Iain Duncan Smith’s council house offer is cruelty dressed up as concern

12th February, 2015 2:02 pm

Imagine if every time you invested in an asset, someone threatened to force you to sell it, cut price. Would you keep investing? Would you throw good money after bad? I don’t think I would.

Now imagine this happening as you were going through the biggest budget squeeze imaginable. Where you couldn’t pay for all the things you already had to. That while your income had been greatly reduced you were – at the same time – being told that you can’t borrow against your assets, but you might have to give them away.

housing

Well that’s what Iain Duncan Smith’s latest wheeze (£) means for councils and other providers of social housing.

Residualisation is a term for housing geeks like me. But basically it means the paring back to the bare minimum. In this case the levels of social housing stock. When the stock become more and more scarce, it becomes that housing of last resort that the Tories have always viewed it as. And it becomes easier to perpetuate the stereotypes of failure and neglect that brings stigmatisation of those living in our social housing stock.

Measures like the disgraceful Bedroom Tax – for example – become more possible when housing stock is scare. The argument that there are rooms available for people in need becomes more persuasive when waiting lists are so high. It is not the case that there are 4.5 million people on the waiting lists for a social home because the disabled have a room to store vital equipment, but the Tories would have you believe it.

Introducing measures that will disincentive the building of new homes is just plain wrong. It’s an electoral bribe, dressed up as social concern but motivated through a deep mistrust and loathing of public intervention. These Tories would rather give away council and housing association assets than allow and encourage them to invest to solve our housing crisis. And they do so for the purely ideological reason of a belief in a small state.

Do you think those 4.5 million people care about the bloody size of the state? Do you think – as they suffer high rents and even higher levels of insecurity in the private rented sector – they lie awake at night fretting over big government? Nonsense they do. They want a roof over their head, at a rent they can afford and a sense that it can’t be taken away from them at any time.

Once again this is divide and conquer politics. Setting groups of social tenants against each others. Bribing a few winners at the expense of many, many losers to come. It is – at least in part – the fetishisation of Thatcher’s Right to Buy that has caused our housing crisis in the first place. Equally it is the refusal to allow councils to borrow to build that is keeping investment in housing far, far too low. This is why 95p in every pound spent on housing is on benefit not bricks. Because we have moved to an economy that penalises organisations who build and rewards those who buy to let.

Labour must be brave and come out swinging against these proposals. We have said that we will build 200,000 new homes a year – that will be impossible if we face a collapse in social housebuilding. We must say so, loud and clear.

Iain Duncan Smith has come up with some terrible policies in his five years in government. Never a man to be worried about the workability, impact or devastation  his awful policies have causes – from ATOS anguish to Universal Credit. This is the latest in a long line of terrible and cruel ideas dressed up in his thin garb of social concern. We cannot let him get away with it.

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