struck me as a fascinating document, but not entirely for the reasons that Douglas Alexander identifies in the press today. It tells us something about the quality of thought that lies behind the proposals. Read more of this post

You can’t act on what you don’t know (until too late)

Yesterday’s hardcopy of the Guardian reports that the Government is only planning to release the full Equality Impact Assessment for its policy of cutting Housing Benefit on the day that the legislative changes are brought forward. Critics have already argued that the policy is being rushed in so it is unlikely that the impact has been fully analysed. If it is true that the impact assessment is not going to be available until so late in the day then it means that even the partial picture the government has assembled is not, in practical terms, available to assist effective scrutiny. Impact assessment should start as early as possible in the policy making process. Earlier stages of the Impact Assessment process for the Housing Benefit changes were acknowledge by the Department for Work and Pensions to be incomplete. Which makes data that emerge later in the process even more significant. Read more of this post

“Us” and “them”. Yes, them over there. The benefit scroungers.

We have yet to feel the full force of the Coalition’s welfare cuts. But we are perhaps now starting to get an inkling of the reaction they will elicit when they finally arrive. One of the puzzling characteristics of much of the discussion of the agenda so far has been the relative absence of effective and vocal opposition. The Coalition has had a relatively easy ride in the press and in Parliament.

The Tories have very successfully pursued a divide and conquer strategy based on deservingness. Consequently a theme dominating the public discussion of welfare cuts is that the Government is right to think that ‘something needs to be done’ about ‘them’ [choose preferred target] – they are clearly taking the rest of us for a ride and are an unjustified drain on resources. This has been perhaps most effective in relation to the restriction of Housing Benefit. The Government has focused on the most egregious examples of the high levels of financial support going to individual households in expensive parts of London in order to justify the restriction of Housing Benefit for hundreds of thousands of poor households. Read more of this post