Posted by: Tom Lloyd03/01/2012
Mulled wine induced memory loss appears to have set in at some national news outlets in recent days, with the reappearance of a couple of stories from last year.
Westminster Council’s plans to link behaviour to benefits were featured by the BBC the Financial Times and others on Friday. Even readers with not particularly long memories might recall a similar wave of stories published just a few weeks before when the council issued its plans.
Then on Sunday we were treated to a reprisal of housing minister Grant Shapps’ plans to criminalise the subletting of council properties and make social tenants who earn more than £100,000 a year pay market rents.
The subletting plan was first raised in March 2010, by Labour housing minister John Healey, and has been championed by Mr Shapps ever since. Raising rents for high earners – most recently dubbed ‘pay to stay’ by the housing minister – has also been on the cards since June and was set out in the Laying the foundations housing strategy in November.
This tells us a few things about the way the major news outlets in this country operate, but more interestingly also reveals a bit about attitudes to social housing. The Express’ take on the benefits story was ‘Families from hell could lose council-tax benefits’, while the FT went with a slightly more restrained ‘Council eyes loss of benefits for work-shy’.
On subletting the Sun went with ‘Rent scam tenants face jail’ and other papers were quick to condemn the ‘scandal’ of sublet homes.
Clearly subletting homes for financial gain should be stopped, and it also makes little sense for councils to be housing tenants who are earning more than £100,000, but the reality is these problems are pretty insignificant compared to the wider issues facing the sector.
Rising unemployment, housing benefit cuts, declining grant, and a chronic shortage of homes are much more fundamental issues that the sector will need to get to grips with in 2012. It is easy to see why papers pick up on topics like subletting and high earners, but the housing sector needs to make sure some of the other issues also get onto the national news agenda.
2011 saw housing gain much more prominence as a political and social issue. The battle for 2012 will be to turn this publicity into a realistic appraisal of the challenges facing housing, and the contribution the sector can make to improving society as a whole.
From House work
Examining the latest news on allocations, evictions, rents, anti-social behaviour, and a host of other day to day housing management issues