Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.


End of the road for social housing?

Bob Colenutt looks at the disastrous consequences of the Housing and Planning Bill, which if passed will be the most significant change in the history of social housing

February 22, 2016
5 min read

5561910863_1033ede023_oNothing demonstrates more the ideology of the government than the measures in the Housing and Planning Bill, now proceeding through parliament on its way to the statute book. Put simply the bill aims to rid the country (well England and Wales anyway) of two Tory “bête noirs”— social housing and council housing, and at the same time, asserting that home ownership has a higher morality and is more deserving than social renting.

The bill expresses concisely the views of two important Tory think tanks/special interests — the Home Builders Federation (HBF) and the Policy Exchange. The HBF have got the government to abandon the long standing obligation to provide affordable housing as part of their developments (known as section 106 agreements), while the Policy Exchange has achieved its goal of ‘the end of council housing’ by cleansing the word ‘social’ from housing provision, while all other housing has been rebranded as ‘affordable’.

The bill has gone through the House of Commons committee stage untroubled by widespread protests from housing groups or by opposition amendments. It is now in the House of Lords, but the Tory majority in the Commons will wave it through with little change.

The bald facts of the bill are as follows. The right to buy will be extended to housing association homes, affordable rents will be capped to prevent local authorities having the money to build, and ‘high value’ council homes will be sold off. If a family in a council home earns more than £30,000 p/a they will be required to ‘pay to stay’, i.e. pay more rent, estimated to affect 215,000 tenants. Not stopping there, the bill restricts council and Housing Association tenancies to 2-5 years — wrecking the neighbourhood role of council housing.

If local authorities are unable to sell homes perhaps because of local circumstances, they will nevertheless be required to make payments to the Treasury under assumptions that a certain percentage of high value homes can be sold.

Moreover, local authorities will be required to ‘promote’ the provision of ‘starter homes’ instead of affordable homes to rent. Starter homes are homes for sale priced at up to £250,000, except in London where the limit is a remarkable £400,000. Starter home buyers will be given a 20% subsidy on the price paid to developers by the government. These homes do not stay in the low cost home ownership stock; they can be resold after a few years or used for buy to let. It goes without saying that there will not be many first time buyers who can afford to get a deposit on £250,000 homes, let alone pay the mortgage. In any case, there is already a scheme for first time buyers called help to buy, so why starter homes as well? There is no doubt, it is to help out house builders and landowners who do not want their profits limited by obligations for a percentage of affordable housing.

There is more. The government is going to undertake a ‘housing delivery test’ on local authorities to ensure they are making enough land available for developers. They are also considering what punitive measures they will take if not enough houses are being built in a local authority area. Despite the rhetoric of ‘localism’ from government ministers, no local variations or circumstances are permitted, and the bill gives the secretary of state yet more powers to intervene in local authority planning, even in so-called neighbourhood planning.

Calls at the bill committee stages for exemptions for special needs housing, or co-operatives or community land trusts or rural housing have been dismissed. This is hard line stuff, with a strong ideological intent. ‘Evidence based’ policy or ‘we will consult on these measures’ do not come into it.

Protest is widespread. Even the Tory dominated Local Government Association is critical, saying ‘many social housing tenants across the country will be unable to afford market rents’. The London Tenants Federation and Federation of Housing Cooperatives have called on the House of Lords to block the bill in its entirety because of its disastrous consequences for those in housing need. Shelter, the housing lobby, has described the measures in the bill as ‘the most significant in its history’. It has called for a rejection of forced sales of council homes, and of short term tenancies, and calls for a guarantee that receipts from homes sales are used for replacement council housing in the same local authority area. But these protests are falling on deaf ears in government and the property lobby — indicating the scale of the battle ahead to create a housing system based on need and not profit.

Photo: Lox Pycock/Flikr

Bob Colenutt is a former community planner and local government regeneration manager. He is currently leading research into new housing development.

National Demo Against the Housing Bill Sunday 13 March, London

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright