One of my photos

Told you so

August 4th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 4 Comments · Politics

Back in March we (in Crawley and Horsham Labour parties) were delivering a leaflet with the title “Be Afraid”.  It was aimed at council and housing association tenants and described Tory plans to reduce the rights of social housing tenants.

Local Tories were shaking in faux outrage, accusing us of scaremongering.  Less than six months later comes the news that Cameron wants to remove the right to secure tenancies.  The reason given is to ‘make more efficient use of the social housing stock’, but really it is an admission that there is to be no attempt to increase supply to the level that is needed.

Already the shortage of affordable rented homes means that you have to be quite needy to get a council or housing association place, leading to a tendancy towards ghetto-type situations – a shortage which the New Labour government did not do nearly enough to fix.

Removing secure tenancies can only make this worse.  Having got the poorer people herded together in one place, these plans will ensure that they stay there.   Like the Tory cuts to services, this is a purely ideological and totally avoidable – though they are making sure to always say “unavoidable cuts” because if they say it enough they reckon enough people will believe them.

I have lived in privately rented rooms and flats, in a housing association house and in houses I have owned.  Of the three, I have only ever felt secure in the housing association house.  You have to have owned a house during a time when negative equity and mass redundancies were both rife to realise that home ownership does not automatically confer security.

I do agree that there should be incentives for people who are under-occupying homes to downsize and that lettings, transfers and exchanges should not increase under-occupancy, but incentives should mean the carrot and not the stick.

Imagine living in fear that getting even a small promotion at work could lead to you being forced out of your home when the lease expires and having to pay twice as much rent to a buy-to-let landlord?   Your income would not have doubled – it may have gone up a few percent, but enough to take you above some threshold.

Imagine having a child die and your housing association then forcing you to move to a smaller house because you now have a spare room.

Imagine that your son or daughter leaves school and get a decent job.  If they stay with you the family income means you have to move out, if they leave you are forced to move to a smaller home.

Despite the huge shortage of social housing, many council and housing association places are extremely well looked after.  On some estates you can’t always tell which homes have been bought and which are still rented because a lot of tenants feel it is worth investing in making the house nice.  If they do not feel secure will they bother getting a garden in order and planting shrubs they may never see grow to maturity?  Will they bother putting in decent fitted carpets or decorate to a high standard if there is a chance they will only enjoy the benefit for a couple of years?

This is the Tories’ way to keep the working classes in their place.

I have seen first-hand how people were tempted out of secure tenancies they could afford into home ownership that they couldn’t afford during the right-to-buy boom.  Of course many ex-tenants thrived – the ones who didn’t lose their jobs, develop a disability, get divorced or have some other change that made the mortgage harder to pay, or who didn’t buy at the wrong time and find interest payments shoot up.  That was bad enough, but to have people actually forced into such positions against their will is even worse.

So.  Council tenants will feel permanently insecure and if they are forced into the private sector they will feel even less secure.  Few tenants will be able to save enough for a deposit and so will be reliant on the buy-to-let landlords on rolling six-month leases, hoping that the landlord doesn’t get into difficulties and suddenly need to sell up, or doesn’t die and have his children want to sell up.

None of this will affect existing tenants they say, but you can bet it will affect existing tenants who want or need to transfer or exchange for whatever reason.  You can bet that the new place will be conditional on having a new, limited, lease.  All that means is that anybody who is already a tenant will have no incentive to downsize at all, and have less flexibility to move for employment.

Keeping us in our place, like I said.

When Francis Maude recently talked about going further and faster than Thatcher he really wasn’t kidding was he?


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