An unwelcome blast from the past
Alan Walter of Defend Council Housing writes that the Smith Institute report Rethinking social housing (which I co-edited with Julie Cowans) advocated means-testing and time-limited tenancies (Letters, Inside Housing, 14 November). It emphatically did no such thing.
Why does he misrepresent what we wrote? Perhaps this is his best hope of scaring people away from considering reform.
Yes, there are some who equate reforming social housing with reserving it for those on benefits. But I am certainly not one of them, for the simple reason that this would make matters even worse. It would fly in the face of all we advocated in the report: an end to concentrating the poorest in stigmatised special housing estates, an end to a system that rewards dependency and discourages self-help.
If you earn more after your low rent helped you get into work, great. Punishing that effort with a higher rent or a request to leave because you are better off would be lunacy. I agree with Mr Walter’s concerns about recent Chartered Institute of Housing proposals, some of which have fallen into this trap.
The worry for those of us who don’t share his municipalist vision of an expanded council housing sector is that getting a social tenancy, despite the lower rent, clearly does not help people into work. The stark figures are there in Professor John Hills’ review.
So is Professor Hills’ recommendation that a social tenancy should not be a right for every applicant accepted as homeless. Guaranteeing a home for life to those in temporary need is, many now believe, causing big problems. A private let is minimum six months. This does not mean you have to leave after six months.
My preferred solution to reform would be to leave intact all existing social tenants’ rights, while phasing in change for all new general needs tenancies. This has been tried before. In 1988 security of tenure came to an end for new private tenants. And the doom-mongers then were proved wrong. I suggest a similar approach now for new housing association/council tenancies, so that people choose from a wider range of homes based on their own priorities - location, price, quality.
Mr Walter writes that council tenants want ‘the same right to a home as everyone else’. Where has he been? Private tenants and those with a mortgage don’t have a right to their home, or security of tenure. They have a cost to meet and an incentive to earn the money to pay it. This is the nub of the reform debate.
Mr Walter may want to see council estates being built all over the country. Many will disagree with his blast from the past - we are worried enough about what existing estates are doing to the prospects of the children living there.
Tim Dwelly, co-author, Rethinking social housing