The End of Social Housing

The Housing and Planning Bill is one of the most dangerous and far-reaching pieces of legislation to be passed in this country in a long time, yet its true impact has been unreported in the mainstream press and is largely unknown to the people it will most affect. 

Far from addressing the so-called housing ‘crisis’, the Bill has been designed to bring about the end of social housing in this country. To call it a Housing Bill doesn’t do justice to the real scope of its ambitions. The intrusive new measures it introduces for monitoring social housing tenants, and its centralisation of power in the Secretary of State, makes the Bill a social engineering plan that will have catastrophic consequences for the people of Britain.

If this Bill had been written to do what the government is presenting it as doing – helping people to get on the property ladder, freeing up existing social housing for those most in need, cutting bureaucracy on planning permission – it would merely be a deeply misinformed piece of legislation that has taken no account of existing conditions in housing. But it isn’t that. It is, in fact, an extremely subtle and duplicitous piece of legislation that in almost every aspect does something very different, and sometimes the direct opposite, of what it is claiming to do. If passed, the Housing and Planning Bill will:

1. Replace the obligation to build homes for social rent with a duty to build discounted ‘starter homes’ capped at £450,000 in Greater London and £250,000 across the rest of England, in effect offering state subsidies for private investors, who may then sell their assets at full market value within five years of their purchase;

2. Extend the Right to Buy to housing associations without any provision for their replacement with like for like, effectively overseeing the further decline in the number of homes for social rent;

3. Compel local authorities to sell ‘high value’ housing, thereby exploiting London’s exaggerated property values either to transfer public housing into private hands or to free up its coveted land for property developers;

4. Force so-called ‘high income’ tenants (with a total household income over £30,000 in England and £40,000 in London) to pay market rents, targeting low-paid working families, those on the minimum wage or claiming disability allowances who cannot afford either to Pay to Stay in their existing homes or to exercise their Right to Buy;

5. Grant planning permission in principle for housing estates designated as such to be redeveloped as ‘brownfield land’, a term usually used to describe former industrial or commercial land that requires cleaning up, but applied here (as it has been by the Housing and Planning Minister and the Conservative candidate for London Mayor) to the communities that live on these estates;

6. Phase out secure tenancies and their succession to children and replace them with 2-5 year tenancies, after which tenants will have to reapply, with such tenancies also being applied to tenants who have been ‘decanted’ prior to the demolition and redevelopment of their estates.

Rather than alleviating the housing ‘crisis’, either by building genuinely affordable homes or by increasing provision of social housing, the Bill seeks to use that crisis for political and financial ends. On the one hand it forces local housing authorities to implement Conservative housing policy, and on the other it takes planning power away from those authorities. Both these hands will be wielded by what, if the Bill is passed, are the new and punitive powers of the Secretary of State, not only against the people who rely on social housing for a home, but also against the councils and housing associations that provide them.

There is absolutely nothing in the Bill for the provision of social housing. Instead, it introduces legislation by which existing social housing is to be either sold into private ownership or demolished to make way for new developments. The Bill’s model of home building is driven by state subsidised incentives for private investors that will increase, rather than check, existing speculation on the property market. Under the tattered banner of austerity, the Housing and Planning Bill is in reality legislation for the social cleansing of London in particular, and more generally for the further dismantling of the welfare state by this Conservative government.

During its passage through the House of Commons Public Bill Committee, over 150 written submissions were made to Parliament voicing concerns about its legislation and their consequences. None of these altered the contents of the Bill in any meaningful way up to the report stage. Instead, the government has responded by making plans to fast track the Bill into law. When the democratic process fails, as it so clearly has here, it is our duty to take other measures to make ourselves heard.

The Bill receives its third and final reading in the Commons on Tuesday, 5 January, 2016, after which it passes to the House of Lords. Numerous groups from the housing sector, the trades unions and beyond will be demonstrating from 1pm at the Houses of Parliament against the Housing and Planning Bill and for secure and genuinely affordable social housing for all. Please join us.

https://www.facebook.com/events/514234278756465/

Architects for Social Housing

Barnet Housing Action Group

Basingdon and Southend Housing Action

Brick Lane Debates

Brighton Benefits Campaign

Brighton Homelessness Action Group

Brighton and Hove Left Unity

Brighton People’s Assembly Against Austerity

Brixton Rebels

Case Central Brighton

Coalition of Resistance: Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay

Class War

Communities Against Gentrificleansing

Corbyn Community Dorset

Coventry Momentum

Digs Hackney Renters

Dorset People’s Assembly

Fairhazel Cooperative Ltd.

Fight for Aylesbury

Focus E15 Mothers

Fred John Towers

Green Citizen Engagement

Hackney Solidarity Network

Haringey Left Unity

Homeless London

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

Housing Bill Action

Jewish Socialists Group

Kennington Park Estate TRA

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Lambeth Housing Activists

Lewisham Green Party

London Coalition Against Poverty

London’s Young Workers Need Homes

Love Activists Brighton

Momentum Barnet

Momentum City of London

Momentum Oxford

No Fixed Abode Anti-Fascists

Norfolk People’s Assembly

Not Just One Mum Camden

Occupy Barnet

Occupy Democracy Brighton

Our Grahame Park

Our Tottenham

Our West Hendon

Our Whitefield Estate

Oxford People’s Assembly

Oxfordshire Anti-Bedroom Tax

Oxfordshire Unison Health Branch 

Oxford University Socialist Worker Student Society

People’s Housing Conference

Peter Barber Architects

Radical Assembly

Radical Housing Network

Red Labour Reading

Reclaim Hackney

Reclaim Tower Hamlets

Rent Control for the UK

Revolutionary Communist Group

Rural Urban Synthesis Society

Save Central Hill Community

Save Cressingham Gardens 

SolidariTEA Southwark

Southwark Defend Council Housing

Southwark Green Party

Streets Kitchen

Sussex Defend Our NHS

Sweets Way Resists

Take Back the City

Thetra Tulse Hill TRA

Trade Unionists for Housing

Unite the Union

Wandsworth Green Party

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15 thoughts on “The End of Social Housing

  1. In 2010 the Government permitted all social landlords to rent 20% of their overall property at market rents (note: there was no opposition to this from the Labour Party). The effect of this was that housing associations such as One Housing Group – based in Camden (who last year had a profit of 200 million!) started buying properties outside London, as far away as Reading so they could begin renting off their inner city properties to the market sector. As anyone who lives in Kings Cross will tell you – for years now, as soon as flats are vacated – usually due to deaths, social housing tenants are ‘replaced’ by international students paying 2 and half times the cost of social housing rents – which are not being replaced in the borough (those built outside the borough and London are for ‘affordable’ housing – that is, 80% of market value). To put it in real terms: a social housing flat in central London will have a rent of around 8,000 a year for a one bedroom flat – an affordable property will be around 16,000 per year and a market rent flat around 20,000. Part time and low paid workers not only can not afford an affordable rent, they won’t get housing benefit either!

    The off shoot of this, already, is that people live in overcrowded condions – a family of 7 in a small 2-bedroom flat is not uncommon. Plus, the social housing tenants can expect either no or poor maintainance whereas their neighbour’s, paying above the odds for a flat that was originally built and subsidised for social housing,are perfectly maintained. In some areas blocks of flats have even now been divided so there are ‘poor doors’ round the back of a property for those social housing tenants who in one block are also now excluded from the communal gardens (reserved again for the higher paid rents)

    Keir Starmer, MP for Camden recently spoke at a seminar on housing in Kings Cross, as he stated he wants to ‘make housing a priority’. However, he made it clear to the audience present that as a Labour MP he has no power to change the law (and would have no power for 5 years) and thus he specifically requested, from his audience, that they make comments that did not ‘require a change to the law’. When I brought up the question of social cleansing he stated that his did not like the phrase and would not thus use it for politically correct reasons. Sadly what this means is that whilst the Tories are putting through yet another bill, the people in this country have no-one to oppose it on their behalf – as the Labour Party are clearly not interested at all in being an opposition party but rather in appeasing all of those who voted Tory (we saw the same in most Labout MPs refusal to stand against austerity) It’s depressing as well as tragic.

    Those who suffer most are not those who live in social housing flats but those who live in social housing HOMES – because the new bill will no longer recognise that people who live in a flat which was built with subsidies from the state have made the place their Home. What the government is thus intending to do is to destroy the chance of anyone who is working class- or indeed middle class on a low income in the cities, from being able do afford to rent a property and to have to spend their entire life worrying about losing their ‘home’ which they will never be permitted to call a home because it will be made very clear to each and every tenant that their home is not and never will be theirs.

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  2. This social cleansing has started to spread to other parts of the country including here in Portsmouth under the guise of ‘regeneration’. As an Architect living in Portsmouth I like to keep up to date with the latest regeneration schemes – the most recent is the regeneration of Somerstown, a large estate in the city centre.

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