History has shown us that cuts in public spending -as shown by the UK in the 80s and Canada in the 90s- do nothing to ease national debt but in actual fact reduces tax revenues in two areas; less tax on falling profits and on income tax, NI and VAT from unemployment. Unemployment then puts an even greater strain on the public purse through the unemployment and housing benefit need to support those who lose their jobs. The government assured the electorate that cuts would be from waste and would be largely painless while failing to tell us where these cuts would be made despite questions and requests to do so. They have failed in this within weeks as we saw the Child Trust Funds cut, funding to inexpensive education schemes cut, and plans for building more affordable and social housing CUT. They promised that core areas would be protected along with the most vulnerable member s of society. The public was assured that the cuts would do good and set the public on a path to growth. I refute this. Cuts do not future growth; cuts have ALWAYS led to further cuts. The reduction in tax revenue will ultimately mean that the ‘deficit’ will take even longer to pay back and be even harder for those on lower and middle incomes. Tax credits and benefits, designed to make life a little less difficult for families on ordinary incomes, are for the chop too. The TUC have published a pamphlet explaining where these cuts will be and what they will mean for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be ‘old-money’ multi millionaires and never had do without anything. I am not suggesting a redistribution of wealth or that property is theft. That is communism, not socialism but events since the election should have put certain areas of public services for low-income families. In particular, the area that is more immediately at threat is social housing.
“The prime minister and deputy prime minister have repeatedly said public spending cuts will not disproportionately hit the most vulnerable, but if these measures go ahead the impact on housebuilding will be catastrophic,” warned the federation’s chief executive, David Orr. – The Guardian
Firstly, let me give an explanation of the history of social housing as I feel it is important to note how it got to where it is today. It’s past is a chequered one but this is a service that has had to be fought hard for. It was not the creation of the artisan class that is commonly hailed to be but was born, at least partly out of a class-identiy crisis.
In the 19th century tenants began to protest against the high rents charged by private landlords. A rent strike in 1891 helped to win the Dockers strike under a Conservative Government (1886-1892). Campaigns were launched across the UK regarding housing issues while Socialist and Labour groups were organising action against high levels of rent in relation to income and spreading favour for municipal housing projects. The housing these people were forced to live in were built up overcrowded, under-maintained, and owned by the same people they were working for. The tenants and factory workers that lived there were paid as little as their employer could get away with. Between 1912 and 1915 (Liberal Democrats) a wave of more rent strikes occurred against high levels of rent spurring the Labour Party to lead the protest in campaigning for public housing. The protests ended after the Glasgow rent strike of 1915, which forced the government, for the first time ever, to introduce rent limits for the private sector. After 1918 legislation was passed to enable subsidised council housing for those on the lowest incomes in the most impoverished areas. New estates were built and tenants formed associations but continued the campaign against high rent and called for representation for tenants in housing issues of which they had been denied. In the 1920s Tenants Associations formed city-wide Federations and Lobby Councils.
It was not until 1930s that The National Tenants Federation was formed. Council housing estates become the principal means of slum clearance, intensively ‘managed’, and a platform for social welfare experiments. Rents were raised and, in some cases doubled. This coupled with notices to quit should the tenants refuse or even be unable to pay the new rent. All tenants were expected to a means-tested rent rebate which brought nearly every tenant into the welfare system. 1934 was the first time that council tenants had ever come out in such opposition to their Local Authority Landlord and marked a return to the confrontation politics of the early 1900s and this time it was not against private landlords. The reforms marked a new policy and approach to social housing; less as the public provision of general needs but more as a safety net for the poor. The move from slums to council housing was to be subsidised by rent increases council tenants on more than a subsistence income which as far as I can see was a reasonable contribution from those who were receiving state assistance themselves. One Gilbert Thorpe expressed some sympathy for the poor but asked why the rate burden fall only on other municipal tenants and suggested that rate payers also make a contribution. It is apparent that council tenants had forgotten that council estates had already been subsidised in order to keep rent low. The subsidy was to be removed and given only to those who could prove they needed it as the provision of set-rate low-rent municipal housing was not maintainable on an indefinite basis. For the tenants who were struggling to make their existing rent and had already made sacrifices to create new lives, the change must have seemed to have been a penalty for aspirations rather than an opportunity for them to give other families the same chance that they had. A collection of associations had begun to campaign for other community facilities and organised community activities but because the new council estates were remotely placed, occupants found themselves again facing a position of being charged high-rent coupled with high living costs and hostile neighbours. With the introduction of a new semi-skilled workforce, after the fist world war, the skilled artisans and craftsmen felt their own pay had been eroded but they in turn began to move onto clerical and office work as the demand for those skills increased. It was a case of adapt and change or find themselves in the same position of the working classes they had once despised.
This newly found influence was not without problems. The Leeds Tenants Association led the strike against the divisive first means-tested Rent Rebate Scheme due to Labour’s decision to raise rents while letting homes rent-free to slum dwellers. Rev. Charles Jenkinson planned to demolish the worst 30,000 back to back housing in Leeds within a six year period to be replaced by newly built homes and rehouse the displaced population. In order for this to be possible differential rent was introduced in April 1934. Rebates were to be issued basis of means-testing of regular income and the amount the British Medical Association recommended would have been needed to maintain a balanced died
“The 1934 rent strike was the first time the council tenants movement came out in serious opposition to its local authority landlord. Their rent strike was a return to the confrontation politics of the early 1900s only this time the weapon was not being used against private landlords but against a political party wielding the power of local government.”
Needless to say this strike was unsuccessful: tenants were denied consultation and excluded from policy making. Spurred on to further action, tenants campaigned through civil disobedience. The failure came through splits an divisions within their own sector: divisions caused by the recent rent rebate means test had also stirred jealousies and rivalries. In short, they were no longer a united force which had been the key to their earlier successes. The defeated council tenants went on to shed their former allegiance to the Labour Party and return to being an independent force capable of affecting political power and influence in the city. The Modern tenants movement was formed as a unique social group representing the marginal council tenants. They represented a variety of aspirations, a mixture of welfare and work as a section of the working-classes without class cohesion but instead an identity of their own.
The late 1930s saw the Unemployed Workers’ Organisation join the campaign on housing with rent strikes and action against evictions while private tenants waged their own battle with a rent strike in the east end of London against high rent. By 1945/46 over 40,000 families occupied former army camps and empty homes from Yorkshire to the south coast of England in a wave of squatting and squatters calling for more affordable housing. In response to this new damand, a huge council house building project was launched and by the late 1940s the Tenants Associations had developed on those new estates. The National Association of Tenants and Residents was formed in 1948. Glasgow tenants campaigned through the 1950s against rent increases and the selling off of council houses while The Association of London Estates was formed in 1957. By 1960, councils planned to raise rent to meet market levels and introduce rebate schemes and in the borough of St Pancras thirty five associations joined to form the United tenants associations 1400 tenants went on rent strike in London. Evictions led to protests and 50 arrests. The then Home Secretary (of The Conservative Party 1957-64), Rab Butler, subsequently banned marches in the are for a period of 3 months. Other London tenants also went on strike against the private ‘Rachmanite’ landlords. 1968/69 saw the new Conservative GLC bring with it market rents and new tenants associations and a United Tenants Action Committee was formed. Demonstrators gathered at Trafalgar Square against rent increases and in Tower Hamlets, 2000 more tenants lobbied the council meeting By the November of that year 11000 were withholding rent and 3000 marched to the Housing Minister’s Home in Hampstead. The Anti Eviction Organised a 700 strong flying squad to act on threats of eviction. The result of this was in 1969 with Government issuing another limit on rent rises. Between 1968 and1973 the UK saw another wave of tenant based action across the country in response to new market rents. More rent strikes and associations were set up from Glasgow to Exeter. Liverpool saw it’s own rent strike which lasted 6 months but won a small reduction in the amount of council rent. The Conservative government (1970-74) passed the Housing finance act of its ‘fair’ rents and rebates to build on the action already taken by local councils. More than 80 strikes were organised across the UK by The National Association of Tenants & Rresidents against this action. The three Labour councils that refused to implement the act also suffered surcharges.
In 1975 and 76 an estimated 10000 to 50000 organised squatters were living in vacant and abandoned private and public properties. Pressure for new and affordable housing had reached a critical level and became a major issue for the ‘underground press’. After long deliberations the Homeless Persons Act (1977) was finally passed, the National Tenants Organisations was formed in Scotland and Wales and Security of Tenure for council tenants was included within the Labour Party Housing Bill. This encouraged the developments of radical tenants groups and Tenants Charters were negotiated, at least in some areas. It was then that tenants again began to campaign for higher quality housing with Anti-damp campaigns, particularly around high-rise and system built housing. In 1980 more rent strikes ensued in Walsall and Kirklees when the Conservative Government brought in the secure tenancy and the Right-to-Buy campaign to begin selling off social housing rather than allow more affordable and social housing to be built. This amounted to only a short term saving for the then Government and has had serious repercussions on the standard and quantity of social housing available today. It also sent the Tenants organisations into decline: the march and rally in Walsall drew barely 2000 people. The government encountered a flood of protests in 1988 against Tenants Choice legislation. Anti-sell-off and anti Housing Action Trust protests led to the forming of more Tenant Associations. Strong organisations were able to use the Tenants Choice legislation to prevent the Conservative council of Westminster from demolishing and privatising their estate. Between 1989 and 1997 the National Tenants & Residents was set up, and mass tenant rallies against the compulsory competitive tendering of Housing Management and Conservative plans to speed up transfers.
Under the New Labour Government, in 1998, the Tenants and Residents Organisation of England (T. A. R. O. E.) formed out of a merger between N. T. O. and N. T. R. F. and won a place on a government sounding board. TAROE linked to the trade-union-led, Defend Council Housing group, to campaign against large scale voluntary transfers launching The Daylight Robbery campaign against a subsidy claw-back. The turn of the new century brought with it Tenant Participation Compacts to regulate tenant involvement in council housing issues. The number of new associations rose despite some landlords beginning to favour using market-research methods to consult their ‘customers’. The housing transfer programme continued to speed up under government incentives. During the next 6 years council housing is defended by Tenants organisations and DEFEND winning some high profile anti-transfer battles. New Labour launched the Arms Length Management Organisations as an alternative to transfers. This approach was given the support of many organisations but some tenants remained on favour of transfers. Housing in 2006 was largely managed by Registered Social Landlords and transfer organisations and for first time this out-numbered council housing for the first time. Some major associations lost their funding as landlords switched to the less problematic option of involving their tenants through market-research. Regional tenants federations mirrored the government’s new structure of social housing and investment. TAROE then began work on a National Tenants Assembly as an attempt to unite the individual organisations. Between 2007 and 2009 social housing came under more pressure as the supply did not meet the demand and was, in fact decreasing. The government housing policy began to encourage home ownership and asset-based welfare on the back of economic growth. Regeneration programs adopted programmes as a strategy to encourage the emergence of mixed communities. By then, half of social housing grants went to built low-cost housing for ownership rather than to rent while Housing associations had to cross-subsidise new social-housing by selling housing previously for rent on the private market.
Questions raised about the aims and efficacy of social housing include a report by Professor John Hills who suggested that the increased rationing through the shortage of supply led to the concentration of poverty in particular areas of the UK. The housing market crash has confirmed this insofar as the role of social housing becoming the modern safety net for home ownership. Unfortunately social-housing remains under threat while inequalities in the private ownership market continue to go unscrutinised. The Tenants Services Authority was set up to regulate social-housing and profit making companies are allowed government grants to become regulated landlords. The move toward greater market involvement as the tenant-landlord relationship becomes central to regulation while tenants have a voice championing their interests is definitely a vast improvement from its beginnings in 1891. It has taken a vast amount of time, organisation and work to reach this stage and I believe that while it holds a more balanced position, those in charge of the numerous committees, trusts, and associations should remember that very idea of social-housing is still under threat. What succeeded in the earlier part of the twentieth century was solidarity and a common goal of social justice for the lowest paid, and protection from unscrupulous landlords. Trying to win social battles that have already been won is counter-productive.
Changes to the current method of planning housing projects will be coupled with the huge cut-backs already threaten those on the lowest incomes as nothing has been brought in to replace it. There are currently approximately 4.5 million on waiting lists across the country but the National Housing Association predicts a reduction of 65% in the number of homes planned in the next year to 20390 bring the rate of building to the lowest rate since 1990.
Experts warn the sector faces a double blow as a result of proposed changes to the planning system. Around 40% of affordable homes are delivered through “planning gain agreements”, whereby developers are given permission for housing schemes if they agree to build some social housing on the sites. But the government is considering scrapping the agreements, a move the federation said would lead to around 19,000 social homes being axed this year”. – The Guardian.
The private sector also sits in jeopardy as new building projects a speculated to drop below 100,00; the lowest for over a century. This will have a direct affect on employment and will result in a loss of skills. The believed requirement of new homes was 250000 per year to meet the current needs and target of 3 million new homes by 2020. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that less than 100,000 will result in a disastrous shortage. This shortage of new and affordable homes stands will again artificially inflate the cost of existing housing and create another housing bubble so that those on more modest incomes will be left facing high rent in proportion to their incomes and those on low incomes will have no chance of becoming home owners. Instead they will be held in positions where they are forced to either pay high rent to private tenants while they wait on ever-growing waiting lists. It would be morally wrong to expect people to move out of council housing if they do not wish to or force them become an owner or private tenant. The choice is theirs. However, the sale of existing council housing further reduces supply. Should council tenants decide they wish -and can afford- to own their home then it is not unethical to expect them to move out of that property to make way for another family. Nor is it unethical to limit the supply of council accommodation to those UK residents on the lowest incomes. A family income of less than £20k per year is not enough for two people to live on without assistance. An income of more than £17k per year even with only a single breadwinner and dependants disqualifies you from working tax credit or any assistance. Private landlords may charge rent as they see fit but it generally depends on the type of tenancy and the value of the property but it is often in excess of £680 pcm for a family home. Purchases of housing to let exacerbates the shortage of affordable housing for sale, increases the artificial inflation in the price of housing -regardless of its true value- and means that even fewer can afford to own their own homes. The building of new housing, demolition of that which is unfit for habitation to make room for new building rather than having to find fresh spaces, reopening and refurbishing of empty council housing and if possible the donation of already empty private houses to supplement demand on a temporary basis may help to alleviate the problem.
Clegg and Cameron have both denied that spending cuts will hurt those on modest and low incomes. This non-promise is worse than a lie as it has been shown from past experience that the cuts they have implemented, and those which are prosed, have been made before and have always hurt the less well off proportion of society first and hardest. The failure to tackle the shortage of housing is predicted to cause a major rift between the coalition parties. Simon Hughes is purported to have made the issue a priority by asking Cameron to assure that they would ‘do better than the previous government’ to increase the quantity of affordable housing. It was not stated whether the assurance has been made. This situation is set only to worsen, as warned by The Housing Federation, if the government does not urgently reconsider their heavily Conservative polices. It should be clear by now that far from being a partnership, this farce of a coalition, has Clegg and the Liberal Democracts playing puppets on Conservative strings to put a sugar coating on the class-biased changes that were always in the background; it might sweeten them on the outset but underneath they are still a bitter pill. It has been the first time in nearly a century that the liberal democrats had demonstrated even an ounce of credibility so when Clegg saw his chance he sold his party and his voters to the Conservatives for power, sealing the fate for the party for possibly another hundred years. Nobody in living memory should ever trust them again. The scrapping of regional targets for new-buildings without any pre-course to adjust or replace them will prove as little short of a disaster by allowing councils to simply reject applications for any and all housing development projects.
The housing minister, Grant Shapps, has been urged by the Federation to, at the very least, honour existing spending commitments for spending on housing for the rest of the year. He has also asked that changes are promoted rather than scrapped. Almost 150 housing projects are at risk in the ‘£610 million shortage’ left by the previous government. A £100 million cut has already been announced from the housing budget which will be taken from the National Affordable Housing Programme. This will end plans for a further 1,453 new buildings for social housing. Approximately 60% of the cost of affordable housing is funded by Housing Associations while the remainder is met by grants. Many associations have already invested heavily into new projects but the proposed cuts will mean the withdrawal of previously promised funding. The remaining 40% of funding for remaining funding for affordable is set to be scrapped along with agreements for funding. John Healy (Shadow Minister for Housing) believes that slashing this funding will reduce the number of affordable homes by 19000 this year just when they will be needed the most. Cambell Robb, Chief Exectutive, of shelter, has warned that curtailing the availability of affordable housing will have serious repercussions by effecting employment, damage economic growth and result in a loss of skills. This in turn will weaken our ability to recover and build on our futures but he has also defended the scrapping of current plans.
“Houses cannot be built with targets that don’t work or with money that doesn’t exist”
He has also asserted that we have the lowest ‘peace-time’ rate of house-building since 1924, adding that the ‘top-down’ style of government alienates the public and undermines support for new housing. The new coalition has pledged to ‘introduce incentives’ for new developments and to make £170 million available to build 4000 unfunded, rented social-housing and safeguard 3500 jobs. The inner sceptic in me has alerted me to yet another sugar coating; what that have actually said is they plan-to-make-a-plan tomaybe make it less difficult to build a fraction of the housing required in order to meet demands. They know it will either cost 3500 jobs or that will be what the figures will be cut to. Same Tories, same, politics, same cuts. The Independent reported that spending cuts have already begun to hurt the unemployed, children and those suffering long-term illness. Savage cuts will be made and affect over 30 areas of public spending including inexpensive education schemes and house-building. Programmes hit by these cuts include one for assisting children with reading difficulties, school playgrounds, free prescriptions, social care to the elderly and refurbishment to schools. Voters were promised that the cuts would come from ‘efficiency-savings’ -without actually telling us what that meant. They promised that the poor and the vulnerable would be protected but there has been no effort to look for ways to cut-spending and rather than search for ways to protect those most at risk. Instead, those most in need have been targeted first and they are refusing to ensure the well-off and wealthy pay their share. It was reported by The Telegraph, in January, that while the availability of social housing is decreasing, those already on the housing ladder have been finding mortgage repayments easier: the lowest recorded burden to home-owners since 1996. Mortgage payers were paying 10% of gross income in November 2009 while first time buyers were faced with a 14.4% burden to their average gross income (the lowest since 2004). Despite this substantial deposits are still required to obtain mortgage promises from banks leaving even the prospect of home-ownership off-limits to most of the population and it looks to remain so for some time to come. In November 2009 mortgage-lending experienced a seasonal dip but a total of 53000 purchases -an increase on November of the previous year. In November 2008, re-mortgages fell by 6% from 31000. In all the Telegraph shows a horrifying absence of either information or concern for those who stand to lose the most.
The Conservatives plans started with the repeal of the Bill of Human Rights (which includes a right to a home) to be replaced by a UK bill of Rights; delayed by reasons unknown. The reform to the Electoral Process prevents the existing government being voted out with less than a 55% majority to the opposition. The Conservatives do not care about fairness. They do not care about anything other than their perceived right to rule -as demonstrated by the last hundred years- and will do whatever it takes to see the country runs the way that suits them best.