The ideological attack on the social rented sector started by the Thatcher Government’s Right to Buy has been intensified and Britain's house building programme has ground to a standstill. This week Parliament received the largest lobby on housing for many years. Here CP members outline a case for change and publish CP Congress resolutions on the housing issue.

There is an important housing meeting in this Saturday [19/2] with issues discussed and practical campaigning in a Peoples' Charter conference and workshop.
The Con-Dem Government has signalled an unprecedented attack on the housing rights of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Up to 70% cuts in the capital grant for new affordable housing has resulted in construction projects being mothballed or cancelled.  

This is despite local authority housing waiting lists standing at 1.8 million households.

Almost 400,000 Council properties and over 180,000 housing association homes in England remain non-decent, despite the previous Government’s target of 2010 for all Council housing to reach ‘decent’ standards.  This represents almost 14% of social housing stock  in England.  £3.2 billion investment is needed to bring these homes up to the standard.

Investment in social housing is key to sustaining the fragile recovery in the construction industry, already reeling from the cuts to major public investment programmes such as Building Schools for the Future.  
Further cuts, along with the abolition of regional house-building targets, signal a deepening economic crisis.

 The announcement, first in the emergency budget and then in the comprehensive spending review, of housing benefit cuts totalling £2.5billion for private rented accommodation, constitutes the most savage attack on the housing rights of poor people since the benefit was invented.  The ConDem justification for these cuts is that restricting housing benefit payments will place a downward pressure on private rents.  This may be so in areas of low demand, but there has been no assessment of the likely impact of these cuts in areas of high demand such as London, the South East and other expensive inner city areas.  
These cuts include:
a 10% cut for anyone on job seekers allowance for over 12 months which will increase hardship and inevitably result in an increase in homelessness, with up to 200,000 households expected to lost their homes as a direct result.  
A cap of £250 per week for a one-bedroom property and £400 for four bedroom properties or larger.  This directly penalises larger families, and hence penalises children of poor households who will be forced to live in more overcrowded conditions, thus compounded their disadvantage
The right of single people who are dependent on housing benefit to live in self-contained accommodation has been further restricted with the raising of the age at which someone can get housing benefit for anything more expensive than a room in a shared house from 25 to 35.  This will particularly hit people being released from prisons, long term homeless being resettled from hostels or the streets and vulnerable single people, such as those suffering from mental health problems or addiction.
A further cut in the value of the Local Housing Allowance will be implemented for new claimants in April by changing the level of benefit from the 50th to the 30th percentile of private sector rents.  This is likely to result in further cuts in housing benefit for private tenants of around 8% and will be imposed on existing claimants next January, and homeless applicants housed by local authorities in temporary accommodation in the private sector in April 2013.  To get an idea of the impact of these cuts on poor households, a tenant living in a four-bedroom home in North London will see their housing benefit drop from £575 per week to £478 (Inside Housing 17/12/10 p.12).
This will mean a double whammy for anyone claiming unemployment benefits.  Other cuts in housing benefit include the right of people who move into smaller properties than is ideal for their family to retain any ‘profit’ they get on their housing benefit. Over 1/3 of people who will be affected by these changes are pensioners.

This in turn will increase pressure on local authorities who have successfully used private rented accommodation to stop 65,000 households becoming homeless and have virtually eliminated the use of bed & breakfast accommodation for homeless families.  
When the housing benefit cuts for homeless households in private temporary accommodation are implemented this will almost certainly result in local authorities reverting either to the use of B&B for homeless households, or utilising scarce council and housing association properties as the private rented sector ceases to be an affordable option for temporary accommodation when the benefit caps are implemented.  In addition the use of the private rented sector as an alternative to becoming homeless in the first place is unlikely to continue as a viable option when the cuts are implemented for the rest of the population next year, which will mean those households are more likely to become homeless.  Tenants in the private rented sector lost their security of tenure in 1988, and evictions from private rented accommodation were responsible for 13% of all homeless application in the first quarter of this year - up 2% on the same quarter last year.
This is compounded by the caps on welfare benefits for ‘workless households’ announced by Ian Duncan Smith at the Tory Party Conference and incorporated in the CSR - £26,000 per year for families and £18,000 a year for workless single people.  Housing benefit will be cut to ensure people do not go over the cap.  
Essentially these cuts will mean that private rented housing in London and most of the South East of England will be completely unaffordable for people who are dependent on welfare benefits, including housing benefit.  This will affect thousands of people whose only option will be to leave London altogether.  We can expect to see an exodus of the South-east’s poorest and most vulnerable people, with their likely destination those areas already suffering from poverty and decline.  This is, at its essence, class and ethnic cleansing since black and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately represented among the homeless, unemployed and low paid.
The sterile debate about removing security of tenure for council and housing association tenants has been resurrected despite Cameron’s commitment to maintain secure tenancies in the Tories’ election manifesto.   The argument is that people should be offered an affordable housing tenancy on a time-limited basis only, and if, on review, they are able to ‘afford’ to live in the private rented sector, or to buy their own home, they could be evicted from their homes.  Aside from the fact that this would, as correctly predicted by Margaret Beckett, result in a major disincentive to people working or finding better paid jobs, it establishes the principle that the only people who are allowed to view their accommodation as their home are owner-occupiers.  
The ideological attack on the social rented sector started by the Thatcher Government’s Right to Buy has been intensified with announcements that local authorities and housing associations can charge an ‘intermediate’ rent for their homes, which in reality means 80% of market rents in the locality.  When we consider the total cap that will be payable on welfare benefits, this means that even council and housing association accommodation in London and other areas of high demand and high private rents will be unaffordable to poor people, including many working people who are unable to afford to buy or rent in the private sector.  While this will only be a ‘power’ and therefore not obligatory, investment funding for new build and refurbishment will be linked to the ability of social landlords to recover their costs through the rent – thereby undermining a principle that has existed since the early 20th century that housing for the working classes should be subsidised.

People in need of support to live independently, or who need supported housing are also under threat from predicted cuts in local authorities’ Supporting People budgets.  This funding was ring-fenced until last year, guaranteeing that it could only be spent on supported housing, for instance homeless hostels, sheltered housing, women’s refuges and specialist housing for people with mental health problems, learning difficulties and recovering from addiction.  
As a result some authorities have already raided this budget to help fund statutory social care services and other funds.  The budget is under further attack as a result of the ConDems’ insistence on government departments finding between 25% and 40% cuts and this budget has already been signalled as ripe for slashing.

English and Welsh Homelessness legislation continues to distinguish between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor - those deemed to be in ‘priority need’ and not ‘intentionally’ homeless.  Unlike the legislation in Scotland, which places a duty on all local authorities to ensure that homeless people are accommodated, England is seeing an increase in people sleeping rough - either because they are not eligible for help due to their immigration status, or because they are not deemed vulnerable enough to qualify for help.  
Speculation is increasing that this Government will seek to limit the level of help and support that local authorities are required to give to homeless people even further.  The specialist Rough Sleepers’ unit in the Department for Communities and Local Government has already been cut, and cuts in homelessness grant to local authorities have been signalled.

Congress in 2010 recognised the need for a major housing campaign in Britain.  This needs to encompass a wide range of issues, but all of them are linked to the recognition that a decent home should be a basic right for all people.  
The 51 CP Congress agreed to:

  • produce a detailed policy document setting out a manifesto for housing in the 21st Century.

  • link with and contribute to national campaigns to defend security of tenure and oppose the housing benefit cuts
  • specifically campaign for an increase in funding for building and renovating affordable housing
  • campaign for reform of homelessness legislation to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, and
  • support campaigns to safeguard the Supporting People budget and oppose the closure of supported housing
If you are a building worker working in housing or house renovation, in planning, housing associations or local authority housing and want to get involved, contact us.