‘A good day to bury bad news’ is a pretty despicable political practice that first entered the public consciousness when Jo Moore, the Spad of New Labour Minister Stephen Byers, decided the day of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 was just such a day. The leak of the email outlining this loathsome strategy served to inflict another dint in the facade of Blair’s administration as being somehow morally superior to its sleazy Tory predecessor; but the tactic remains a regular feature of government seeking to sneak a policy under the radar.
Headline-wise, it’s been a busy month or so, what with the Paris attacks, the Cumbrian floods, the all-day vote on Syrian airstrikes and the U-turn over tax credits in the face of obstinate opposition from the Lords; in a sense, the perfect moment to slip an important change to a particular law through the back door whilst the world is looking elsewhere. And the Government is busily doing so.
Ever since the great building projects of the 60s and 70s, when the legacy of wartime bombing and insanitary Victorian slums forced the governments of the two Harolds – Macmillan and Wilson – to embark upon the radical transformation of British towns, linking them with a motorway network and erecting towering social housing on a scale unseen in living memory, successive administrations have rested on their laurels when it comes to tackling the needs of those who can’t afford to buy homes. The policy of council tenants purchasing their houses, initially a Labour light-bulb that Mrs Thatcher sold as a liberation from council control, wasn’t followed by a Plan B that consisted of building replacement rented abodes for those now in private ownership, and there has been no concerted effort to invest in mass social housing by any government since.
Today, of course, one has to practically win the Lottery to even buy the most modest of houses, so one could argue there has never been a greater need for new social housing; but the limited number of residences available to rent has pushed up the price of that rent to the point where even this option for the millions unable to buy has become akin to an eBay auction. The situation is at its worst in the capital, where houses to buy are solely within the means of Russian Oligarchs whose properties spend half of the year empty, and rents for those who didn’t make a dubious mint under Yeltsin’s chaotic economic reforms are so astronomical that it’s only a matter of time before private landlords invest in the cardboard box market.
And what is this government’s response to what should really be a top priority political issue? Well, for an administration that has already cut housing benefit and introduced the Bedroom Tax, hopes are hardly high. The Housing Minister Brandon Lewis has tabled an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill poised to go through its third reading in the Commons, sneakily – and quietly – adding a proposal to abolish lifetime (or ‘secure’) tenancies for residents of council houses. This fresh kick in the teeth for those too poor or powerless to fight back will present new council tenants with a contract of two to five years in duration, at the end of which their case will be reviewed; if it is thought the tenants are now earning enough money to be in debt to a building society for the rest of their lives, they will be turfed out and replaced with a more ‘deserving’ case.
This move will infect council tenants with a permanent sense of instability and uncertainty, unable to make any long-term plans for their home because they’ll have no idea as to whether or not it will cease to be so within a couple of years. It also risks fracturing the fragile community spirit that many neighbourhoods have taken decades to establish without any assistance from government, either local or national. The repair of the damage done by the careless manner in which communities were butchered during the urban facelift of fifty years ago has been a slow and gradual process, and now further legislation assessed by those who will never be affected by it comes along to place that community in peril. Whatever happened to ‘The Big Society’?
As of 2017/18, any council tenant earning in excess of £30,000 a year will have to fork out the full market rent for their home; if you’re lucky enough to live in London, the dividing line between poor and not-quite-so-poor will be set at earnings of £40,000 a year. The best part of 340,000 households will come under this ruling, but Man of the People George Osborne reckons it’ll rake in upwards of £240,000 for the Treasury, so that’s alright, then.
It is true that councils own far fewer houses now than they did around the time Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy operation; the vast majority of what used to be social housing is either in private hands or in the hands of various housing associations, whereas ‘council house’ has become a dirty word, summoning up images of sink estates populated by dog-fighting, drug-dealing chavs and ASBO kids in hoodies. Despite this, the waiting list for council homes remains lengthy simply because there aren’t enough of them. Many of those that councils still have on their books are being sold to tenants eager to exploit the Right to Buy principle at dirt-cheap prices, with a large amount of poachers then turning gamekeeper by renting the houses to housing benefit claimants, thus draining more from the public purse in the process. Since David Cameron altered the rules in 2012, over 20,000 Right to Buy houses have been sold by councils whereas barely 3,000 new ones have been built.
Rather than addressing this blatant problem, the Government seems content to keep devising endless schemes seemingly intended to punish and penalise people for being poor, sick or defenceless in the face of this relentless assault from powers-that-be that have the cushion of inherited wealth or wealth they married into, wealth that will prevent them from ever having to worry about a roof over their heads.
‘I HATE CHRISTMAS’ CORNER
A video for those allergic to the seasonal crap…
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