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The proposed policy is disgusting and should immediately be abandoned


If 35 per cent of a development is ‘affordable’, what does that make the remaining 65 per cent? asks Paul Finch

Strolling down the Croisette in Cannes is a sure way to imagine that all is well with the world; that development, finance, governance and life are all in some sort of balance; and that the only barrier between achieving the buildings and environments celebrated in the MIPIM/AR Future Project Awards is our own imagination.

Yet the weekend before the great property-fest, a debate took place on Any Questions, in which matters of social equity, construction policy, government finance and family life aroused great passions. The debate concerned what has been described, erroneously, as a ‘bedroom tax’. It is far worse than that.

Desperate to do something about the parlous state of the housing market, the coalition government is putting the squeeze on poor families in council accommodation and/or in receipt of housing benefit. The intention is to force them to downsize to the minimum number of bedrooms thus releasing accommodation for those on a waiting list for larger properties because of family size. Newcomers with big families go to the top of the queue.

So far, understandable. However, the consequences of the proposal scarcely seem to have been thought through by the Cabinet plutocracy. Unsurprisingly the Labour Party, plus those LibDems who retain their principles, are giving the Eton brigade a hard time. What about the disabled? What about visiting non-resident parents? What about families where boy and girl will shortly reach an age where they must by law have separate rooms? What about people who have made their home and (sometimes) garden who are being ethnically cleansed from one place and moved miles away from friends, family and community? What about giving people storage space? Somewhere for a friend to stay?

Have any of these public school tribunes, with their mansions, second homes and foreign hideaways spent time in, say, the third bedroom of a council flat, even one built to Parker Morris standards (before Michael Heseltine ripped them up, ensuring the poor would never swing the family cat in a third bedroom again)?

The truth is, and I say this as someone who supports much of what the government has done about planning and design, that the proposed policy is disgusting and should immediately be abandoned, or at least modified to the point where it might as well be abandoned. The reason for the housing shortage, particularly in London, is our failure to build in sufficient quantities, especially given the unparalleled and uncontrolled mass immigration which took place under ‘New’ Labour, and about which Ed Miliband is now wringing his hands. Blair and Brown have much to answer for.

As has been argued in this column previously, an emergency requires emergency measures, but should not wreck the lives of ordinary citizens who have done nothing to deserve the punishment now being meted out to them. Instead, we should have an instant introduction of as-of-right conversions from office to residential, we should begin a crash programme of building houses and apartments on land owned by public bodies and we should appoint someone to oversee the programme with political and budgetary authority, as we saw at the Olympics. Someone like David Higgins.

The fact is that anyone building housing in London gets hit by special taxes and levies left, right and centre. These need to be abolished until we get back into housing balance, however long it takes. Amazingly, the political classes still see housing as a milk-cow instead of social infrastructure for all. Creating new infrastructure, which becomes a long-term investment, would of course help to build our way out of recession.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Industry Professional

    This government policy is about equalising provision of social housing with private housing. In other words, someone renting or owning in the private sector who has non-resident parents or wants a friend to stay has to make do - perhaps with a sofabed.

    If a private landlord wants to sell up or extricate their tenants they give 2 months notice and those tenants have to find new accomodation, no financial support to move (as in social housing) and no guarantees about staying in the local community, close to family or friends.

    In the private market you pay for every additional square metre, so why should social housing be any different.

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  • Industry Professional

    Having worked for a social housing provider I have seen first hand the impact of under occupiers on those living in overcrowded accommodation.

    We had many households as follows:
    Parents living in a 3 bed house with no children. Both children on turning 18 received their own 1 bed social housing flats. So the need is for 3 bedrooms and they are occupying 5.

    We had many other households as follows:
    Parents sleep on sofa in lounge, 2 children share a bedroom. So the need is for 3 bedrooms and they have 1.

    You cannot consistenly build large accomodation and then have it stay with families when they separate. It just doesn't work in the long-term.

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  • Industry Professional

    I am startled that you make such an incendiary claim of 'ethnic cleansing' showing a lack of knowledge of what this term means - ask anyone who lived through the Yugoslav wars and they will tell you that murder and torture were the order of the day not downsizing award payments (current borough average is £1500 flat payment in addition to £400 for each bedroom given up) nor moving payments to help with furniture removal. Nor the offer of a different property elsewhere. Nor were they given the opportunity to stay by paying a small contribution to their rent.

    Not forgetting that 'social housing tenant' is not an ethnicity! For example, in Essex the majority of social tenants are caucasian, in Tower Hamlets the majority are Bangladeshi.

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