The Budget – my response regarding housing, homelessness and rough sleeping

Today (22nd November 2017) in his Budget, the Chancellor had a great opportunity to do the right thing to tackle the housing crisis.

Yet he has failed, and failed spectacularly.

The abolition of Stamp Duty for first time buyers for homes costing up to £300,000 will help the lucky few.

Philip Hammond has devoted many millions of Pounds in pursuit of policies that do nothing to reduce rough sleeping and nothing to increase the supply of homes that people can afford.

The Chancellor spoke about the “dream of home ownership”. His obsession with home ownership has done nothing to increase supply and will achieve little other than to further fueling house price inflation. In this he has failed this and future generations who just want somewhere decent to live, of any tenure, a place to call home.

He failed to end the economically illiterate Right to Buy of council homes which has seen the privatisation of public assets, at a huge cost to the public purse. 40% of the homes sold through Right to Buy reappear in the private rented sector charging rents four or five times higher than the previous social rents.  Chancellor Hammond is persisting with this discredited policy.

He failed to abandon the extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations, throwing good money after bad.

As a result of Mr Hammond’s failure to make adequate investment in council housing, house building cannot hope to meet the needs of the nation.

Welfare Reform is forcing people to use food banks and rent arrears are spiraling out of control. There have been warnings about Universal Credit from all quarters, including Conservative Members of Parliament and even the former Prime Minister, John Major.  Philip Hammond has announced some tiny concessions.

I welcome the removal of the seven day wait to claim Universal Credit, and also the promise of a full month’s payment within five days to households that are experiencing particular hardship and that meet certain criteria. The devil will be in the detail.

He has recognised that Universal Credit is causing problems with rent arrears, but a two week extension of housing benefit will still leave a gap in payments and rent arrears will continue to climb, albeit not at quite the same frightening rate as at present.

The six week wait for payment of Universal Credit has been reduced to five weeks. This is hardly something to cheer.

He failed to announce any increase in the level of Local Housing Allowance, the help people can receive towards housing costs. The ongoing freeze has resulted in the majority of privately rented homes becoming well beyond the means of ordinary people in areas like Brighton and Hove.

Eight out of ten private landlords are saying that they won’t house people on Universal Credit. The Chancellor said nothing to reassure private landlords.  Merely reducing the waiting time before Universal Credit payments are made, from six to four weeks will do nothing to reassure landlords. He should have said that the housing component of Universal Credit will be paid direct to landlords. The Chancellor, again, is failing this generation and failing landlords.

The Chancellor’s commitment to end rough sleeping by 2027 is something, but he failed to say how this will be achieved. The sum total of all his housing announcements will do little, if anything, to actually end rough sleeping. In fact, it could make matters worse.

But why should Philip Hammond worry? 2027 is a long way away and he will be long gone by then. But it is more than a lifetime away for those people sleeping on our streets.

Mr Hammond should have announced a massive investment in council house building, a complete relaxation of restrictions on borrowing by local authorities, and public land to be earmarked for public housing.

He should have ended failed policies, such as the Right to Buy and Universal Credit, but instead he muddles on, unmoved by the obvious hardship caused by these disastrous policies.

Winston Churchill once said: “You can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing, once they have exhausted all other possibilities”. The same can also be said of Philip Hammond’s housing and welfare benefit policies.

In summary, the Chancellor has, to use his own words, failed to “embrace the future” or to “meet the challenges ahead”. He has not made any meaningful announcements regarding “building the homes for future generations”.

I hope that when Sajid Javid makes further announcements on housing over the next few days he will have something meaningful to say about reducing rough sleeping and building the homes, the council housing, that this country so desperately needs.

 

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