Storm warning 46

Simon Hughes appears in Top Trump cards made by SKY News

HOUSING! On the front page of a national newspaper!! I kid you not people.The Observer yesterday splashed on a story that has been big in the New Journal every week in the last four: the likely consequences of capping housing benefit.

Their headline ‘Council plans for exodus of poor families from London’ and the article that follows underscores what Labour politicians have been warning locally. That term ‘social cleansing’ pops up again, this time from Daggenham MP Jon Cruddas.

Conservatives in Camden say: Don’t blame us, we’ve got Boris Johnson fighting London’s corner over housing benefits and he’s taking the battle straight to the government.

Chinese burns and quotes from Shakespeare all round for his cabinet pals from him, but no sign so far of any shift in tone from Iain Duncan-Smith or anybody else with seat at David Cameron’s table.

The Lib Dems have their own man to turn to on this issue: Simon Hughes, the party’s deputy leader.  Hughes gave an assured speech at a meeting at the House of Commons seven days ago, telling campaigners from Defend Council Housing that he would lobby for a host of things they want.

The shopping list included: 1. reforms to the housing benefit proposals, 2. tighter controls on the Right To Buy on council estates 3. more homes 4. new taxes for unused sites and 5. investment in existing council properties.

Eyes lit up. One woman turned away as he spoke but generally this notoriously tough crowd, local authorities have more than once been forced to rip up policy because of campaigns from these guys, could find much fault with what he was saying.

Yet, as he spoke and gave reassurance after reassurance that lobbying was in overdrive to protect housing benefits and council housing as a whole, and how he was at the forefront of it, the ink was being applied at Chequers to the comprehensive spending review. None of the things he had called for had made the final cut for public spending. The texts to Nick Clegg he talked about had been ignored.

Hughes appears again in The Observer again on this issue. Sympathisers will argue he needs to show now how this sounding off can actually influence policy. The housing campaigners he impressed last week will accept nothing less.

1 Comment on Storm warning 46

  1. Save the Flowerpot // October 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm //

    “The shopping list included: 1. reforms to the housing benefit proposals, 2. tighter controls on the Right To Buy on council estates 3. more homes 4. new taxes for unused sites and 5. investment in existing council properties.”

    Simon Hughes does a good gig in telling people what they want to hear.

    Hughes is deputy Leader of a party in coalition with the Tories, not an independent housing campaigner from Shelter. In fact the Coalition document says nothing substantial about housing, so you can guess what many people think about his attempts to convince tenants otherwise.

    1. reforms to the housing benefit proposals
    Hughes’ government proposes to lower the housing benefit cap, making many places unaffordable for people on modest means. The purpose, they claim, is to fix the high property rental market in inner London. Spokespeople for the coalition at once say that it’s unfair that poor people get to live in places like Camden but that they expect landlords to lower their rents once housing benefits drop.

    Forgive my capitalisation, but the idea that rents are going to go down for family sized flats in inner London is you remove housing benefit is TOTALLY INSANE.

    Putting this naivety aside, while Hughes was talking at the event you mention the Coalition was proposing not to pay housing benefit to under-35s, saying that they should share flats instead. Doubtless this extra demand for shared accommodation in the borough will have an upwards effect on rents in the area., not a downwards one.

    2. tighter controls on the Right To Buy on council estates
    Populist clap line alert…Only a handful of flats are lost through RtB these days, partly because the requirement for a large deposit is a disincentive, and party because prices are so high the discount doesn’t play anymore. Best to stop RtB altogether – but I don’t imagine Hughes taking any Tories with him on this one so it will be chilling in a Lib Dem policy document for a while

    3. more homes
    Come again? Lib Dem eroded the 50% affordable requirement in Camden and elsewhere in London their gvt cut the social housing budget by 51% last week. The Coalition idea to incentivise council to build homes by a council tax disregard is so laughably weak I don’t think you see that anytime soon. To give you an example: let’s say in Camden a home costs £100k to build, the council tax on the property each year would only be £1k – £1.4k meaning a total incentive to the council over 6 years of…£6 – £8.4k! Forget it.

    4. New taxes for unused sites
    The Empty property tax was introduced in 2007, during the boom, to claw back some cash from large landowners who refused to rent out their properties until the ‘right price’ (the highest possible) had been reached. This mean that many sites were empty, and the property market was at an inflated price – what is called a market failure. Obviously we are coming out of recession where prices have gone down, so pumping up taxes is not the wisest idea and won’t raise that much money. I don’t think this will fly with the Tories.

    5.Investing in existing council properties
    Nothing in the CSR about this. No word from the Fib Dems on coming good on their leaflet promises to tenants here on more repairs cash. To be fair they did try to raise cash in Camden but flogging off properties at auction, which were then flipped by speculators – but that was a rubbish idea that lost them the council.

    Besides, I don’t get the sense the Tories like this council housing lark.

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