Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Cameron & the Future of Council Housing

At one of his Cameron Direct events yesterday in Birmingham, David Cameron was asked about council houses by a lady who has two teenagers but only a two bedroom council flat. She has spent the last two years sleeping on a lilo, so her daughters can have rooms to themselves.

Cameron gave her a direct answer, which got him more headlines than he had perhaps bargained for. He suggested that we need to revisit the whole question of long term tenancies as people who families had flown the next could still stay in their four bedroom council house under the current system. He suggested that shorter term tenancies were the way forward. He also made clear that if the system was to change, the tenancies of current tenants wouldn't be affected.

I covered this on my LBC programme last night and the calls came flooding in. Grant Shapps came on to 'clarify' what the PM had said and made the point that there are 1.8 million people on housing waiting lists, so clearly something needs to be done and the current system isn't working. He was followed by Denis MacShane who agreed that it was good to have a debate but it was perhaps not best led by a multi property owning Eton Toff. I think it's called killing with kindness.

The callers were split down the middle with many accepting that housing need was more important than long term tenancy but others fearing this was the thin end of the wedge and the real agenda was to abolish council housing as we know it altogether.

MacShane also thought this was yet another example of Cameron shooting from the hip. I put it to him that it was a refreshing example of a politician answering directly a question which had been put to him by a member of the public. He conceded that he rather liked Cameron's approach, but it had caused so much trouble that he was bound to be pulled up by his advisers in the future.

My own view is that it probably was an off the cuff response, and that I doubt if it was at the top of Grant Shapps's in tray until yesterday evening. But so what? It is indeed a subject which we should debate, and whatever you think of what Cameron said, at least it's generated a discussion.

For what it's worth, I think we should go back to first principles and ask what we want out of social housing in the 21st century. Housing needs have radically changed since the first wave of massive council house construction. House building is at its lowest level since the mid 1920s so now is a good time to think about a longer term approach for social housing.

31 comments:

Curbishlyauto said...

Why is MacShane so damn offensive? Is it an inferiority complex or what?

JMB said...

I can't see a problem provided people are just not thrown out of a nice house they have lived in all their lives and put in a grotty small flat in an undesirable area.

Perhaps there should be a financial incentive where they are given lower rents for voluntarily moving.

I sometimes get the impression that some Labour people would rather like to force older people to move out of their their large family homes to smaller ones by high taxes.

Morlock said...

"For what it's worth, I think we should go back to first principles and ask what we want out of social housing in the 21st century"

Presupposing that state supplied social housing should exist at all -- and thus excluding alternative propositions from any debate -- is hardly going back to first principles, is it Iain?

David Morris said...

I think this idea is a perfectly valid one. It seems like a lot of the critics are forgetting the part of the statement which said that existing council house residents won't be affected.

George said...

Council and or Social Housing rents should be means tested, so that those that can, should pay commercial rates whilst those on lower pay scales do get the benefit of lower rents. And that if i recall correctly was the whole ethos and structure behind the original provision of council homes.
They were not for life, they are there for need, for those unable to enter the private rental market or unable to afford a mortgage. And back in the heyday of council building getting a mortgage was not a simmple matter of popping down the road to the office and filling out a form. There were exchange controls and credit controls which severely limited the amount of money made available by banks and buidling socities for loans.
Council and social housing is subsidised by the taxpayer, or has that been forgotten. But, more importantly the whole crux of social housing was need. With private landlords constrained and credit limited, the state had to intervene to provide affordable and decent homes for working class and middle class people. And this was particularly a desparate NEED in the immediate post war decades. And that last point needs to be brought to the fore and rammed home. Need not right.
Let us also recall the Labour Minister and peer who lives in a housing association property, claimed for a private flat on expenses, was that fair and was that part of need? A demonstration of much that is wrong with the present system.

Glyn H said...

As to why McShane is so offensive; because empty vessels make the most noise. See also Meacher, Ffoulks, Hain. Less there be be no side to this cf also J. Selwyn Gummer and Tim Yeo as two of the mouthiest and most foolish Tory MP's since.......new game here. And Brown only then 10th worst out of 12? Ye gods and little fishes; don't folk yet understand how spectacularly he set out to do the damage he has wrought? Not even Eden set out to call the end of Empire, albeit and thanks to yet more ' help' from Uncle Sam.

Mick Turatian said...

Why can't two teenage girls share a room?

Why would they allow their mother to sleep on a lilo so that they didn't have to share?

Irene said...

Was it your idea to have MacShane on the LBC show last night - if so why?

Roger Thornhill said...

What Morlock says. One should not frame the debate.


Also...

"She has spent the last two years sleeping on a lilo, so her daughters can have rooms to themselves."

So she can keep doing so. I grew up sharing a bedroom and most people paying the taxes to fund this lady's accommodation had to share a bedroom and if they have 3 kids the chances are their kids do too, as most taxpayers cannot afford a 3 bed house and many can only afford a 2 bed.

This is the problem with such things - the sense of entitlement. She wants her daughters to have their own rooms and we are supposed to stump up for it.

Appalling.

DaveA said...

I obviously come from the school of hard knocks. As someone who grew up in a 3 bedroom house, my sister had a room to herself and me and my brother had bunk beds right until we left home.

The options she has is go and rent in the private sector, get her daughters to share a room or rotate the single room.

In a word tough.

PIENOMICS said...

It's good to hear a politician answer a question. What a change from 13 years of Labour BS.

McShane is an irrelevant, nasty little man. He has a strange idea of democracy. In his warped world, 'toffs' (whatever they are), cannot rise to high office.

Like Stephen Pound, he loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice. Sadly, he has nothing interesting to say. The electorate is tired of this approach to politics.

Steve C said...

So Dave is saying that, if your financial fortunes improve such that you can no longer be classed as being 'in need of state help to house you' then you should not be able to just sit tight in a cheap rent council house for evermore. Hmm....sounds like social justice common sense to me.

Council Houses are for those who cannot afford to house themselves via rent or mortgage in the private sector. Once you CAN afford to do this, you should do so to allow someone in far more need than you to have a home to live in. The trouble with our society is not that we have have a welfare state but that there are no incentives to get yourself out of that situation. If someone gives you free money and free housing, why should you bother to try and improve yourself. You just sit back and take the freebies - simples!
There must come a point at which you are told - 'no more!!'
(I exclude those incapable of working through mental and physical illness - their's is a different case entirely).

The Purpleline said...

I believe this is one of the most innovative suggestions for change a government has made since Maggie gave people the right (NOT OBLIGATION) to buy the council house.

Social security and benefits should be a safety net not a way of life.

Yes perhaps Cameron should have said he intends to hold 5 yearly reviews and if a person in the meantime has managed to get richer via any means then either their rent is reviewed and moved up or they will be asked to transfer to another property.

This would also work for people getting into further difficulties and moving down to smaller properties and lower rent.

No body mentions people today who come into money and move away, it should be an equal two way relationship with the emphasis on always aspiring to move up.

Unemployed and young people could be engaged as private self-employed maintenance workers to ensure council properties were kept well preserved.

Well done David push this through it is a fantatsic idea

The Purpleline said...

I believe this is one of the most innovative suggestions for change a government has made since Maggie gave people the right (NOT OBLIGATION) to buy the council house.

Social security and benefits should be a safety net not a way of life.

Yes perhaps Cameron should have said he intends to hold 5 yearly reviews and if a person in the meantime has managed to get richer via any means then either their rent is reviewed and moved up or they will be asked to transfer to another property.

This would also work for people getting into further difficulties and moving down to smaller properties and lower rent.

No body mentions people today who come into money and move away, it should be an equal two way relationship with the emphasis on always aspiring to move up.

Unemployed and young people could be engaged as private self-employed maintenance workers to ensure council properties were kept well preserved.

Well done David push this through it is a fantatsic idea

Patrick said...

most people move house every 10 -15 years; normally, as their circumstances change.

i dont see why council house tenants should be any different.

Chas said...

"Denis MacShane...agreed that it was good to have a debate but it was perhaps not best led by a multi property owning Eton Toff."

Since when did we live in a dictatorship of the proletariat? Last I heard, we had an election and Cameron, as leader of the largest party, became PM. We call this democracy and should not allow MacShane's marxism to go unchallenged.

Bill Quango MP said...

he idea of a renewable tenancy is intriguing.
Those who have caused their neighbours misery and not kept up a basic level of maintenance on their property might find a great deal of trouble getting their heavily subsidised house renewed.

Those who have may find more desirable properties becoming available.

Clearly it was an off the cuff remark as no one has any answers to any of the difficult questions involved. DC will need to stop doing this. It causes 1 day media froth and makes him look ill prepared. So it will stop, which is quite a shame.

jkr said...

At last this topic is getting some coverage. My mother 82 lives in a three bedroom council house, we the family have been left home for at least ten years plus, she has asked the council to find her a flat with a small garden as she can not cope with the 100ft plus garden.

She is unable to get up stairs or even use the bathroom, the council refuse to fit a stair lift and they have no properties to re home her in except an old peoples home. She is far to active for this and is more than capable of looking after herself.

As a result she lives in a house too big for her to heat or run.

One word sums it up DISGRACEFUL.

Gallimaufry said...

@Curbishleyauto
"Why is MacShane so damn offensive? Is it an inferiority complex or what?"

Quite the opposite. It's a simple case of inferiority.

norman said...

McShane is a pillock. If Frank Dobson can live in a council property until he breaths his last, there is something wrong here.

Ben said...

Of course Cameron was just speaking off the cuff. Without Simon Hughes' permission, which he won't give, it will never become official coalition policy ... will it?

David Boothroyd said...

It is already the case that secure tenants of a local authority can find their tenancy 'demoted' to an assured tenancy (equivalent of assured shorthold in the private sector) if someone in the household is found to have engaged in anti-social behaviour.

It is not the case that council housing was intended solely as the provision of housing for people unable to afford private sector housing costs. In fact that is in itself a radical reinterpretation of the role of council housing.

JuliaM said...

"He was followed by Denis MacShane who agreed that it was good to have a debate but it was perhaps not best led by a multi property owning Eton Toff."

Mmm, because no-one in the Labour Party owns a house.

Or if they do, not more than one.

Right, Dennis?

Lady Finchley said...

Well done DC and Grant Shapps. There are way too many people who can afford to move out and who don't, others who actually sublet and plenty who live in properties far too big for them. However,the heart of the matter (yet again) is the sense of entitlement of people nowadays. Why can't that lady's girls share a room? Why the hell do they each have to have their own rooms. I grew up in a ONE bedroom flat - my parents slept in the sitting room and my sister and I shared the bedroom. I find myself having to bite my tongue when constituents call about this - I had one lady who was in tears because they had to share their bedroom with their six month old son! Another man wrote in to say his 'partner' (God I hate that word) was expecting their third child and it was their RIGHT to have a bigger house. Happily there are some councils that do the right thing - when my mother in law died my brother in law was moved to a nice one bedroom flat, leaving the three bedroom house to a family who really needed it. My brother in law was delighted - there is no way he could have coped with the house on his own. I very much hope that we implement this policy. To be dreadfully cynical there are no votes in this anyway - most of the people who ring us for social housing have never seen the inside of a voting booth and think that their MPs have a magic wand to move them up the list. When you tell them you can't they become nasty and abusive.

Roger Thornhill said...

@DavidBoothroyd "It is already the case that secure tenants of a local authority can find their tenancy 'demoted' to an assured tenancy (equivalent of assured shorthold in the private sector) if someone in the household is found to have engaged in anti-social behaviour. "

Oh, so that's all right then. Not.

Steve C said...

@David Boothroyd. You said 'It is not the case that council housing was intended solely as the provision of housing for people unable to afford private sector housing costs.'
A paper from UWE says,
'Historically council housing is public housing that is rented to households who are unable to afford to rent from the private sector or buy their own home. The underlying principle of council house provision is that historically the private sector was deemed unable to provide adequate housing for all and state intervention was required to ensure there was good quality affordable housing for low income households.'
So the academics at UWE are wrong and you're right eh David?
See environment.uwe.ac.uk/.../house.../council_housing/print.htm

John Moss said...

Council Housing history is fraught with sticking plaster solutions to fundamental flaws, the two greatest being the funding of the house-builder/owner to build and the insistence of letting at below market or "affordable" rents, with "security of tenure".

These factors distort the market to such an extent that it is almost impossible for the resources available to be sensibly allocated to ensure all have a decent home.

That distortion is also directly responsible for our over-dependence on owner occupied housing and the booms and busts that go with it.

The fundamental change has to be to move to market rents being paid for all tenancies, social or private, with the state subsidising the income of those households who cannot afford that rent.

Do this and many problems disappear.

Illegal sub-letting no longer generates a profit, so it stops.

Those who should not be getting the benefit of subsidised welfare rents, because they have decent incomes, don't get them and the Councils or Housing Association get a higher income to recycle into more homes.

Those who are under-occupying are nudged to move, or encouraged to buy, releasing either the home or the capital to the Councils and Housing Associations to use to build new.

Those who are over-crowded get the chance to move because they have nothing to fear from renting privately.

Security of tenure disappears as an issue if you treat housing welfare this way. No landlord wants the hassle and considerable cost of re-letting a home, which usually results in a significant loss. So security comes from paying your rent and not smashing up the home or causing a nuisance to your neighbours.

The state should help people to do that if they need help, but they should get out of the business of owning "social homes".

After all, we don't have "social supermarkets" and nobody starves!

jack said...

Guess how many council tenents it takes to bring the country to its knees. My guess is a lot more than Debters. who call themselves home owners. House prices are held artificialy high by keeping houses in short supply so why should people who don't or can't take out a morgage be forced in to the hands of unscrupulous private landlords the best way is to put people back to work building more houseing. payed for by theiving bankers. But that would bring down the price of your properties and that wouldn't be fair now would it

Lady Finchley said...

Another perfect example of entitlment - I had a call from a perfectly nice lady who was ringing on behalf of her gardener. The man was living in a two bedroom flat with his 'partner' and had a 13 year old daughter who occasionally visited. She asked what we could do to get him a bigger flat as his partner and him would be marrying and wanting a family plus his daughter had to visit!!! I mean, WTF! I explained that in the eyes of the Council and national housing policy he was more than adequately housed and that there were people in far greater need. I told her plainly there wasn't a chance in hell. What on earth made him think he was entitled to more than he had or more than he could afford? I put off having a child for years and then made the decision only to have one as I couldn't afford more. Where is the sense of personal responsibility any more? Until we tackle this we will never get anywhere.

jacko said...

I am at a complete loss at to why people think council houses are subsidised. I am shore people who are paying a morgage have conveniently forgotten most of what thay pay is intrest, on the huge morgage, thay have taken out. Right now with Intrest as low as it is, I bet most people living in a three bedroom morgaged property are paying less than a council house tenant, on a crime riden council estate. yes crime ridden I bet most descent people living on these estates could cry, when thay hear all you misinformed people, tar in them all with the same brush, Yes there is a social probleum on many estates but that is a diffrent problem Right now were talking council property I have even read were someone believes, if you dont pay your rent you dont get evicted. crap, as for handing down your council property to your children, you make me dis-per. Most people have children in there 20s so by the time thay die at say 75 ish the kids are going to be 55 ish so were have thay been all this time as don't forget we are all ratling about in empty houses Many many house owners today have parents who have lived in council houses so why if thay hand the council house down. this country as been brought to its knees by people who take out huge loans, thay can't repay. These Council houses are on council estates So why should the rents be classed with the rents of private Rents, you seem to forget that the council houses were sold off cheap because thay were on a council estate, Now if you want to talk about subsidised property who as taken out masive loans which are now been payed for by tax, Payers in the form of intrest free loans. David Cameron couldun't give two hoots about The woman on the air_bed. He thinks he can see away of bringing down houseing benefitt by placeing large familys in cheaper than extortionate private accommodation. by the way who have large familys imigrants move over council tenents 80 million turks comeing your way Someone said market forces determin houseing costs. Well lets see then How much extra rent do you pay on a sink estate, when you live in fear of your house been robbed, How much extra for feral yobs running around torching cars, and beating up your kids. How much extra rent do you pay when yobs are screeming around all night in stolen cars.How much extra for the wild partys.How much extra living in fear of your car been vandalized. By some druggie, need I go on. You Lucky Buggers, with your subsidised Morgages. So Now are council rent subsadised. Now then. Pepole are actualy paying to much rent for them. So if there paying the going rate what as it got to do with cameron or anybody else for that mater that thay have a spare room there paying for it or do you just meen the council tenents on benefitts then lets have a debate about that ill start you off. How about people working in well payed jobs.jobs that thay have been handed down from frends and family. Remember, the Caroupt MPs Who was working for them sons daughters wifes frends family can you tell me that every one of them was the best man for the job and in some cases wether thay actually did the job. I think not we have people in this country bed blocking jobs, by doing 60 70 80 hrs a week on excellent pay, and others equally as good a worker. being forced to work for minimum pay. So come on Cameron I heard you mention the word fair whats fair about that.

jacko said...

Well Lady Finchley reading your post you seem to be some kind of MP or Councilor. My brother lived in a council house and when is children left home he asked the council for a smaller house. he was refused why, Becuase he was working and kept it clean and tidy.
Why should thay move him and his wife out and put in a family who would reck the house fill the garden with rubbish and not pay the rent. Thay would't give to figgs then if someone was sleeping on a air bed.