Posted by: Jules Birch15/04/2010
Away from the carefully managed campaigns of the major parties, this election is throwing up some startlingly different visions for Britain in general and housing in particular, some of them eminently sensible, some downright bonkers.
Two of the major ‘minor’ parties, UKIP and the Greens, have launched two very different manifestos. They are both promising more investment but the Greens ‘reject the use of immigration to mask problems such as lack of high quality social housing’ while UKIP sees cuts in immigration as the problem.
The Green manifesto launched today pledges £2bn in 2010 rising to £4bn in 2011 for social housing. The expansion would be ‘mainly through renovation’ and would create 80,000 jobs.
The party would invest the same amount and create as many jobs again through a programme of free home insulation for anyone who needs it, with priority for pensioners. Tax incentives would be increased through the rent a room scheme to encourage better use of the existing stock.
Other eye-catching policies include the end of the right to buy the introduction of a new right to rent for people with mortgage problems. Local authority duties to homeless families would be extended to single homeless people and intentional homelessness would be abolished.
Tenants would benefit from a new minimum wage set at 60% of net national average earnings (£8.10 an hour), which would in turn cut the bill for tax credits and housing and council tax benefit. So far, so sensible, and the UKIP manifesto starts out that way.
The whole point of the party is to withdraw from the European Union and £1.5bn of the savings from that would be invested in new social housing and ‘demolishing poor quality houses especially failed tower blocks and low quality buildings’.
Sad to say though, especially since the longer version of its housing policy quotes my blog, the voices from the saloon bar of the Red Lion are soon making themselves heard. UKIP will:‘cut housing quangos down to size including the Housing Corporation and the Tenants Authority Board’ [sic]. give ‘more rights to Landlords to clear out illegal squats as soon as possible’. hold ‘direct binding Referenda on all major housing schemes and economic developments such as supermarkets, housing developments of more than 50 homes and other major building projects’. scrap ‘hidden development taxes such as Section 106 ‘community bribes’ and requirements for social housing in bigger developments’. reduce housing demand and help to stabilise the market by imposing a five-year moratorium on immigration’introduce “Ellis Island” reception centres for immigrants so freeing up more accommodation for local people’.
Housing associations are in the party’s sights too. ‘UKIP finds the recent fashion for HAs to merge worrying for it distances the relationship between housing providers and their local communities. Profit becomes the prime motive. Rents increase. Service, management and repairs suffer.
UKIP wants to reverse this trend by ensuring the survival of smaller housing providers at the local level.’UKIP believes that local communities should be given the choice for social housing to remain in public ownership and shall thus encourage the so-called ‘Fourth Option’.
This creates the financial environment for councils to retain ownership of their housing stock or be able to compete effectively alongside other housing providers.’But in case that starts to sound attractive to workshy tenants who got pregnant to get their home, there are also proposals on the welfare state and ‘reinvigorating sink estates’. Here the size of the type increases along with the volume from the voices in the Red Lion. UKIP wants to tackle the poverty trap by reducing the effects of means-testing and the way that benefits interact.
‘This is not only a huge disincentive for social tenants to seek low paid work. It is also a significant disincentive for ‘the better off poor’ to leave social housing for the privately rented sector of owner-occupation. ‘Under its plan social rents would be ‘set at a single inclusive figure (rent plus Council Tax, net of notional Council Tax and Housing Benefit) calculated at around 20 per cent of each household’s gross income’.
UKIP says this would not only boost work incentives but encourage better-off families into private renting because once they reach a certain level of income rents will be cheaper. But anyone tempted to skive on housing benefit instead had better watch out. ‘Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit for private tenants will be phased out and replaced with ‘Workfare’ jobs.
These Workfare job schemes will be administered by local councils to ensure that those who would otherwise not be able to find work can still cover their rent and Council Tax. In addition, these private tenants will be contributing something of value to the local community.’
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context