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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Cameron tightens screw on social housing

Having announced last month that the Tory Government plans to put £140m into redeveloping nearly a hundred of the 'UK’s worst sink estates', the Prime Minister and his Chancellor are at it again with a scheme that will leave many families struggling to afford a roof over their heads whilst signalling a wholesale retreat from social housing in England.

The 'sink estates' scheme of course, is just a cover for the redevelopment of social housing in favour of more expensive private homes. The whole plan has many questions hanging over it, not least what will happen to the tenants of these estates and whether alternative affordable homes will be made available to them?

That has now been thrown into further doubt by plans to make families or individuals earning more than £40,000 a year in London, and more than £30,000 elsewhere pay a market rent. As the Observer reports, restricting social housing solely to the poorest in our society will mean that tens of thousands of hard-working families will be forced to leave their council homes and find themselves unable to afford a local alternative.

It also contradicts the policy of redeveloping 'sink estates' as it will ghettoise social housing, restricting access solely to the low paid and the unemployed. A sustainable and vibarant community should contain a good mix of people within a broad range of economic groups. That will not be possible if access to social housing is limited as proposed by the Tories.

The Observer says that a report commissioned by the Local Government Association found that almost 60,000 households in England will be unable to afford to remain in their council properties from April next year, as a result of George Osborne’s reform, known as “pay to stay”.

This is because far higher rents in the private sector, and soaring house prices in many parts of the south, means that many council tenants who just exceed the income cut-offs will be left in a desperate position.

In total,  214,000 households across England will be hit by the policy, whilst in London most of the 27,000 households affected will be unable to afford to rent privately or buy in the same area.

Like the bedroom tax, the justification for this policy is that the taxpayer is paying a questionable subsidy. Putting aside the fact that many affected by both policies cannot afford to pay more, what we are left with is a crude attack on the concept of social housing, an attempt to redefine it as a refuge for the poor rather than  the original concept of a secure home for working people. Harold Macmillan must be spinning in his grave.
The Welsh government needs to beware of a flow of refuges from England.
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