The general election, politics and charities

Charities have to be very cautious at the best of times about never being seen to support or oppose a particular political party. While there have been attempts, formal and informal, to restrict the freedom of charities to speak out on issues, these have been resisted.

In normal times it is fine for me to say that a particular policy will have a positive or negative impact on our client group, even if that policy is associated entirely with one political party. It is not acceptable to say: “Those evil (party name), typical of them proposing ….” And equally unacceptable to say: “I love the (party name), they are so wonderful ….”.

During a general election it is all the more restrictive. There is a fine line that can easily be crossed by statements that can be seen supporting or opposing the manifesto of a particular party. There are things I have long called for which might, and I suspect will, be in the manifesto of various parties, but not all.

Therefore, discretion is the better part of valour at these times.

In some elections we have a procession of politicians wishing to be seen visiting BHT or one of its services. The approach we will be taking this year is not to agree to a visit to BHT services by local candidates. I will meet with any of them to brief them on the issues facing our clients and those facing BHT itself.

In one election, three candidates who were due to debate each other on the Sunday Politics South East asked me to brief them. I t was amusing to listen to them, two of them normally at odds with each other, agreeing with each other, the third ignored what I had said and opposed the other two.

So this blog will be more toned down than usual. I will be publishing real life stories of clients but none will be related to the election.

But come 9th June, I might just find my voice again!

Will we have the fifteenth housing minister since 1997 by the end of June?

In July last year I wrote that we now have our fourteenth housing minister since 1997 and concluded that none had got the job done.  I was hoping that Gavin Barwell would be different and I have to say he did make some progress, albeit small.

With the calling of a general election for June, the chances of a fifteenth housing minister is increased.  Mr Barwell is defending a majority of 165 votes and the seat is 47th on Labour’s target list.

Far be for me to make a prediction regarding the overall election results, or the result in his Croydon Central constituency, but whatever the result, Mr. Barwell is unlikely to be the housing minister in seven weeks time. He will either lose his seat, be moved to another job if his party forms the next government, or he will be in opposition.

Discuss.

Actually please don’t!

All I will say is that housing is the issue that impacts more profoundly on the lives of so many people and I hope it takes centre stage in the election. Unless the housing crisis is tackled soon, it will remain with us for generations, long after the changes in our trading arrangements with Europe have been forgotten!

You might wish to discuss that!

What I want to see in the parties’ manifestos

The political parties are yet to publish their manifestos for the June general election. I have three simple requests to all parties for policies to be included in those manifestos:

  1. Make a commitment to building council houses, in massive numbers, as an investment for current and future generations. Abolish the Right to Buy so that these homes remain in public ownership in order that they continue, in perpetuity, to meet housing need, and not investment opportunities.
  2. Make an unequivocal commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the 2017-2022 parliament. In a country as wealthy as the United Kingdom, it is an outrage that people are living on the streets, and their presence should shame those in a position to end rough sleeping.
  3. Put an end to benefit cuts. More than half of all voters think that benefit cuts have gone too far, according to an Ipsos Mori poll published on Thursday. Denying 18 to 21 year olds the right to claim benefit support to help towards their rents will drive young people into homelessness, into crime, and into sex work. What politician wants that as part of their legacy?

Short-termism in making cuts will prove to be expensive in the long-term

As we approach the start of 2015, the political classes are getting very excited about the elections in May. I share their excitement. These elections are the most unpredictable I can recall.

In Brighton we have the possibility of having a referendum on Council Tax, adding to the excitement, or should I say the uncertainty.

I am asked at this time of year for my predictions for the new year. This year I have written something for the magazine, housing24, which will be published in its January edition.

What is most predictable is how unpredictable many things will be. Will there be a repeat of coalition government? And if so, which parties will be involved? Will there be a majority administration in Brighton and Hove? And if so, which party will win 27 or more seats in May?

Whoever wins, nationally and locally, will be handed a poisoned chalice because each of the main parties has committed itself to continue with austerity, albeit at a different pace. In Brighton and Hove cuts of an unprecedented scale will be required. How the new administration responds could change the social landscape for a generation.

I am particularly concerned about the loss of funding for, or wholesale cuts in funding to, services that prevent homelessness. Some services might be seen as addressing acute need, with recipients having low or medium support needs. The risk, as I see it, is that such services will be reduced, understandable, in favour of services meeting the needs of those requiring high levels of care and support.

This is, of course, a false economy. At BHT we have a particular service that prevents homelessness for around 550 households each year. Few of these clients have high support needs, but without our support, their low level needs would soon become medium, and their medium support needs would soon become high. Yet it is unlikely that planning is happening to increase services for more people with rapidly increasing needs.

I am not saying that all 550 will end up becoming homeless or developing high support needs, but many will. The cost of meeting their needs will dwarf the current cost of providing their current needs.

And this does not factor in the impact and cost to their families, friends, landlords, and the other services that will, inevitably, have to pick up the pieces.

Election Hustings for Older People, organised by the National Pensioners’ Convention

The Brighton branch of National Pensioners’ Convention has organised an election hustings to allow older people to question the main political parties on their policies for older people.

The hustings will take place at 6:30 PM at the Brighthelm Centre in North Road, Brighton on Thursday, October 30th.

The political parties will be represented by:

  • Clarence Mitchell (Conservative)
  • Nancy Platts (Labour)
  • Davy Jones (Green)

I have been asked to be the independent chair for the event. I look forward to seeing you on Thursday.

Broken Market, Broken Dreams: Home Truths from the National Housing Federation

Today (Monday 15th September) the National Housing Federation (NHF) launched its annual Home Truths report on the state of housing in the UK. The 2014 report is called Broken Market, Broken Dreams.

To build the evidence for the its general election campaign, the NHF has written its biggest, most thorough report yet, one that explains how the current housing crisis came about and which underpins the NHF’s appeal to the parties as we approach the 2015 general election.

The report looks at the housing crisis we’re currently facing which has been more than a generation in the making. It found that:

  • The average first-time buyer today needs a £30,000 deposit, almost ten times the deposit required in the early 1980s;
  • First-time buyers have an average income of £36,500, compared to the average salary for first-time buyers in the 1980s of £20,000 (adjusted to account for inflation);
  • A first-time buyer has to borrow 3.4 times their annual income on average, compared to first time buyers in 1979 who needed to borrow just 1.7 times their income;
  • Two thirds of first-time buyers receive financial help from parents – a figure that has doubled in five years.

The report also contains figures from a YouGov poll commissioned by the NHF which reveals seven out of 10 people (73%) think the Government should play a role in improving accessibility to housing, but worryingly 77% think that none of the mainstream political parties will effectively deal with the issue of housing.

The report focuses on housing inequality and on the disadvantages of being a private renter: “Increasing demand, undersupply of housing and shifts in tenure have affected different people in different ways, particularly in terms of housing costs. On average, home owners with a mortgage spend 20% of their income on paying that mortgage. However, private renters spend 40% on rent while social renters spend 30%. As younger people are significantly more likely to rent than own a home, a larger proportion of their income is spent on keeping a roof over their head, making saving for a deposit harder.”

The NHF highlights the cost of failed housing policy on the public purse: “The impact of high prices, stagnant wages, decreasing affordability and the subsequent shift of more people to private renting is increasing the housing benefit bill. The total housing benefit bill in England – accounting for inflation – has risen by almost 150% from £8.7bn to £21.5bn in 21 years.”

In my opinion, housing benefit is increasingly becoming a subsidy for employers who pay low wages, with 92% of new claims last year coming from people in low paid employment. The report warns that in five years time, one third of all housing benefit payments will be for people in employment.

You can find a copy of the full report here

A copy of the the executive summary can be found here

The NHF calls on the next government to act: “We want all political parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation. We want the next government to publish a long-term plan within a year of taking office that sets out how they will achieve this.”

(The text for the above post has been largely extracted from information provided by the NHF to its members).

Will Generation Rent swing the 2015 General Election?

In America they had Soccer Moms, and in the UK we have had, amongst others, Worcester Woman, Mondeo Man and White Van Man. Now there is a new group that might sway the 2015 election, Generation Rent.

In a recent poll of 1,004 private renters, one third said that they might change their vote between now and the May 2015 elections. Given that there are 9 million renters, it has been estimated that the votes of Generation Rent will influence the outcome in 86 constituencies.

Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings have private renters well in excess of the national average. All five constituencies in these areas can be described as marginal as they all changed hands at the last general election. How the parties address the issues of private renting will influence the results next time.

BHT clients and other who are private renters tell me that key issues for them include high rents, insecure tenancies, and poor practice by some landlords and, in particular, letting agencies.

I will be writing to the representatives of the major parties in these five constituencies to ask them what they will be offering private renters to address their concerns. I will publish the responses I receive on this blog.