The government shows disdain for the wishes of Parliament on Universal Credit

The National Landlords Association has surveyed its members on their attitude to housing tenants who are on Universal Credit.  80% said they were reluctant to let to tenants in receipt of housing benefit or Universal Credit.

Since the government isn’t funding anywhere like enough homes to rent, and since more well-off families are able to take advantage of schemes like Help to Buy, can someone please tell me where will people on Universal Credit live if landlords in the private rented sector won’t house them?

I am writing every day about the unfolding catastrophe that is Universal Credit.  People are left in debt, selling off their possessions to keep the lights on, relying on foodbanks, getting into rent arrears, and becoming homeless.

Today in the House of Commons a vote calling on the government to pause the roll out of Universal  Credit was passed by 299 votes to nil.  The government ordered its Members of Parliament to abstain.

House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow MP

The Speaker, John Bercow, advised ministers to take account of the “clearly expressed” wishes of the House of Commons, and to “show respect for the institution” by indicating what they intend to do.  Don’t hold your breath, Mr Bercow.

The UK parliament is supposed to be the “Mother of all Parliaments” yet the government shows disdain for the institution by ordering its side to abstain and will, in all likelihood, ignore the vote.

This isn’t a democracy.  This smacks of a dictatorship.  My Conservative friends should be hanging their heads in shame at the disrespect to the wishes Parliament and the misery and suffering that Universal Credit is causing.


Theresa May’s Housing Summit looks likely to be more of the same old same old ….

Yesterday (17 October 2017) Theresa May held a housing summit at No 10 Downing Street. Those in attendance included the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Local Government Association, the National Housing Federation, the Housebuilders Federation and larger housing associations.

They said that the Prime Minister was in “listening mode”.

While Mrs May said she could not guarantee that all suggestions would be £80, she’s reported to say that there is a collective will government to do more to increase housebuilding.

David Montague, the chief executive of one of the largest housing association groups, L&Q, said: “It was an honest discussion about what needs to be done: what the barriers were, how we can work together to overcome those barriers, the importance of flexibility, the importance of partnership, the importance of investment in skills, the importance of delivering land.”

And here is the crucial bit, with my emphasis.  He said: “We’re speaking a common language now and that hasn’t always been the way. This is a Tory government. They want to give voters what they say voters want, which is to own their own home, and the conversation starts and ends with homeownership, but there is a complete understanding that not everybody can afford their own home so we’ve got to invest across all tenures if we’re going to build more homes.”

I despair.  Mrs May recently announced a £10 billion boost for the Help to Buy scheme – public subsidy for private ownership.  The modest £2 billion for social and ‘affordable’ housing will see just 5,000 homes built per annum.  We need homes for rent at social rent levels. And what we get is more of the same old same old. This won’t help to achieve “a country that works for everyone”.

Tackling the housing crisis, and the need to build homes that people can afford to rent, feels further away today than ever.

My reaction to Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference

At the Conservative Party Conference today (4th October 2017), Theresa May said whether someone hopes to buy their own home or has been waiting for a council home “help is on the way”.

She said that the government will invest an additional £2bn in affordable housing, taking the government’s affordable housing budget to £9 bn.

She said that the government “will encourage councils as well as housing associations” and she promised to provide certainty over future rent levels.
We’ve been waiting a long time for that certainty. What a shame Sajid Javid didn’t provide it two weeks ago at the NHF conference and what a shame that Mrs May didn’t give it today.

She said: “In those parts of the country where need is greatest we will allow social rented housing to be built, at well below market levels, getting the government back into the business of building houses.”

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, described it as a “watershed moment for the nation”.

I hope so. When Mrs May previously spoke about sub market rents she meant rents at 80% of the market.

In Brighton and Hove that equates to rents of c£750 per month for a on bed flat, unaffordable for those on benefits who can receive £612 per month, and then only if they are over 35 years of age.

The ongoing freeze of Local Housing Allowance – the amount people can get towards their housing costs – means that rents become more unaffordable with every passing month, including so-called affordable rents.

Mrs May promised homes with social rents. I hope she has been properly briefed and that we will in fact get such homes.

£9 billion is a lot, but much of it goes towards Help to Buy which doesn’t stimulate supply but rather fuels housing price inflation.

Those benefiting from Help to Buy are already the better off, not those in the most acute need.

We need social rents, within Local Housing Allowance and even below that so people on low incomes do not have to rely on housing benefit. We need a massive programme of council house building, equivalent to what Harold MacMillan achieved when he was Prime Minister, and we need clear action on homelessness and rough sleeping. She was silent on this.

For today I will give Mrs May the benefit of the doubt. The devil is in the detail. I hope this is truly a watershed moment. The next few days will tell us whether it is, and I reserve judgment until we have seen the detail.

Universal Credit is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame

At first there were warnings that the ambitious plans for Universal Credit were not deliverable. But the government dismissed these warnings. There were warnings that Universal Credit could not be delivered in the way it was planned, but Iain Duncan Smith said, time and time again, that it would be delivered “on time and in budget”. It wasn’t and an IT programme was abandoned at a cost of millions of Pounds.

Universal Credit pilots highlighted the rising levels of rent arrears and the hardship being caused to claimants, but the government pressed on regardless. I have written about Universal Credit on more occasions than I can recall, probably on more occasions than on any other social policy issue or government policy.

Advice agencies warned of the increasing numbers presenting themselves with increasing problems with debt, but these warnings fell on deaf ears in the Department for Work and Pensions and in government.

Landlords warned that they would not be able to accommodated those on Universal Credit, but still these warnings were not headed.

Social and private landlords have highlighted the problem of arrears caused by Universal Credit. BHT’s arrears currently stand at 1% other than for those on Universal Credit where arrears are 15% notwithstanding the work we do with our tenants.

Food banks have said that the increasing demands for their services are being caused by Universal Credit.

News reports, over months and years, have highlights individual cases of hardship and homelessness directly resulting from Universal Credit.

Time and time again, warning after warning, the government carried on regardless.

Last month Citizens Advice produced a compelling case for the roll out of University Credit to be paused but the usual platitudes were repeated.

Then today (29th September) came news that Conservative Members of Parliament have called on their own government to think again about Universal Credit over fears about the impact on claimants already receiving Universal Credit in trial areas.

Later in the day, Dame Louise Casey, who has advised successive governments on a wide range of social policy issues, said that pressing ahead with Universal Credit was like “jumping over a cliff” and that it made her “hair stand on end”.

If the government fails to act now it can only be because it and its ministers are deluded about their own righteousness, cruel in their disregard of evidence of suffering and hardship, or too arrogant to listen to those who see, on a daily basis, the impact of this policy.

This policy is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame.

Am I alone in being bitterly disappointed by Sajid Javid’s speech at the National Housing Federation’s conference?

Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP

Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, spoke yesterday (19th September 2017) at the annual conference of the National Housing Federation. In brief, he spoke about the importance of housing associations and promised to forward a green paper on social housing in England which will be a “wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector, the green paper will be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation. It will kick off a nationwide conversation on social housing.”

Hello? Where have you been, Mr Javid? Have you not been listening? There has been a conversation about social housing, and housing in general, going on for a number of years and it goes something like this:

  • There are not enough homes
  • There are not enough new homes being build
  • The homes that are being built are not affordable for ordinary people
  • Rents in the private rented sector are increasingly unaffordable
  • The freeze of Local Housing Allowance means those on benefit can’t afford even the cheapest private rented accommodation
  • There has been a massive increase in homeless households since 2010/11
  • Rough sleeping numbers have increased by 146% since 2010/11
  • The benefit cap is causing homelessness
  • Universal Credit is seeing tenants getting into arrears, 77% for the first time
  • The threatened LHA cap has seen the development of new specialist supported housing grind to a halt
  • Grenfell Tower

Mr Javid, you are the Secretary of State with responsibility for housing. Your party has been in government since 2010. Surely you must have been thinking about these issues since then? Surely you must have some idea of what the current situation is? Surely you must have some idea of what needs to be done? We need more than platitudes.

Of course the government hasn’t stood idly by since 2010. It has been active in welfare reform, although we are yet to see the benefits promised while the hardship being caused is obvious to all to see and the consequences are being felt by tenants and landlords alike.

Mr Javid, you recognised that “businesses need to know that economic regulations aren’t going to dramatically change without warning.” Do you mean regulations dramatically changing such as the decision taken by your government in 2015 to tear up the rent settlement between government and housing associations and to impose a 1% year on year reduction in rents we can charge?

Mr Javid, you said: “They (businesses) need a stable, predictable base on which to build – literally, in your case! And of course lenders need to know that a company is a reliable investment prospect before they’ll put up any money.”

So, why, Mr Javid, did you fail to make the announcement on rents that we have long been promised? You said: “Right now, you’re trying to make long-term investment decisions without knowing what your rental return is going to be after 2020. It’s not ideal, of course I get that. You need certainty and you need clarity and you need them sooner rather than later. That’s why I’ve been pushing right across government, as hard as I can, to confirm the future formula for social housing rents. I would have liked to stand here today and tell you exactly what it is going to be. Unfortunately, I have to tell you, the t’s are still being crossed and the i’s dotted. But I can promise you this: an announcement will be made very, very soon.”

We don’t need more conversations. We need action. We need homes, and those homes must have social rents. The hopes and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of households depend on this announcement. Please don’t let them down, Mr Javid.

(You can read the whole of Mr Javid’s speech here.)

Government rejects reforms of the Lobbying Act: I think it is a sign of political weakness

I have written here before about the negative impact the Lobbying Act has on the ability of charities to play a full role in the public debate around social policy. Examples can be found here, here, here and here.

Leaders from around the charity sector recently wrote to the government asking it to implement reforms of the Lobbying Act recommended in Lord Hodgson’s review, a review commissioned by the government itself and fully endorsed by the cross party Lords Select Committee on Charities.

Me lobbying Chris Skidmore MP on his recent visit to BHT!

Last week the Cabinet Office minister, Chris Skidmore, said that the Government will be not be implementing any of recommended reforms that would have reduced restrictions on campaigning.

Chris Skidmore recently said that the government is pro-charity and keen to involve the sector in the democratic process.

A sign of a healthy democracy is that those in power allow comment and listen to views that might not be comfortable for it.  Charities, while not party political, should be free to speak out on behalf of the causes and people they support.

I am deeply disappointed by the government’s decision not to implement the recommendations of the review it commissioned.  I see it as a sign of political weakness.