Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Cameron to Clean Up Thatcher's Mess?

There's a huge problem in this country, that pervades pretty much all counties, rural and urban. It leads to fear, depression, and misery. It's something that the Conservatives of the 1980s made much worse, bizarrely making themselves popular with a quite significant section of society in the process.. and then Labour did nothing to ameliorate in their 13 years of power.

It's not foxes running riot in town centres.

It's a widespread lack of social housing. Yeah sorry, housing. That least sexy of all departments. I'd imagine the Housing Department is quite a doss to work at, actually. Especially since we don't need stupid HIPs any more. Seriously, HIPs were a stupid plan though, weren't they? Did Labour just invent those to give the Housing Department something to do and maybe take their minds off the fact that a supposedly progressive party seemingly had a big fat blind spot right where thousands of homeless people were living in B&Bs up and down the country? No council housing you say? Well sorry we're terribly busy starting wars over here, and simultaneously making sure more poor people go to university while ensuring that all poor people who *do* go to uni will be straddled with thousands in debt afterwards. No, we haven't got time to fix this most basic of human needs, tell you what, why don't you pop along and do some state meddling in an already well-regulated sector to make sure nobody can even buy or sell houses without an extra layer of bureacracy to pay for. Marvellous!

So, Thatcher ran this perfect scam when I was a kid called 'Homes for Votes'. Genius really - the tories and their iron lady were really quite unpopular after the whole wanton destruction of British industry and mining, and the thing with selling off the country's assets in a baby-after-bathwater sort of way when the privatisation of BT went well.. how did they stay in power when they should have been voted off in anger by the working classes? Remember the ethos of the time: "Greed is Good". People would always be happiest when they felt they were doing well for themselves. So with that in mind the Right to Buy Scheme for council tenants had been born right after Thatcher took power - with every passing election, there were more families who would vote Conservative because "we never would have owned our own home if it wasn't for them". And even better - there was the added bonus of making all that money from the house sales. Nobody ever said it had to be reinvested in new housing stock. Laughing all the way to the bank! Homes For Votes. Breathtaking large-scale gerrymandering. I call it the same thing as the 1990 scandal in Westminster purposely. The logical next step for that plan to make it even more dastardly is to make sure you really do only sell homes to designated people who would vote tory. It's one of those things though, that the Electoral Commission would draw the line at. Thatcher knew how to dance up to the line. Major got his feet tangled up in it and fell over.

So, what does all this have to do with today? Well. Seems Cameron's been let loose at a press conference again and just made up some policy from out of his arse when he's asked a question he can't answer. Honestly, trying to keep him in check is like having that annoying toddler-dressed-as-a-boss from out of the toilet roll adverts as Prime Minister. But dash it if this time he didn't talk some sense! I guess you know, monkeys and typewriters and all that, it had to happen at least once.. still. Cameron talking sense. Who'd have thought it?

He does it in a totally Bertie Wooster way though. He's asked what he's going to do about the lack of social housing and he blinks and almost stutters as he mumbles something about council tenancies no longer being for life - fixed term tenancies, maybe? Oh gosh this will cause such a row. He's so incoherent that somehow the measure gets translated as something to do with spending cuts (How does that even work? How could anyone expect to save money by complicating a process?). So now we've got this problem of Labour activists on twitter (tiresome losers) shouting and baying about the bloody idiot wanting to put people out on the streets... presumably to save money. Somehow. All of which rather harms the publicity of a quite wonderful idea which is this:

At present, I am a single mum and I struggle a bit, and so I live in a two-bedroom housing association property. This means I have a comfortable well-maintained home for a rent I can afford. One less thing to worry about! Hurrah! Need met by society in a time of hardship, I am a lucky young lady. Thing is though, I don't intend to stay penniless. I work hard, I move myself forward, and I'm fairly certain by the time I hit middle age I'll be doing quite alright for myself. But the tenancy in this place is assured to me for life. I could, if I possessed of less moral fibre, live in this place with its rock-bottom rent even if I had a bank balance that would finance buying four other houses. After my daughter left home I wouldn't have to move to a smaller place - as far as the contract is concerned, this is my home and I have a right to stay in it until I die. Regardless of the homeless young mums that will be in dire need of the place when I no longer depend on it. I think that's pretty sick, actually. As soon as I feel confident that I can afford to be out of here, I'll be gone.

But thousands don't think that way, like I do. They think of themselves. Even the ones who don't buy their council or housing association home to pass on as an inheritance to their kids, will stay in them long after their needs have adjusted without a thought to whether they are affecting someone else's life. So maybe they need a push to do the right thing. Whether that is giving parents a fixed term tenancy until their child is eighteen, and reviewing their case at that point to assess the parent and child's needs; or undertaking a rolling assessment scheme to give tenants a questionnaire every few years to check their level of need; or using electoral roll data to check whether only two people live in that house with six bedrooms, or all of these, I'm all in favour.

Damn it. I bloody agree with Cameron about something. Even if he said it in the manner of a bewildered animal in a suit who is scared of the poor, instead of like a reasoning human being.


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


j.senn said...

HIP's were silly and stopped the housing market somewhat.

This government has got to make sound decision making. That's the key. Many of Labours policies had no foresight about the side effects or constraints about new policies.

One perception of this new government is that it has little insight into the lives of poorest people. As much insight as the poorest have of the lives of the well off. World's apart.
I am lucky that I have mingled in both world's and can see housing as a major problem .
Not for the decision makers of course but those who will hve to bear the brunt of those decisions.
Let's hope some form of 'ethics' and Christian duty will be at the fore of decision making, not vote grabbing alone.

Frank H Little said...

I do wish, though, that Cameron and IDS had spent some time on the Housing Committee of a local authority outside Central London.

Anonymous said...

"Damn it. I bloody agree with Cameron about something"


It seems utterly ridiculous that the right to retain a council house tenancy indefinitely should bear no relation to need.

Aaron said...

HIP's were perfectly sensible idea as long as they included a surveyors report, as then only one survey would have been needed per house. But once that requirement was dropped, the thing was a waste of time.

Michelle said...

The idea that, because at one point in your life you qualified for state housing you are therefore entitled to it in perpetuity seems a little odd.

Sciamachy Moran said...

Maybe the lease should be renewable based on a means test, so if you would still qualify, you still get it. Right to Buy should be abolished though, and more council housing should be built & the bar lowered so that more people can get affordable housing. The London housing market is just crazy & decent social & affordable private housing for Londoners is a crying need.

aegidian said...

I know it's a bind trying to get a wealth tax passed. But an extra-home tax rated at some percentage of the second (third, fourth) house's market value hypothetically hypothecated for housing would have my support.

James said...

Good post. Interestingly, I think this is one that had a bit more thinking behind it than that. I was at an event recently with Chris Grayling (Minister of State for DWP), and he was talking about this idea too, mainly from the point of view of the huge numbers of people who haven't got enough room for their families in their council house...