All posts from: April 2012
The old, thorny issue of social housing allocations reared its head again this week.
Frank Field, a right-winger in the Labour party, has called for social housing providers to award priority for housing to British taxpayers.
Various councils across the country are looking to prioritise housing for those who are looking for work, but Mr Field’s assertion that priority should be given to indigenous taxpayers is much more problematic.
The logic behind Mr Field’s view is clear and echoes William Beveridge’s contributory principle for benefits. This, put simply, states that people should be entitled to benefits ‘in return for contributions’.
There are many ordinary people in this country who have been contributing to the system for years but are stuck on housing waiting lists. And for some, there is a perception, real or imagined, that newcomers to the country who have not made the same level of financial contribution to the country’s coffers, can jump the queue. This clearly violates the contributory principle.
But the world is a very different place to the 1940s.
There is much more movement of labour, goods and capital as the world’s economy becomes ever more globalised.
Refusing housing priority to those in need unless they have contributed a given amount, or have gained British citizenship, could risk pushing people into homelessness.
Bringing back a perception of fairness to the allocation of social housing is important but this will not be achieved by the non-prioritising of housing for non-British taxpayers.
Local councils are often portrayed, especially in the local press, as the bad guys, trampling on tenants and refusing to listen to what residents really want.
This is often crudely exaggerated but does highlight the challenges faced by local authorities in taking borough-wide decisions while not alienating sections of the community. Councils now have added challenges under the new system of self-financing, which will give them a stronger incentive to assess the value of assets, and could lead to more contentious stock transfers.
Inside Housing has been contacted by four tenants groups this week who are unhappy with different London councils for different reasons.
Hackney Council is facing a potential High Court challenge from tenants and residents associations about plans to change its tenancy agreement while housing co-operatives in Lambeth are fighting a move to evict them from ‘shortlife’ properties. Defend Council Housing, a left-wing pressure group, has cried foul over a stock transfer in Lambeth while tenants groups in Hammersmith and Fulham continue to contest a proposal to demolish two estates as part of the Earls Court regeneration project.
It could be argued that all of these ‘David and Goliath’ examples illustrate the Big Society in action, with small co-operatives, TRAs and other tenants groups using their voice to challenge councils’ decisions.
Ultimately however councils are being encouraged to act more like businesses and use their assets (ie, housing stock) more efficiently. This will inevitably lead to more clashes between the so called ‘Big Society’ and small tenants groups.
After months of preparation the new social housing regulator launched this week and has already been hit by a potential difficulty.
As Inside Housing reports today, staff transferring across from the Tenant Services Authority to the Homes and Communities Agency are considering strike action.
The union Unite believes staff should receive a one off £500 bonus in recognition of their role in working hard to ease the transition to the HCA with reduced staffing. It is not clear at this stage whether the will is really there among staff to strike or whether the threat of industrial action is a negotiating tactic.
The claim will strike many as unreasonable, and a number of posters on Inside Housing’s website have already parroted the usual lines around ‘they are lucky to have a job’, and that you wouldn’t expect to get a one-off bonus in the private sector (unless you are a high-level banker, obviously).
Personally, I find the argument that we should always level pay and conditions down to those in the private sector, rather than seek ways to improve them across the board, to be misguided and shortsighted. Where does it stop?
However on this occasion, the request for a bonus for staff who are transferring on the same pay and conditions, and sitting in the same offices, does seem a bit bizarre.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the claim, Unite’s actions are an unwelcome distraction for the new regulator, which faces a busy period working out how on earth it is going to regulate a sector growing ever more complex.