Risks are not attractive for MPs thinking about the next election campaign. As another ex-minister, Michael Portillo, told Inside Housing this week, there are certain things politicians just can’t say.
Mr Portillo, speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Harrogate on Tuesday, suggested the government wouldn’t have the guts to push through such a controversial policy idea as making a social tenancy dependent on finding a job.
Certainly, Caroline Flint when she too spoke at the conference wasn’t as bullish on the subject as she has been in the past. Although she did talk about offering support to tenants looking for work, there was nothing on the compulsion aspect which has caused such a stir. A good thing too, many in the housing sector would say.
Yet there’s no denying the worklessness and welfare debate is one which won’t go away – and sooner or later a government will take the unthinkable on board, election risk or no election risk. On the evidence this week, it could be the Conservatives who decide to grasp the nettle. Another speaker at Harrogate, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, laid out his views on social justice. His take is that without major reform of the benefits and welfare system, the disadvantage caused by where people live will never end.
His insistence that every single parent should be expected to do some work by the time their youngest child is five would be a step too far. But nobody would deny that the social apartheid and ghettos of deprivation he highlights need to be tackled and tackled soon.
Mr Duncan Smith rightly says that successive governments have turned a blind eye as these ghettos became entrenched. We cannot now shy away from the debate about what comes next.
Kate Murray is editor of Inside Housing