denials, and a dead parrot on the road to Localism
Following his fearless foray, Galileo’s returned to UKR’s Big Society Trench, where the mood is altogether more sombre. He’s been told that while he was out sightseeing the end of grant for social housing development and ducking Tenant Panels on some wild phoenix hunt, the Government had turned the really big guns on council tenants.
Cameron and Shapps denied everything in advance
Insecurity of tenure and near-market rents. In one fell swoop David Cameron has ended years of speculation and broken yet another election pledge. And he’s set to remove a right granted 30 years ago by none other than Margaret Thatcher, when she gave tenants security of tenure at the same time as the Right to Buy.
When John Healey, then Housing Minister, challenged Cameron a year ago to disassociate the Conservative party from “secret plans” to end security of tenure and double or triple the rents, Grant Shapps, who is now Housing Minister, responded:
‘These are unfounded and baseless scare tactics by an increasingly desperate Labour Party trying to frighten social tenants in an attempt to get them to vote Labour.’
Nonetheless, tenure insecurity and near-market rents were proposed in December 2008 by Ian Duncan Smith, now Minister for Work and Pensions, and in April 2009 by Tory Council Leader, Stephen Greenhalgh.
In April this year, Inside Housing asked David Cameron: “If you win the election, can you guarantee that you will preserve life-tenancies for all social tenants, new and old, for the duration of that government?” He replied:
“Let’s get this clear. What Labour has been doing is running a scare campaign, making allegations about Conservative housing policies which are simply untrue. It’s not the first time it’s happened during this election campaign and I imagine it won’t be the last.
But the truth is that in the last few years, it’s been Labour ministers who have thrown social tenants’ right of tenure into question, and it’s been this Labour government which forced up social rents for councils so that they’re in line with housing association rents.
The Conservative position on the other hand is very clear: we support social housing, we will protect it, and we respect social tenants’ rights.”
According to Inside Housing, a spokesperson for the Conservatives added that the party had “no policy to change the current or future security of tenure of tenants in social housing”.
Caroline Flint’s dead parrot
One of the Labour ministers Cameron had in mind was Caroline Flint, then Housing Minister, and now Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Back in February 2008, she caused a storm by proposing that social housing tenants should have to sign “commitment contracts” agreeing to look for work as part of their tenancy conditions, or lose their homes.
Taking your home away because you don’t have a job was never going to catch on in the Labour Party. By November of that year, Labour’s Jack Dromey had announced that interfering with security of tenure was a ‘dead parrot’. Dromey now works under Flint, shadowing Shapps’ housing brief in the areas of Big Society and regeneration.
Localism, insecurity and community
Now, rather than lose your home if you don’t get a job, the Coalition Government proposes you should lose your home if you do get a job. Insecurity of tenure will be introduced through the Localism Bill: Tenants will be offered five or ten year tenancies, which will not be renewed if a tenant’s circumstances improve.
“There is a question mark over whether, in the future, should we be asking when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period because maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and you will be better paid and you will be able to get into the private sector.”
This didn’t convince Janet Daley, writing in the Telegraph:
“What Mr Cameron is suggesting is that council estates be transformed essentially into transit camps for those who are temporarily needy….
To say to tenants that the property which they and their families occupy is offered only conditionally, for a fixed period of time, after which they may or may not be judged to be still deserving of it, would be to create a degree of such profound unease and dislocation as to destroy any possibility of rootedness or local commitment. Where would Mr Cameron’s precious sense of community be then?”
Is there an underlying drive to break up poor communities living in social housing? It looks like the Localism Bill will also remove the limited right to inherit a tenancy.
Punitive and bureaucratic
Tenant groups have long prepared for the battle to defend security of tenure and have seen off some previous challenges. But this one looks deadly. In the age of the Big Society, the future for social housing looks increasingly punitive and bureaucratic. Galileo asked ‘can a rising star ride a phoenix?’. But first, we must know: is Flint blunted by her dead parrot?