Monday, 27 February 2017

Inside edge

All posts from: July 2014

Welcome shift

Tue, 29 Jul 2014

People seem to be getting the ‘Yes to Homes’ message at last but have the nimbys really had their day?

A survey of public attitudes to new housebuilding published by the DCLG on Saturday reveals a welcome shift when people are asked whether they support or oppose more homes being built in their local area.

New housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis welcomed the results as evidence that nimbyism is on the wane.

Here are the headline findings from the British Social Attitudes survey showing the shift in opinion on this question between 2010 and 2013:

BSA

We seem to have gone from opposing new homes by 46% to 28% to supporting them by 47% to 31%. Within those figures, strong support has doubled from 5% to 11%, while strong opposition has fallen from 15 to 8 per cent.

This is a dramatic – and perhaps surprising – shift in just three years. There are of course big differences in attitudes between different sorts of people. The breakdown for different groups needs to be treated with some caution because of the sample size but there do seem to be changes in some unexpected places:

  • Age: Opposition is strongest among the 35-54s (36%) but the biggest reduction in opposition happened among the over-65s (52 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent in 2013).
  • Tenure: Opposition is still much stronger among home owners than renters but it has fallen by a similar amount among all tenure groups.
  • Income: People in the highest income quartile are still the most likely to oppose new homes (33%) but that groups has also seen the biggest reduction since 2010 (when it was 49%)
  • Type of area: There is a clear divide between people living in large cities (only 17 per cent oppose new homes in their area) and those living in smaller towns and rural areas. However, opposition fell most in country villages (5% to 21%).

So why the change? In a piece for Saturday’s Telegraph Lewis hails the government’s planning reforms. He claims that the Labour government ‘killed off the local actors in the planning system’ but that local communities are now back in control.

That’s why the government decided to reunite the housing and planning portfolios and that’s why ‘housebuilding is moving in the right direction’. He says: ‘The new planning system puts local people in control, so if they want to build more homes, they will.’

But is this quite the ‘mission accomplished’ that Lewis makes out? Findings that people are more likely to support new homes if the community is involved in planning and local people have more control over what gets built certainly seem to go with the grain of localist thinking (even though it’s never been clear what that really means).

However, this has not yet translated into many more homes on the ground. It’s true that housing starts are moving in the right direction but earlier this month it emerged in leaked documents that officials warned ministers that they are about to fall again. Completions are up too but are running at half the level needed to meet demand.

As Alex Marsh argues on his blog, increased awareness of the housing problems facing the country seems a more likely explanation for the change in attitudes. Some 81 per cent of people agree that there is a shortage of affordable homes to buy and 82% say it’s more difficult to buy than 20 years ago. However, they are cautious about the prospects for change: 55 per cent think that ‘homes will continue to be unaffordable in my local area even if new homes are built’.

These results from the survey also seem more upbeat about new homes than more nuanced results from opinion polling. As Ben Marshall of Ipsos Mori blogged last year for Yes to Homes, 80% of the British public agree that there is a national housing crisis but more disagree than agree that there is a crisis in their local area (49% to 45%). Meanwhile local councillors still think local opposition is the biggest barrier to increasing supply.

Ben argues that the case for new homes still needs to be made locally:

‘Localism is unlikely to deliver the new housing required if the issue isn’t given greater ongoing attention by local politicians, communities and businesses. This is the challenge: housing supply is a strategic, national imperative in the hands, hearts and minds of local people.’

From this perspective it’s worrying that local newspapers don’t seem to have got the message yet that public attitudes are changing. Yes to Homes and other campaigns have generated positive local coverage but stories about plans for new homes are still routinely reported in terms of the reaction of local home owners. The more dramatic this is, the better.

A quick search of local paper stories over the last month bears this out. In Warwickshire there’s ‘fury’, in Hampshire ‘anger’, in Nottinghamshire new homes are ‘controversial’, in Sussex they’ll ‘ruin’ the beauty of the countryside and in Aberdeen they’re ‘diabolical’.

And how far does Brandon Lewis really speak for members of his own party? How about the Tory councillor who says plans for new homes near Coventry will create a ‘social dumping ground’ or the Tory councillor and MP condemning ‘fresh assaults on green spaces’ around Bradford?

Many of the stories quote people saying that they support new homes in their area in principle but oppose these particular plans because of their impact on schools or traffic or because there are brownfield sites nearby that should be built on first. Some of these concerns are genuine but some just seem like a way of saying no without saying ‘not in my backyard’.

The change in public attitudes to new homes revealed in this survey really is welcome news but there is still no room for complacency. 

Welcome shift

Tue, 29 Jul 2014

People seem to be getting the ‘Yes to Homes’ message at last but have the nimbys really had their day?

A survey of public attitudes to new housebuilding published by the DCLG on Saturday reveals a welcome shift when people are asked whether they support or oppose more homes being built in their local area.

New housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis welcomed the results as evidence that nimbyism is on the wane.

Here are the headline findings from the British Social Attitudes survey showing the shift in opinion on this question between 2010 and 2013:

BSA

We seem to have gone from opposing new homes by 46% to 28% to supporting them by 47% to 31%. Within those figures, strong support has doubled from 5% to 11%, while strong opposition has fallen from 15 to 8 per cent.

This is a dramatic – and perhaps surprising – shift in just three years. There are of course big differences in attitudes between different sorts of people. The breakdown for different groups needs to be treated with some caution because of the sample size but there do seem to be changes in some unexpected places:

  • Age: Opposition is strongest among the 35-54s (36%) but the biggest reduction in opposition happened among the over-65s (52 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent in 2013).
  • Tenure: Opposition is still much stronger among home owners than renters but it has fallen by a similar amount among all tenure groups.
  • Income: People in the highest income quartile are still the most likely to oppose new homes (33%) but that groups has also seen the biggest reduction since 2010 (when it was 49%)
  • Type of area: There is a clear divide between people living in large cities (only 17 per cent oppose new homes in their area) and those living in smaller towns and rural areas. However, opposition fell most in country villages (5% to 21%).

So why the change? In a piece for Saturday’s Telegraph Lewis hails the government’s planning reforms. He claims that the Labour government ‘killed off the local actors in the planning system’ but that local communities are now back in control.

That’s why the government decided to reunite the housing and planning portfolios and that’s why ‘housebuilding is moving in the right direction’. He says: ‘The new planning system puts local people in control, so if they want to build more homes, they will.’

But is this quite the ‘mission accomplished’ that Lewis makes out? Findings that people are more likely to support new homes if the community is involved in planning and local people have more control over what gets built certainly seem to go with the grain of localist thinking (even though it’s never been clear what that really means).

However, this has not yet translated into many more homes on the ground. It’s true that housing starts are moving in the right direction but earlier this month it emerged in leaked documents that officials warned ministers that they are about to fall again. Completions are up too but are running at half the level needed to meet demand.

As Alex Marsh argues on his blog, increased awareness of the housing problems facing the country seems a more likely explanation for the change in attitudes. Some 81 per cent of people agree that there is a shortage of affordable homes to buy and 82% say it’s more difficult to buy than 20 years ago. However, they are cautious about the prospects for change: 55 per cent think that ‘homes will continue to be unaffordable in my local area even if new homes are built’.

These results from the survey also seem more upbeat about new homes than more nuanced results from opinion polling. As Ben Marshall of Ipsos Mori blogged last year for Yes to Homes, 80% of the British public agree that there is a national housing crisis but more disagree than agree that there is a crisis in their local area (49% to 45%). Meanwhile local councillors still think local opposition is the biggest barrier to increasing supply.

Ben argues that the case for new homes still needs to be made locally:

‘Localism is unlikely to deliver the new housing required if the issue isn’t given greater ongoing attention by local politicians, communities and businesses. This is the challenge: housing supply is a strategic, national imperative in the hands, hearts and minds of local people.’

From this perspective it’s worrying that local newspapers don’t seem to have got the message yet that public attitudes are changing. Yes to Homes and other campaigns have generated positive local coverage but stories about plans for new homes are still routinely reported in terms of the reaction of local home owners. The more dramatic this is, the better.

A quick search of local paper stories over the last month bears this out. In Warwickshire there’s ‘fury’, in Hampshire ‘anger’, in Nottinghamshire new homes are ‘controversial’, in Sussex they’ll ‘ruin’ the beauty of the countryside and in Aberdeen they’re ‘diabolical’.

And how far does Brandon Lewis really speak for members of his own party? How about the Tory councillor who says plans for new homes near Coventry will create a ‘social dumping ground’ or the Tory councillor and MP condemning ‘fresh assaults on green spaces’ around Bradford?

Many of the stories quote people saying that they support new homes in their area in principle but oppose these particular plans because of their impact on schools or traffic or because there are brownfield sites nearby that should be built on first. Some of these concerns are genuine but some just seem like a way of saying no without saying ‘not in my backyard’.

The change in public attitudes to new homes revealed in this survey really is welcome news but there is still no room for complacency. 

Closed doors

Mon, 28 Jul 2014

What is it about a ‘poor door’ that causes so much outrage?

The term has captured something on both sides of the Atlantic: first on an exclusive development in New York City last year and then applied to a growing trend in London reported in Saturday’s Guardian.

The London building at the centre of that story – One Commerical Street on the eastern fringes of the City – was the same one that I blogged about last year when it was chosen by chancellor George Osborne as the venue for his speech arguing that the economy was ‘turning the corner’.

The development was midway through construction at the time and 40 per cent of the market homes had already been sold off-plan in the Far East. However, the plans revealed that it would have separate entrances for rich and poor: one at the front for the market housing and the second around the back for the housing association homes. That seemed to me to make it the perfect metaphor for the UK’s unequal recovery.

Only a few weeks before that – unknown to me at the time – very similar news had broken in New York about 40 Riverside Boulevard, a high-rise development that would have separate entrances. These were quickly dubbed a ‘poor door’ and a ‘rich door’.

The two stories became one this week when New York planners approved the scheme. That prompted outrage in the city and a pledge by Democrat mayor Bill de Blasio block similar schemes in future and this was the hook for Hilary Osborne’s Guardian investigation highlighting the fact that the same thing is even more common in London.

It’s interesting that the outrage seems to have been more more intense in New York. Perhaps that’s for historical reasons: America defined itself against a class-ridden Britain symbolised by Upstairs Downstairs and Dickens; one of the ‘self-evident’ truths in the US constitution is that ‘all men are created equal’ (even though it only meant white men); and separate entrances recall the shame of ‘separate but equal’ racial segregation.

It’s also political. Part of de Blasio’s support came from New Yorkers angry about economic inequality and the income levels of ‘the 1 per cent’ who caused the financial crisis. His $41 billion plan to create and preserve 200,000 affordable homes in the next ten years was a key campaign pledge. One mechanism for delivering it is mandatory inclusionary zoning, under which developers are required to provide low and moderate income housing in return for the lifting of restrictions on the height of developments and tax breaks.

Housing policy may work differently in London but the underlying issues are the same and inclusionary zoning does a similar job to the section 106 agreement that created the affordable homes at One Commercial Street.

One argument developers use to justify the separate entrances is that they are a way of ensuring that affordable housing tenants do not have to pay the high service charges for the concierges and other services that go with the ‘rich door’. There may be something in that, although the service charges have to be set against the considerable extra upfront costs of building a development with separate lift shafts. The point left more unspoken is that buyers pay such high prices for luxury apartments precisely because they want them to be exclusive.

The outrage on the left is met by mockery on the right, with the Wall Street Journal portraying the ‘poor door’ controversy as ‘the Dickensian misery of expecting people to pay their bills’. Somewhere between the two is the argument that if a ‘poor door’ is the only way to secure affordable housing then it’s a price worth paying for keeping homes in the centre of the city rather than despatching them to the outskirts.

Segregated development is also nothing new: think back to the 1930s and Oxford had ‘snob walls’ with iron spikes on the top separating private from council housing. A counter-argument could even be made communities are more mixed now than they were in the 1980s. However, that rather ignores the powerful forces that are generating inequality and division.

While inclusionary zoning has a long history in the US, it’s only relatively recently that Section 106 developer contributions have become a key mechanism for delivering affordable housing in the UK. What’s seen here as a tax on new development (which has been considerably relaxed by the coalition) is often seen there as a tax break or subsidy for developers (build affordable homes, gain the right to build new floors full of luxury condos).

What’s changed completely is the wider housing and economic context. Escalating house prices in London and New York have created a housing market in which only the very rich can afford to buy, gentrification has spread to former working class areas and people on low incomes are left with rapidly shrinking pockets of affordable housing. Inadequate subsidies for affordable housing leave new provision ever more dependent on developer contributions and the right to buy and regeneration eat into the existing stock. Meanwhile an increasingly unequal society becomes ever more polarised between the very rich and the very poor.

At One Commercial Street, for example, apartments starting at £500,000 for a studio are only affordable to the top 1 per cent of households (calculate where you stand here). The affordable homes will have gone to around 70 households from perhaps the bottom 10 per cent.

Of those who might have used the non-existent middle door, some will choose to move to the suburbs or out of the city altogether as enclaves of affordable housing disappear. For those who want to remain in the city and do not already own, the meaning of affordability is stretched to breaking point to include $3,000 a month rents in New York and £720,000 shared ownership in London. For those at the bottom who are homeless or too low on the waiting list, some will be forced out of the centre of the city by cuts in housing benefit and some by out of area homelessness discharges.

The ‘poor door’ controversy will make us more sensitive to buildings with separate entrances for rich and poor and hopefully more aware of the need for more new homes. It may generate a wider debate about whether affordable housing requirements should be delivered on or off site. It may even lead some to question whether what amounts to a tax on new development (which may mean more overseas investor buyers) is the best way to subsidise affordable homes.

However, ‘poor doors’ are the result of state intervention to mitigate rather than confront the far greater inadequacies of our housing system and the inequalities built into it. That’s the real outrage.  

Closed doors

Mon, 28 Jul 2014

What is it about a ‘poor door’ that causes so much outrage?

The term has captured something on both sides of the Atlantic: first on an exclusive development in New York City last year and then applied to a growing trend in London reported in Saturday’s Guardian.

The London building at the centre of that story – One Commerical Street on the eastern fringes of the City – was the same one that I blogged about last year when it was chosen by chancellor George Osborne as the venue for his speech arguing that the economy was ‘turning the corner’.

The development was midway through construction at the time and 40 per cent of the market homes had already been sold off-plan in the Far East. However, the plans revealed that it would have separate entrances for rich and poor: one at the front for the market housing and the second around the back for the housing association homes. That seemed to me to make it the perfect metaphor for the UK’s unequal recovery.

Only a few weeks before that – unknown to me at the time – very similar news had broken in New York about 40 Riverside Boulevard, a high-rise development that would have separate entrances. These were quickly dubbed a ‘poor door’ and a ‘rich door’.

The two stories became one this week when New York planners approved the scheme. That prompted outrage in the city and a pledge by Democrat mayor Bill de Blasio block similar schemes in future and this was the hook for Hilary Osborne’s Guardian investigation highlighting the fact that the same thing is even more common in London.

It’s interesting that the outrage seems to have been more more intense in New York. Perhaps that’s for historical reasons: America defined itself against a class-ridden Britain symbolised by Upstairs Downstairs and Dickens; one of the ‘self-evident’ truths in the US constitution is that ‘all men are created equal’ (even though it only meant white men); and separate entrances recall the shame of ‘separate but equal’ racial segregation.

It’s also political. Part of de Blasio’s support came from New Yorkers angry about economic inequality and the income levels of ‘the 1 per cent’ who caused the financial crisis. His $41 billion plan to create and preserve 200,000 affordable homes in the next ten years was a key campaign pledge. One mechanism for delivering it is mandatory inclusionary zoning, under which developers are required to provide low and moderate income housing in return for the lifting of restrictions on the height of developments and tax breaks.

Housing policy may work differently in London but the underlying issues are the same and inclusionary zoning does a similar job to the section 106 agreement that created the affordable homes at One Commercial Street.

One argument developers use to justify the separate entrances is that they are a way of ensuring that affordable housing tenants do not have to pay the high service charges for the concierges and other services that go with the ‘rich door’. There may be something in that, although the service charges have to be set against the considerable extra upfront costs of building a development with separate lift shafts. The point left more unspoken is that buyers pay such high prices for luxury apartments precisely because they want them to be exclusive.

The outrage on the left is met by mockery on the right, with the Wall Street Journal portraying the ‘poor door’ controversy as ‘the Dickensian misery of expecting people to pay their bills’. Somewhere between the two is the argument that if a ‘poor door’ is the only way to secure affordable housing then it’s a price worth paying for keeping homes in the centre of the city rather than despatching them to the outskirts.

Segregated development is also nothing new: think back to the 1930s and Oxford had ‘snob walls’ with iron spikes on the top separating private from council housing. A counter-argument could even be made communities are more mixed now than they were in the 1980s. However, that rather ignores the powerful forces that are generating inequality and division.

While inclusionary zoning has a long history in the US, it’s only relatively recently that Section 106 developer contributions have become a key mechanism for delivering affordable housing in the UK. What’s seen here as a tax on new development (which has been considerably relaxed by the coalition) is often seen there as a tax break or subsidy for developers (build affordable homes, gain the right to build new floors full of luxury condos).

What’s changed completely is the wider housing and economic context. Escalating house prices in London and New York have created a housing market in which only the very rich can afford to buy, gentrification has spread to former working class areas and people on low incomes are left with rapidly shrinking pockets of affordable housing. Inadequate subsidies for affordable housing leave new provision ever more dependent on developer contributions and the right to buy and regeneration eat into the existing stock. Meanwhile an increasingly unequal society becomes ever more polarised between the very rich and the very poor.

At One Commercial Street, for example, apartments starting at £500,000 for a studio are only affordable to the top 1 per cent of households (calculate where you stand here). The affordable homes will have gone to around 70 households from perhaps the bottom 10 per cent.

Of those who might have used the non-existent middle door, some will choose to move to the suburbs or out of the city altogether as enclaves of affordable housing disappear. For those who want to remain in the city and do not already own, the meaning of affordability is stretched to breaking point to include $3,000 a month rents in New York and £720,000 shared ownership in London. For those at the bottom who are homeless or too low on the waiting list, some will be forced out of the centre of the city by cuts in housing benefit and some by out of area homelessness discharges.

The ‘poor door’ controversy will make us more sensitive to buildings with separate entrances for rich and poor and hopefully more aware of the need for more new homes. It may generate a wider debate about whether affordable housing requirements should be delivered on or off site. It may even lead some to question whether what amounts to a tax on new development (which may mean more overseas investor buyers) is the best way to subsidise affordable homes.

However, ‘poor doors’ are the result of state intervention to mitigate rather than confront the far greater inadequacies of our housing system and the inequalities built into it. That’s the real outrage.  

Survey story - part two

Thu, 24 Jul 2014

Here’s the second part of my blog on some key themes emerging from the latest English Housing Survey.

Part one looked at changing trends in tenure, the impact of the financial crisis and the true nature of under-occupation. This final part looks at three more trends that caught my eye:

Private renters are not as satisfied at they seem: Whenever groups representing private tenants complain about poor conditions in the sector, landlords and ministers point to evidence from the survey about satisfaction levels. The latest data shows that 84 per cent of private renters were satisfied or very satisfied with their accommodation and 87 per cent were satisfied with their area. These figures are higher than for social renters and not much lower than for owner-occupiers. In addition, when private tenants were asked why their previous tenancy ended, only 7 per cent said it was because they were asked to leave by their landlord or agent. Against that, a private let does not look much like a settled home for many people: 907,000 out of England’s four million private renters had moved within the last year. 

However, as the graph below shows, the results are very different when people are asked if their current tenure is ‘a good way of occupying a home’. Similar proportions of owner-occupiers (93 per cent) and social renters (82 per cent) say yes to this as say they are satisfied with their accommodation or area but the proportion of private renters saying yes slumps to just 52 per cent.

Satisfy

Some 23 per cent of private renters were dissatisfied with their current tenure, a rate four times higher than social renters (6 per cent) and ten times higher than owner-occupiers (2 per cent). Being satisfied with your accommodation or area is not the same thing at all as being satisfied with being a private tenant.

Affordability may not be what you think: It’s tempting to take it as read that social housing is more affordable than private renting and owner-occupation – but if you look at housing costs in relation to incomes a very different picture emerges. On average, owner-occupiers spend 20 per cent of their income on their mortgage in 2012/13, with the proportion increasing to 25 per cent for those who have bought within the last three years and falling to 19 per cent for those who bought three or more years ago. In contrast, social renters spend 30 per cent of their income on rent and private renters 40 per cent.

These figures are for the incomes of the household reference person and their partner (and so are closer to reality than affordability measures than only include a single earner). They are also after housing benefit has been applied: without it, rents would have accounted for 42 per cent of social tenants’ income. However, they are for 2012/13, before most cuts in housing benefit and before most development of new social housing for affordable rent.

Private renters also paid more (£163 a week) in money terms than people with a mortgage (£149 a week) and they will of course be paying that for as long as they rent with no chance of paying off their mortgage after 25 or 30 years. 

Social renters do not conform to TV stereotypes: One reason why the rash of TV programmes like Benefits Street caused so much offence is their insinuations about what social tenants do (or don’t do) all day. It’s true that 65 per cent of social tenants are not working (this figure is for households and refers to the status of the household reference person). It’s also true that this is higher than for private renters (28 per cent) and owner occupiers (38 per cent).

However, a more complex picture emerges from the more detailed breakdown in the survey. Only 10 per cent of social tenants are unemployed, compared with 31 per cent who are retired, 23 per cent who are ‘other inactive’ (permanently sick or disabled or caring for the home or family) and 1 per cent who are students. Where TV programmes imply that social tenants won’t work, the survey shows the much higher proportions who are unable to work.

Meanwhile the 35 per cent of social tenant households who are in work (23 per cent full-time, 12 per cent part-time) are finding it harder to make ends meet and pay the rent. The proportion of council tenants who were working and in receipt of housing benefit almost doubled from 18 per cent in 2008/09 to 34 per cent in 2012/13. The survey says this may reflect lower paid work and more people undertaking part-time work.  

This has important implications at a time when the government sees getting a job as the route out of poverty. Even if most of the unemployed and some of the long-term sick and disabled are successful, cutting tenants’ benefits to incentivise them to find work does not seem like such a simple solution to their financial problems.

You can find more detail on all of this plus much more in the detailed commentary and tables from the English Housing Survey available here. Part one of this blog is here

Survey story - part two

Thu, 24 Jul 2014

Here’s the second part of my blog on some key themes emerging from the latest English Housing Survey.

Part one looked at changing trends in tenure, the impact of the financial crisis and the true nature of under-occupation. This final part looks at three more trends that caught my eye:

Private renters are not as satisfied at they seem: Whenever groups representing private tenants complain about poor conditions in the sector, landlords and ministers point to evidence from the survey about satisfaction levels. The latest data shows that 84 per cent of private renters were satisfied or very satisfied with their accommodation and 87 per cent were satisfied with their area. These figures are higher than for social renters and not much lower than for owner-occupiers. In addition, when private tenants were asked why their previous tenancy ended, only 7 per cent said it was because they were asked to leave by their landlord or agent. Against that, a private let does not look much like a settled home for many people: 907,000 out of England’s four million private renters had moved within the last year. 

However, as the graph below shows, the results are very different when people are asked if their current tenure is ‘a good way of occupying a home’. Similar proportions of owner-occupiers (93 per cent) and social renters (82 per cent) say yes to this as say they are satisfied with their accommodation or area but the proportion of private renters saying yes slumps to just 52 per cent.

Satisfy

Some 23 per cent of private renters were dissatisfied with their current tenure, a rate four times higher than social renters (6 per cent) and ten times higher than owner-occupiers (2 per cent). Being satisfied with your accommodation or area is not the same thing at all as being satisfied with being a private tenant.

Affordability may not be what you think: It’s tempting to take it as read that social housing is more affordable than private renting and owner-occupation – but if you look at housing costs in relation to incomes a very different picture emerges. On average, owner-occupiers spend 20 per cent of their income on their mortgage in 2012/13, with the proportion increasing to 25 per cent for those who have bought within the last three years and falling to 19 per cent for those who bought three or more years ago. In contrast, social renters spend 30 per cent of their income on rent and private renters 40 per cent.

These figures are for the incomes of the household reference person and their partner (and so are closer to reality than affordability measures than only include a single earner). They are also after housing benefit has been applied: without it, rents would have accounted for 42 per cent of social tenants’ income. However, they are for 2012/13, before most cuts in housing benefit and before most development of new social housing for affordable rent.

Private renters also paid more (£163 a week) in money terms than people with a mortgage (£149 a week) and they will of course be paying that for as long as they rent with no chance of paying off their mortgage after 25 or 30 years. 

Social renters do not conform to TV stereotypes: One reason why the rash of TV programmes like Benefits Street caused so much offence is their insinuations about what social tenants do (or don’t do) all day. It’s true that 65 per cent of social tenants are not working (this figure is for households and refers to the status of the household reference person). It’s also true that this is higher than for private renters (28 per cent) and owner occupiers (38 per cent).

However, a more complex picture emerges from the more detailed breakdown in the survey. Only 10 per cent of social tenants are unemployed, compared with 31 per cent who are retired, 23 per cent who are ‘other inactive’ (permanently sick or disabled or caring for the home or family) and 1 per cent who are students. Where TV programmes imply that social tenants won’t work, the survey shows the much higher proportions who are unable to work.

Meanwhile the 35 per cent of social tenant households who are in work (23 per cent full-time, 12 per cent part-time) are finding it harder to make ends meet and pay the rent. The proportion of council tenants who were working and in receipt of housing benefit almost doubled from 18 per cent in 2008/09 to 34 per cent in 2012/13. The survey says this may reflect lower paid work and more people undertaking part-time work.  

This has important implications at a time when the government sees getting a job as the route out of poverty. Even if most of the unemployed and some of the long-term sick and disabled are successful, cutting tenants’ benefits to incentivise them to find work does not seem like such a simple solution to their financial problems.

You can find more detail on all of this plus much more in the detailed commentary and tables from the English Housing Survey available here. Part one of this blog is here

English Housing Survey part 1

Wed, 23 Jul 2014

It’s time again for a welter of new information about housing in England. Here’s the first of a two-part blog on what caught my eye.

The English Housing Survey also covers stock conditions, energy efficiency and fire safety but this blog concentrates on the story on households. Information from it was first released in February but more followed today. Here are the first three of six themes that seemed significant to me.

The slow death of the property-owning democracy continues

I blogged about the key trends in tenure in February. It wasn’t just about the rise and rise of private renting (it had been clear that it would overtake social renting for some time) but a huge shift within owner-occupation. In 2012/13 the number of outright owners almost overtook the number of mortgaged owners. This is part of a generational shift (baby boomers are slowly paying off their mortgage and few of their kids can get one) that would have horrified Mrs Thatcher when she revived the old Tory idea of the property-owning democracy. Between 2008/09 and 2012/13, the proportion of households aged 25-34 who were private tenants rose from 31%t to 45%.

The financial crisis had a dramatic impact on tenure

Mortgaged ownership has been shrinking for years but the trend seems to have accelerated dramatically as a result of the recession and credit crunch. The survey includes information on recent movers – households who moved into their current home in the last 12 months. In 2012/13 there were 2.3 million of them: 59% moved into the private rented sector, 24 per cent into owner-occupation and 16% into social housing. As the graph shows, a big shift happened in the two years between 2007/08 and 2009/10: the proportion of recent movers who went into owner-occupation dropped from 42% to 20%, while the proportion becoming private renters rose from 43% to 62%.

 

Under-occupation is in the eye of the beholder

The bedroom tax has focussed attention on under-occupation in social housing, with ministers arguing that it desperately needs to be tackled to free up space for overcrowded families. As I’ve blogged before, the English Housing Survey tells a very different story and uses a different measure of under-occupation. The ‘bedroom standard’ is a slightly harsher measure of bedrooms needed than the rules on housing benefit (older children have to share) but has a more generous definition of under-occupation (two bedrooms more than needed rather than one as under the housing benefit rules).

With that caveat, the survey highlights four issues:

  • Owner-occupiers are most likely to under-occupy. Half of all home owners have two bedrooms more than need and another 36 per cent had one bedroom above the standard.
  • Social tenants – the targets for the bedroom tax – are least likely to under-occupy. Only 9.9 per cent had two bedrooms more than the standard and 28.7 per cent had one more. That total of 39 per cent compares to 85 per cent for owners and 51 per cent for private renters.
  • Under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing were both falling before the bedroom tax was introduced in April 2013. Overcrowding fell from 7 per cent in 2010/11 to 6 per cent in 2012/13. The 9.9 per cent under-occupation rate in 2012/13 was down from 10.3 per cent in 2010/11 and 12.1 per cent in 2003/04.
  • More than half of all under-occupiers (3 million out of 5.8 million with two bedrooms more than the standard) are aged over 65. Isn’t this where downsizing initiatives and incentives should be targeted?

I’ll be posting part 2 of this blog later. How satisfied are private renters? Who had the most affordable housing? And do TV shows get it right about social renters? Watch this space fort three more new perspectives from the English Housing Survey. 

English Housing Survey part 1

Wed, 23 Jul 2014

It’s time again for a welter of new information about housing in England. Here’s the first of a two-part blog on what caught my eye.

The English Housing Survey also covers stock conditions, energy efficiency and fire safety but this blog concentrates on the story on households. Information from it was first released in February but more followed today. Here are the first three of six themes that seemed significant to me.

The slow death of the property-owning democracy continues

I blogged about the key trends in tenure in February. It wasn’t just about the rise and rise of private renting (it had been clear that it would overtake social renting for some time) but a huge shift within owner-occupation. In 2012/13 the number of outright owners almost overtook the number of mortgaged owners. This is part of a generational shift (baby boomers are slowly paying off their mortgage and few of their kids can get one) that would have horrified Mrs Thatcher when she revived the old Tory idea of the property-owning democracy. Between 2008/09 and 2012/13, the proportion of households aged 25-34 who were private tenants rose from 31%t to 45%.

The financial crisis had a dramatic impact on tenure

Mortgaged ownership has been shrinking for years but the trend seems to have accelerated dramatically as a result of the recession and credit crunch. The survey includes information on recent movers – households who moved into their current home in the last 12 months. In 2012/13 there were 2.3 million of them: 59% moved into the private rented sector, 24 per cent into owner-occupation and 16% into social housing. As the graph shows, a big shift happened in the two years between 2007/08 and 2009/10: the proportion of recent movers who went into owner-occupation dropped from 42% to 20%, while the proportion becoming private renters rose from 43% to 62%.

 

Under-occupation is in the eye of the beholder

The bedroom tax has focussed attention on under-occupation in social housing, with ministers arguing that it desperately needs to be tackled to free up space for overcrowded families. As I’ve blogged before, the English Housing Survey tells a very different story and uses a different measure of under-occupation. The ‘bedroom standard’ is a slightly harsher measure of bedrooms needed than the rules on housing benefit (older children have to share) but has a more generous definition of under-occupation (two bedrooms more than needed rather than one as under the housing benefit rules).

With that caveat, the survey highlights four issues:

  • Owner-occupiers are most likely to under-occupy. Half of all home owners have two bedrooms more than need and another 36 per cent had one bedroom above the standard.
  • Social tenants – the targets for the bedroom tax – are least likely to under-occupy. Only 9.9 per cent had two bedrooms more than the standard and 28.7 per cent had one more. That total of 39 per cent compares to 85 per cent for owners and 51 per cent for private renters.
  • Under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing were both falling before the bedroom tax was introduced in April 2013. Overcrowding fell from 7 per cent in 2010/11 to 6 per cent in 2012/13. The 9.9 per cent under-occupation rate in 2012/13 was down from 10.3 per cent in 2010/11 and 12.1 per cent in 2003/04.
  • More than half of all under-occupiers (3 million out of 5.8 million with two bedrooms more than the standard) are aged over 65. Isn’t this where downsizing initiatives and incentives should be targeted?

I’ll be posting part 2 of this blog later. How satisfied are private renters? Who had the most affordable housing? And do TV shows get it right about social renters? Watch this space fort three more new perspectives from the English Housing Survey. 

A room of their own

Mon, 21 Jul 2014

What does the Lib Dem change of heart mean for the future of the bedroom tax?

It is not quite the u-turn that’s being claimed in some quarters but it is a significant change of direction. It’s not quite the mature change of mind in the light of the evidence that’s being claimed by the Lib Dems either: the evidence has been there from the beginning and the independent evaluation that supposedly triggered the change in policy must have been available at the DWP for weeks before it was sneaked out on Tuesday.

Read Rob Gershon’s great blog for a forensic analysis of Wednesday night’s statement by Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander and all the previous evidence that he seems somehow to have missed. I’d add only one thing to that: Danny could have asked his dad.

This is of course not the first time that the Lib Dems have withdrawn support from the bedroom tax. In April it turned out that Tim Farron meant the party but not the bit of it that’s in government. This time around the leadership is falling into line with the grassroots to call for specific reforms to the policy.

It’s easy to accuse them of hypocrisy: without Lib Dem support, the bedroom tax could never have been introduced in the first place. And naivety: the bedroom tax is a symbol of the way the Conservatives forced through changes on welfare reform and housing that the Lib Dems were too quick to accept in the early days of the coalition. And it’s probably too late politically, as former Nick Clegg advisor Sean Kemp argues in The Spectator.

However, politicians are allowed to change their mind and it’s not a bad thing when they listen to the evidence. The Lib Dem change of heart is much better late than never and it could yet make a real difference to bedroom tax victims before the next election.

Danny Alexander spelt out more detail in an interview on Channel Four News last night. If you haven’t seen it, do watch again here as it’s interesting on four different levels:



First, it’s cringe-inducing TV of the highest order as Alexander struggles to justify his previous position and evades repeated attempts to get him to say ‘sorry’ until near the end. Alexander’s continued use of ‘the spare room subsidy’ (the name invented by the Conservatives to justify the policy) does not do much to convey contrition.

Second, the new Lib Dem policy seems to be more complex than the original statements made out. It amounts to an admission that discretionary housing payments (DHPs) have not worked and more exemptions are needed.  The interview hints that the party does not mean to exempt all disabled adults (something that might cover two-thirds of all bedroom tax victims) but a much smaller group of ‘people who have a medical need for an additional bedroom’. There would also be a new duty on social landlords to prevent under-occupation, though it’s not clear how that will work.

Alexander did not mention how the suitability of alternative accommodation for downsizers would be decided. This issue was thrown into stark relief in the package before the interview, which featured Wayne Blackburn, a disabled man who has already been forced to downsize into unsuitable accommodation. It’s also worth noting Inside Housing’s story today about rising numbers of out-of-area homelessness discharges: these are happening despite government guidance that ‘suitable’ should mean in the same area.

Third, Alexander still does not seem to understand his own policy. He repeats the discredited government line that Labour brought in ‘this self-same change for people in the private rented sector’. In reality even the Lib Dems’ reformed bedroom tax will be much harsher since the local housing allowance only ever applied to new tenants and operates in a completely different way.

Fourth, he drops some hints about what’s likely to happen next. If the Lib Dems want to reform the bedroom tax before the next election, they could vote for it in the House of Commons or negotiate it behind the scenes with their Conservative coalition partners.

On Commons votes, here’s what he has to say:

Q: If there was a choice in the House of Commons to vote for the policy you now support, will you vote for it?

A: Well, of course… if Liberal Democrats put forward our policy in the House of Commons of course I’ll support that.

Q: What about if Labour do?

A: I think we’d have to look at whatever Labour put forward.

Q: What about if Labour put forward your idea?

A: I think we’d have to look at what Labour put forward on a case by case basis.

Q: This is maddening political games. This is what drives people at home nuts. You can’t answer a straight question about if somebody does what you want you won’t vote for it.

A: You know that isn’t true because Labour would only be putting down a motion like that in order to play political games themselves.

I take this to mean that if Labour calls a vote to scrap the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems will vote against and Labour will use it to paint them as hypocrites. If Labour proposed reforms they might vote in favour, but would Labour want to? However, Lib Dem MP Andrew George, who came top in the ballot for private member’s bills, is drafting legislation that includes wide-ranging bedroom tax reforms. That will come to the Commons on September 5. What will the Lib Dems and Labour do then? Together they have the votes to push through reforms that will help many bedroom tax victims before the next election but only if they put policy before party politics.

On coalition negotiations, Alexander says that ‘it’s right that in the next few months in the run-up to the Autumn Statement that we should argue the case within government, which we will do’.

Q: You could force it through couldn’t you? you could force the Conservatives to deliver this if you want. How far will you take it? You could say you’re not going to get anything else in the Autumn Statement unless you give us this. Are you going to do that?

A: Well, we will make it part of what we’re arguing for as part of that process so you’ll see the results in the Autumn Statement.

Q: So that’s a guarantee that it will be in the Autumn Statement isn’t it?

A: It’s not a guarantee, it’s part of what we’re pushing for in the Autumn Statement and we’ll see how we get on.

So how will the Lib Dems play their hand? Alexander’s answers do not inspire that much confidence but they will get at least two chances to force through their new policy this year. Will they take them?

A room of their own

Mon, 21 Jul 2014

What does the Lib Dem change of heart mean for the future of the bedroom tax?

It is not quite the u-turn that’s being claimed in some quarters but it is a significant change of direction. It’s not quite the mature change of mind in the light of the evidence that’s being claimed by the Lib Dems either: the evidence has been there from the beginning and the independent evaluation that supposedly triggered the change in policy must have been available at the DWP for weeks before it was sneaked out on Tuesday.

Read Rob Gershon’s great blog for a forensic analysis of Wednesday night’s statement by Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander and all the previous evidence that he seems somehow to have missed. I’d add only one thing to that: Danny could have asked his dad.

This is of course not the first time that the Lib Dems have withdrawn support from the bedroom tax. In April it turned out that Tim Farron meant the party but not the bit of it that’s in government. This time around the leadership is falling into line with the grassroots to call for specific reforms to the policy.

It’s easy to accuse them of hypocrisy: without Lib Dem support, the bedroom tax could never have been introduced in the first place. And naivety: the bedroom tax is a symbol of the way the Conservatives forced through changes on welfare reform and housing that the Lib Dems were too quick to accept in the early days of the coalition. And it’s probably too late politically, as former Nick Clegg advisor Sean Kemp argues in The Spectator.

However, politicians are allowed to change their mind and it’s not a bad thing when they listen to the evidence. The Lib Dem change of heart is much better late than never and it could yet make a real difference to bedroom tax victims before the next election.

Danny Alexander spelt out more detail in an interview on Channel Four News last night. If you haven’t seen it, do watch again here as it’s interesting on four different levels:



First, it’s cringe-inducing TV of the highest order as Alexander struggles to justify his previous position and evades repeated attempts to get him to say ‘sorry’ until near the end. Alexander’s continued use of ‘the spare room subsidy’ (the name invented by the Conservatives to justify the policy) does not do much to convey contrition.

Second, the new Lib Dem policy seems to be more complex than the original statements made out. It amounts to an admission that discretionary housing payments (DHPs) have not worked and more exemptions are needed.  The interview hints that the party does not mean to exempt all disabled adults (something that might cover two-thirds of all bedroom tax victims) but a much smaller group of ‘people who have a medical need for an additional bedroom’. There would also be a new duty on social landlords to prevent under-occupation, though it’s not clear how that will work.

Alexander did not mention how the suitability of alternative accommodation for downsizers would be decided. This issue was thrown into stark relief in the package before the interview, which featured Wayne Blackburn, a disabled man who has already been forced to downsize into unsuitable accommodation. It’s also worth noting Inside Housing’s story today about rising numbers of out-of-area homelessness discharges: these are happening despite government guidance that ‘suitable’ should mean in the same area.

Third, Alexander still does not seem to understand his own policy. He repeats the discredited government line that Labour brought in ‘this self-same change for people in the private rented sector’. In reality even the Lib Dems’ reformed bedroom tax will be much harsher since the local housing allowance only ever applied to new tenants and operates in a completely different way.

Fourth, he drops some hints about what’s likely to happen next. If the Lib Dems want to reform the bedroom tax before the next election, they could vote for it in the House of Commons or negotiate it behind the scenes with their Conservative coalition partners.

On Commons votes, here’s what he has to say:

Q: If there was a choice in the House of Commons to vote for the policy you now support, will you vote for it?

A: Well, of course… if Liberal Democrats put forward our policy in the House of Commons of course I’ll support that.

Q: What about if Labour do?

A: I think we’d have to look at whatever Labour put forward.

Q: What about if Labour put forward your idea?

A: I think we’d have to look at what Labour put forward on a case by case basis.

Q: This is maddening political games. This is what drives people at home nuts. You can’t answer a straight question about if somebody does what you want you won’t vote for it.

A: You know that isn’t true because Labour would only be putting down a motion like that in order to play political games themselves.

I take this to mean that if Labour calls a vote to scrap the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems will vote against and Labour will use it to paint them as hypocrites. If Labour proposed reforms they might vote in favour, but would Labour want to? However, Lib Dem MP Andrew George, who came top in the ballot for private member’s bills, is drafting legislation that includes wide-ranging bedroom tax reforms. That will come to the Commons on September 5. What will the Lib Dems and Labour do then? Together they have the votes to push through reforms that will help many bedroom tax victims before the next election but only if they put policy before party politics.

On coalition negotiations, Alexander says that ‘it’s right that in the next few months in the run-up to the Autumn Statement that we should argue the case within government, which we will do’.

Q: You could force it through couldn’t you? you could force the Conservatives to deliver this if you want. How far will you take it? You could say you’re not going to get anything else in the Autumn Statement unless you give us this. Are you going to do that?

A: Well, we will make it part of what we’re arguing for as part of that process so you’ll see the results in the Autumn Statement.

Q: So that’s a guarantee that it will be in the Autumn Statement isn’t it?

A: It’s not a guarantee, it’s part of what we’re pushing for in the Autumn Statement and we’ll see how we get on.

So how will the Lib Dems play their hand? Alexander’s answers do not inspire that much confidence but they will get at least two chances to force through their new policy this year. Will they take them?

Shuffling the deck

Wed, 16 Jul 2014

So housing seems to have kept the politicians who should have gone and lost the one who was making a difference.

Speculation ahead of the reshuffle suggested that Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan Smith would leave their posts as part of the cull of middle aged men in the Cabinet. True, some of the stories seemed a bit thin (a woman with a posh accent overheard talking on the phone didn’t seem like much to go on) but I lived in hope. I also looked forward to the DWP press release arguing that it proved that universal credit is ‘on track and on schedule’.

Instead it’s business as usual at the top of their two departments with a shake-up lower down the ministerial scale. After just over nine months in the job, Kris Hopkins is now the former housing minister and is shunted sideways into local government. Brandon Lewis moves from that job and gets a promotion to minister of state for housing and planning. Penny Mordaunt comes in as junior minister responsible for coastal communities.

The good news is that housing is restored to the minister of state status it lost when Hopkins was appointed and that the housing and planning briefs have been reunited. Lewis seems on message about housing issues, recently helped open new council houses in his constituency and is a private landlord. He’s also a protégée of Pickles and co-hosted a local radio programme with his boss when he was leader of Brentwood council.

The bad news is that the revolving door of housing ministers is speeding up again. Hopkins replaced Mark Prisk, who was supposedly sacked for his lack of media profile. He did attract more publicity but mostly by putting his foot in his mouth with ill-advised comments about house prices and landlords evicting tenants. It’s tempting to say that his departure is linked to worry about a leaked report predicting a fall in housing starts ahead of the election but more likely it’s just an indication that who does the job does not matter very much politically.

The very bad news is that Nick Boles has also moved from the DCLG. He told a fringe meeting at the last Conservative conference that ‘if I’m still planning minister after the next election, I want you to shoot me’ and that his ideal job was working in the education department with old Policy Exchange chum Michael Gove. He’s got his wish but only half of it.

However, Boles was like a breath of fresh air at the DCLG and within the Conservative Party. He was prepared to put the case for new homes to sceptical voters and seemed to have license from the leadership to wind up the Daily Telegraph and even more sceptical members of his own party. Somehow I can’t see Brandon Lewis doing anything as brilliant as Boles’s confrontation with Simon Jenkins on Newsnight last year.

His departure could therefore signal a pre-election shift in the balance of power away from modernising Conservatives who see new homes as vital to economic growth in favour of traditional ones who want to resist them at all costs. A quick look around at recent local paper coverage bears out the potential: from Warwickshire Tories calling a site for new homes a ‘social dumping ground’ to Bradford Tories facing ‘assaults on their green spaces’.

The worrying news is that the DCLG is also about to lose Sir Bob Kerslake, who will stop being head of the civil service in the Autumn and retire as permanent secretary in February when he’s 60. Sir Bob was of course previously head of the HCA and many people credit him with protecting the housing programme in 2010 so it’s hard to see his departure as good news for the sector.

Allegra Stretton reported on Newsnight on Monday that he was being sacked for ‘poor performance’ (which seems to be code for resisting civil service reform). If the leak and the timing of an announcement about the civil service at the same time as a political reshuffle seemed remarkable, so does the fact that he was appointed and promoted under the coalition.

The man himself blogged yesterday about his pride in working with ‘brilliant’ people in the job and the ‘big and difficult transformation’ at the DCLG. But he added: ‘Less brilliant have been the ‘noises off’ criticising civil servants and accusing them of being reluctant to change.’

With a departing permanent secretary, yet another new housing minister and the loss of the Boles stardust, things do not look good for the DCLG ahead of the election. Perhaps it’s just as well that Pickles has outsourced policy development to the big housebuilders?

By comparison the DWP seems a model of stability. Out goes Mike Penning and in comes Mark Harper as minister for disabled people (after a period of confusion similar to the one about who was housing minister yesterday afternoon).

Iain Duncan Smith supposedly survived an attempt to remove him in the last reshuffle and now somehow he’s survived yet again. If you haven’t seen it, do read Chris Dillow’s brilliant blog on ‘why idiots succeed’. My money is on reason number one – the wet bed – plus Cameron’s fear of having one of John Major’s ‘bastards’ on the backbenches.

Here’s how Major summed things up last year: ‘IDS is trying to reform benefits. But unless he is lucky or a genius, which last time I looked was not true, he may get things wrong.’

The former prime minister was prescient. As I blogged yesterday, the DWP chose the reshuffle as the perfect day to bury the bad news in an independent evaluation of the bedroom tax that provides powerful new backing for critics of the policy. Only last week, it was embarrassed when Sir Bob Kerslake confirmed that the Treasury has still not signed off the business case for universal credit.

And yet somehow, with his flagship sinking underneath him, the captain sails serenely on.  

Shuffling the deck

Wed, 16 Jul 2014

So housing seems to have kept the politicians who should have gone and lost the one who was making a difference.

Speculation ahead of the reshuffle suggested that Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan Smith would leave their posts as part of the cull of middle aged men in the Cabinet. True, some of the stories seemed a bit thin (a woman with a posh accent overheard talking on the phone didn’t seem like much to go on) but I lived in hope. I also looked forward to the DWP press release arguing that it proved that universal credit is ‘on track and on schedule’.

Instead it’s business as usual at the top of their two departments with a shake-up lower down the ministerial scale. After just over nine months in the job, Kris Hopkins is now the former housing minister and is shunted sideways into local government. Brandon Lewis moves from that job and gets a promotion to minister of state for housing and planning. Penny Mordaunt comes in as junior minister responsible for coastal communities.

The good news is that housing is restored to the minister of state status it lost when Hopkins was appointed and that the housing and planning briefs have been reunited. Lewis seems on message about housing issues, recently helped open new council houses in his constituency and is a private landlord. He’s also a protégée of Pickles and co-hosted a local radio programme with his boss when he was leader of Brentwood council.

The bad news is that the revolving door of housing ministers is speeding up again. Hopkins replaced Mark Prisk, who was supposedly sacked for his lack of media profile. He did attract more publicity but mostly by putting his foot in his mouth with ill-advised comments about house prices and landlords evicting tenants. It’s tempting to say that his departure is linked to worry about a leaked report predicting a fall in housing starts ahead of the election but more likely it’s just an indication that who does the job does not matter very much politically.

The very bad news is that Nick Boles has also moved from the DCLG. He told a fringe meeting at the last Conservative conference that ‘if I’m still planning minister after the next election, I want you to shoot me’ and that his ideal job was working in the education department with old Policy Exchange chum Michael Gove. He’s got his wish but only half of it.

However, Boles was like a breath of fresh air at the DCLG and within the Conservative Party. He was prepared to put the case for new homes to sceptical voters and seemed to have license from the leadership to wind up the Daily Telegraph and even more sceptical members of his own party. Somehow I can’t see Brandon Lewis doing anything as brilliant as Boles’s confrontation with Simon Jenkins on Newsnight last year.

His departure could therefore signal a pre-election shift in the balance of power away from modernising Conservatives who see new homes as vital to economic growth in favour of traditional ones who want to resist them at all costs. A quick look around at recent local paper coverage bears out the potential: from Warwickshire Tories calling a site for new homes a ‘social dumping ground’ to Bradford Tories facing ‘assaults on their green spaces’.

The worrying news is that the DCLG is also about to lose Sir Bob Kerslake, who will stop being head of the civil service in the Autumn and retire as permanent secretary in February when he’s 60. Sir Bob was of course previously head of the HCA and many people credit him with protecting the housing programme in 2010 so it’s hard to see his departure as good news for the sector.

Allegra Stretton reported on Newsnight on Monday that he was being sacked for ‘poor performance’ (which seems to be code for resisting civil service reform). If the leak and the timing of an announcement about the civil service at the same time as a political reshuffle seemed remarkable, so does the fact that he was appointed and promoted under the coalition.

The man himself blogged yesterday about his pride in working with ‘brilliant’ people in the job and the ‘big and difficult transformation’ at the DCLG. But he added: ‘Less brilliant have been the ‘noises off’ criticising civil servants and accusing them of being reluctant to change.’

With a departing permanent secretary, yet another new housing minister and the loss of the Boles stardust, things do not look good for the DCLG ahead of the election. Perhaps it’s just as well that Pickles has outsourced policy development to the big housebuilders?

By comparison the DWP seems a model of stability. Out goes Mike Penning and in comes Mark Harper as minister for disabled people (after a period of confusion similar to the one about who was housing minister yesterday afternoon).

Iain Duncan Smith supposedly survived an attempt to remove him in the last reshuffle and now somehow he’s survived yet again. If you haven’t seen it, do read Chris Dillow’s brilliant blog on ‘why idiots succeed’. My money is on reason number one – the wet bed – plus Cameron’s fear of having one of John Major’s ‘bastards’ on the backbenches.

Here’s how Major summed things up last year: ‘IDS is trying to reform benefits. But unless he is lucky or a genius, which last time I looked was not true, he may get things wrong.’

The former prime minister was prescient. As I blogged yesterday, the DWP chose the reshuffle as the perfect day to bury the bad news in an independent evaluation of the bedroom tax that provides powerful new backing for critics of the policy. Only last week, it was embarrassed when Sir Bob Kerslake confirmed that the Treasury has still not signed off the business case for universal credit.

And yet somehow, with his flagship sinking underneath him, the captain sails serenely on.  

In case you missed it

Tue, 15 Jul 2014

Today looks like a very good day for the DWP to sneak out independent research on the impact of the bedroom tax and cuts to the local housing allowance.

While Iain Duncan Smith seems to have survived the Cabinet cull of middle aged men, the two reports offer in-depth scrutiny of two of his most controversial policies. There is as yet no DWP press release or comment but you can find the reports here and here on its website.

This blog will concentrate on the independent evaluation of what the DWP calls the removal of the spare room subsidy. The report by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and Ipsos Mori analyses the effects on and the responses of tenants, landlords, local authorities, voluntary and statutory organisations and advice agencies and lenders.

While this is the interim report and covers only the first eight months of implementation from April to November 2013, it’s also the most comprehensive analysis of the policy yet attempted is published by the department responsible for it. Here are some of the findings that I’m guessing it hopes that the reshuffle will distract you from reading about:

The impact on tenants. Around 80 per cent of those affected are paying some or all of the shortfalls on their rent but only half have paid it in full and 20 per cent had paid nothing in the first six months.

Of those who have paid, 57 per cent say they found the money by cutting back on household essentials and 35 per cent by cutting back on non-essentials.

A third have borrowed money to pay the shortfall. Most of this has come from family and friends (21 per cent) but tenants questioned whether this was sustainable given the low incomes of those they are borrowing from. Another 6 per cent have borrowed from another lender, 3 per cent from a credit card and 3 per cent had taken payday loans.

In total, that means more tenants making up the shortfall have done it through borrowing than by applying for a discretionary housing payment (22 per cent) or looking for a job or better pay or hours (21 per cent)or looking to move (16 per cent).

 Cut

Downsizing. The DWP might have seized on higher than expected figures for successful moves to smaller accommodation: 4.5 per cent of affected tenants had managed to downsize to another social tenancy in the first six months. The report notes that if this trend continued at the same rate for the next two years, over 20 per cent of those affected would have downsized within the social rented sector. A further 1.4 per cent moved into private rented homes in the first six months.

However, this trend may not be all it seems. It is only higher than expected because the DWP’s impact assessment assumed that there would be no significant moves. There were also big differences between areas:

  • landlords with the lowest proportion of tenants affected had seen downsizing rates almost four times higher than those with the highest proportion
  • demand for downsizing has been difficult to meet so far especially in large rural areas and in urban and suburban areas where the standard social rented property is a three-bedroom house
  • financial incentives to downsize offered by landlords are less available in areas most affected by the bedroom tax.

Meanwhile most tenants were reluctant to move away from services, work and support networks and landlords and agencies said most affected tenants would prefer to say put and pay the shortfall.

Discretionary housing payments. The research confirms other indications of gaps in the system and huge variations between different areas:

  • more than half of affected tenants were not aware of DHPs
  • there was widespread concern about disabled people in adapted properties being denied help because their disability benefits were counted as income
  • agencies were worried that some of the most vulnerable, including those with mental health difficulties, are missing out
  • there was widespread concern that the time-limited nature of DHP awards means it is only delaying the real impact of the policy and about the future size of DHP allocations.

The DWP has also just published a good practice guide for local authorities on DHPs.

Employment. Some 18 per cent of affected tenants said they had looked to earn more money as a result of the policy but ‘only modest numbers would appear to have been successful in the first six months’. The vast majority (87 per cent) of those looking for work or better pay have not found them.

Allocations and development. Some 41 per cent of landlords reported difficulties letting larger properties, with the problem greatest in areas most affected by the bedroom tax like Wales and the north of England (60 per cent) and lowest in areas least affected like London. However, the report found no statistically significant increase in national voids figures.

Of the 80 per cent of landlords involved in new development, a third said they had changed the profile of their programme due to the bedroom tax and benefit cap. The main impact has been a reduction in the number of larger homes and increase in one-bedroom flats being built. Many landlords were worried that losses in rental income could reduce their ability to develop in future but their relationship with lenders does not seem to have suffered yet. 

Overcrowding. The DWP has argued that the bedroom tax will help overcrowded families by freeing up larger homes. However, the report found that most local authorities and landlords believe it will have little impact and revisions to the definition of overcrowding as a result of the policy mean it will be difficult to assess the impact anyway.

Knock-on effects. Changing allocations procedures (for example 72 per cent of landlords have increased priority for downsizers) have increased waiting times for smaller homes but made larger homes available to other people on the waiting list. Two-thirds of landlords would consider letting larger homes to people not affected by the bedroom tax (pensioners and working people not on housing benefit).

Agencies working with the single homeless reported difficulties in hostel move-on to social housing because of the shortage of one-bed homes and landlord reluctance to let two-beds to single people.

Arrears and evictions. It was too early to expect much hard evidence on either but the report found widespread concern about ‘the impact of potential future evictions on local services, and on landlord finances as well as on the lives of vulnerable people’. The survey of claimants found 80 per cent were finding it very or fairly difficult to pay the rent and 79 per cent were running out of money very or fairly often (rising to 90 per cent for those in arrears).

Policies again vary hugely between areas. The chief executive of one local authority told the researchers ‘it is not the council’s business to evict people’ but a social landlord in the same area said it would follow usual procedures and ‘take supportive but robust action’.

And the research also reveals that small numbers of evictions have already happened and more could be on the way. The survey shows 45 evictions due solely to bedroom tax in the first seven months including 24 by one landlord. That is a tiny number but the report says that:

‘In terms of the level of arrears required to trigger court action, most landlords interviewed said that they were developing their policy over time. They were anxious not to be in the media for being the first in court for “bedroom tax evictions” and wantedf to give tenants every opportunity to pay. Nevertheless by the autumn a third had already begun the process of issuing formal warning letters and in some cases continuing further in the route to evicting non-payers.’

Ominously too, the report found that while most local authorities would not consider someone with bedroom tax arrears to be intentionally homeless, some said they would look to discharge their homelessness duty into a private tenancy and possibly into shared housing. 

Overall then, the report will increase rather than allay fears about the impact of the bedroom tax. If it had really wanted to, the DWP could have spun a positive story about some of the findings, for example on downsizing or the falling numbers of tenants affected. The response by IDS to the BBC’s story on the study is a nod in this direction but he familiar line about ‘scaremongering’ by critics is looking pretty tired.

Far better then to publish the report on a day when everyone’s attention is focussed elsewhere. 

In case you missed it

Tue, 15 Jul 2014

Today looks like a very good day for the DWP to sneak out independent research on the impact of the bedroom tax and cuts to the local housing allowance.

While Iain Duncan Smith seems to have survived the Cabinet cull of middle aged men, the two reports offer in-depth scrutiny of two of his most controversial policies. There is as yet no DWP press release or comment but you can find the reports here and here on its website.

This blog will concentrate on the independent evaluation of what the DWP calls the removal of the spare room subsidy. The report by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and Ipsos Mori analyses the effects on and the responses of tenants, landlords, local authorities, voluntary and statutory organisations and advice agencies and lenders.

While this is the interim report and covers only the first eight months of implementation from April to November 2013, it’s also the most comprehensive analysis of the policy yet attempted is published by the department responsible for it. Here are some of the findings that I’m guessing it hopes that the reshuffle will distract you from reading about:

The impact on tenants. Around 80 per cent of those affected are paying some or all of the shortfalls on their rent but only half have paid it in full and 20 per cent had paid nothing in the first six months.

Of those who have paid, 57 per cent say they found the money by cutting back on household essentials and 35 per cent by cutting back on non-essentials.

A third have borrowed money to pay the shortfall. Most of this has come from family and friends (21 per cent) but tenants questioned whether this was sustainable given the low incomes of those they are borrowing from. Another 6 per cent have borrowed from another lender, 3 per cent from a credit card and 3 per cent had taken payday loans.

In total, that means more tenants making up the shortfall have done it through borrowing than by applying for a discretionary housing payment (22 per cent) or looking for a job or better pay or hours (21 per cent)or looking to move (16 per cent).

 Cut

Downsizing. The DWP might have seized on higher than expected figures for successful moves to smaller accommodation: 4.5 per cent of affected tenants had managed to downsize to another social tenancy in the first six months. The report notes that if this trend continued at the same rate for the next two years, over 20 per cent of those affected would have downsized within the social rented sector. A further 1.4 per cent moved into private rented homes in the first six months.

However, this trend may not be all it seems. It is only higher than expected because the DWP’s impact assessment assumed that there would be no significant moves. There were also big differences between areas:

  • landlords with the lowest proportion of tenants affected had seen downsizing rates almost four times higher than those with the highest proportion
  • demand for downsizing has been difficult to meet so far especially in large rural areas and in urban and suburban areas where the standard social rented property is a three-bedroom house
  • financial incentives to downsize offered by landlords are less available in areas most affected by the bedroom tax.

Meanwhile most tenants were reluctant to move away from services, work and support networks and landlords and agencies said most affected tenants would prefer to say put and pay the shortfall.

Discretionary housing payments. The research confirms other indications of gaps in the system and huge variations between different areas:

  • more than half of affected tenants were not aware of DHPs
  • there was widespread concern about disabled people in adapted properties being denied help because their disability benefits were counted as income
  • agencies were worried that some of the most vulnerable, including those with mental health difficulties, are missing out
  • there was widespread concern that the time-limited nature of DHP awards means it is only delaying the real impact of the policy and about the future size of DHP allocations.

The DWP has also just published a good practice guide for local authorities on DHPs.

Employment. Some 18 per cent of affected tenants said they had looked to earn more money as a result of the policy but ‘only modest numbers would appear to have been successful in the first six months’. The vast majority (87 per cent) of those looking for work or better pay have not found them.

Allocations and development. Some 41 per cent of landlords reported difficulties letting larger properties, with the problem greatest in areas most affected by the bedroom tax like Wales and the north of England (60 per cent) and lowest in areas least affected like London. However, the report found no statistically significant increase in national voids figures.

Of the 80 per cent of landlords involved in new development, a third said they had changed the profile of their programme due to the bedroom tax and benefit cap. The main impact has been a reduction in the number of larger homes and increase in one-bedroom flats being built. Many landlords were worried that losses in rental income could reduce their ability to develop in future but their relationship with lenders does not seem to have suffered yet. 

Overcrowding. The DWP has argued that the bedroom tax will help overcrowded families by freeing up larger homes. However, the report found that most local authorities and landlords believe it will have little impact and revisions to the definition of overcrowding as a result of the policy mean it will be difficult to assess the impact anyway.

Knock-on effects. Changing allocations procedures (for example 72 per cent of landlords have increased priority for downsizers) have increased waiting times for smaller homes but made larger homes available to other people on the waiting list. Two-thirds of landlords would consider letting larger homes to people not affected by the bedroom tax (pensioners and working people not on housing benefit).

Agencies working with the single homeless reported difficulties in hostel move-on to social housing because of the shortage of one-bed homes and landlord reluctance to let two-beds to single people.

Arrears and evictions. It was too early to expect much hard evidence on either but the report found widespread concern about ‘the impact of potential future evictions on local services, and on landlord finances as well as on the lives of vulnerable people’. The survey of claimants found 80 per cent were finding it very or fairly difficult to pay the rent and 79 per cent were running out of money very or fairly often (rising to 90 per cent for those in arrears).

Policies again vary hugely between areas. The chief executive of one local authority told the researchers ‘it is not the council’s business to evict people’ but a social landlord in the same area said it would follow usual procedures and ‘take supportive but robust action’.

And the research also reveals that small numbers of evictions have already happened and more could be on the way. The survey shows 45 evictions due solely to bedroom tax in the first seven months including 24 by one landlord. That is a tiny number but the report says that:

‘In terms of the level of arrears required to trigger court action, most landlords interviewed said that they were developing their policy over time. They were anxious not to be in the media for being the first in court for “bedroom tax evictions” and wantedf to give tenants every opportunity to pay. Nevertheless by the autumn a third had already begun the process of issuing formal warning letters and in some cases continuing further in the route to evicting non-payers.’

Ominously too, the report found that while most local authorities would not consider someone with bedroom tax arrears to be intentionally homeless, some said they would look to discharge their homelessness duty into a private tenancy and possibly into shared housing. 

Overall then, the report will increase rather than allay fears about the impact of the bedroom tax. If it had really wanted to, the DWP could have spun a positive story about some of the findings, for example on downsizing or the falling numbers of tenants affected. The response by IDS to the BBC’s story on the study is a nod in this direction but he familiar line about ‘scaremongering’ by critics is looking pretty tired.

Far better then to publish the report on a day when everyone’s attention is focussed elsewhere. 

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