Tenancy swaps: no solution, by Karen Day

4 Aug 10
If it wasn't already clear that this government has very little interest in building more affordable homes, then now it should be.

It should hardly come as a surprise that the coalition government is planning to dismantle a fundamental pillar of the welfare state: social housing tenancies for life.

Yesterday,  David Cameron told an audience in Birmingham that he was looking at short-term fixed tenancies of five to ten years to replace the council home for life. Within these periods he expects that tenants ‘may be doing a better job or be better paid’ and can be moved out to the private sector, freeing up ‘scarce resources’.

If it wasn’t already clear that this government has very little interest in building more affordable homes, then now it should be. Its plans to scrap regional spatial strategies in the Decentralisation Bill means local authorities already facing £1.1bn worth of cuts that are now longer wedded to house building targets. The National Housing Federation estimates that plans for 85,000 homes have already been scrapped.

Housing building has already dropped to the lowest levels since 1923 and with £450m already taken out of the Homes & Communities Agency’s budget, publicly funding building programmes are likely to be a thing of the past.

So, this government’s strategy to manage the 1.8 million families on the waiting list is to push more people through the system, regularly means testing them and hiving them off to the private sector. How removing the security of a home while significantly reducing housing benefit actually incentivises people to work is a separate debate, but the two are clearly contradictory.

Previous housing ministers from Ruth Kelly to Caroline Flint have all flirted with reforming tenancies, but ultimately understood that this was not the real issue, it’s simply an ideological one. The real issue is that the volume of affordable, homes in this country hasn’t kept up with need for decades.

This government is yet to recognise the straight connection between poor housing, low educational attainment and intergenerational worklessness. Decent housing for poor, vulnerable families can provide the early intervention and managed social mobility that this government seeks, significantly reducing future health and crime spending.

Failing to build enough social housing or provide people with a stable home is in reality cutting the frontline and it risks creating a new generation of people penalised for being born into poverty.

Karen Day is a freelance journalist and social policy commentator

Did you enjoy this article?