Telegraph: housing crisis is the scandal of our age

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Dec 14 00:37:37 GMT 2012

Britain’s monumental housing crisis is the scandal of our age
The dearth of cheap homes will be a key election 
issue for both Labour and the Tories

Moving tale: millions of people, especially the 
young, are realising that their hopes of buying 
their own home will be unfulfilled, perhaps forever Photo: PA

By Mary Riddell - 7:56PM GMT 11 Dec 2012 - 914 Comments !!

Abu Qatada has moved on. Reports that the Muslim 
cleric has been given a new home, courtesy of the 
taxpayer, have provoked outrage. As the Tory MP 
Priti Patel puts it: “It’s disgraceful when there 
are almost two million families on waiting lists.”

Despite predictable anger at Britain’s least 
welcome house guest getting so much as a free 
jelly bean from the state, let alone a 
comfortable residence, Ms Patel’s statistic 
implies a greater problem. Homelessness has risen 
by more than a quarter in three years, with the 
number of families forced to live in B&Bs, often 
in conditions reminiscent of the Dickensian 
workhouse, up by 57 per cent in the past 12 
months. Many of those languishing on Ms Patel’s 
lists wait for a home much as Vladimir and 
Estragon, the protagonists of Samuel Beckett’s 
absurdist play, waited for the non-arrival of Godot.

On Shelter’s estimate, 75,000 children will wake 
up on Christmas Day without a home. This is not, 
however, a hard luck story about the poor. 
Millions of young people are now realising that 
their hopes of buying their own homes will be unfulfilled, perhaps for ever.

Stagnant wages, rocketing property costs and a 
mortgage moratorium mean the average first-time 
buyer in London is now 37. Census figures 
published yesterday show that house-building fell 
by four per cent between 2001 and 2011, while the 
numbers renting from private landlords rose from 
nine to 15 per cent. Such shifts make housing the 
ultimate one-nation issue. The young professional 
living in a childhood bedroom has a link, albeit 
distant, to the human bundle swaddled in 
cardboard and sleeping in a frozen underpass. 
Neither can envisage owning, or in some cases 
even renting, a home of their own.

The central problem is too little building. If 
the trends of the past two decades continue, then 
demand for housing will outstrip supply by 
750,000 homes by 2025, according to a new report 
by the Institute for Public Policy Research. Of 
the 88 per cent of 18- to 30-year-olds who told 
the institute that they hoped to own their own 
home within 10 years, the majority will see their hopes thwarted.

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At the far end of the spectrum lie those whose 
only permanent address is likely to be Desolation 
Row. Their chances just got worse with the 
signal, in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, of 
the breaking of the historic link between the 
cost of renting and housing benefits. Housing 
allowance, the benefit paid direct to landlords, 
would be increased by 2.2 per cent in April and 
be capped at one per cent in subsequent years.

Arcane laws stipulating that vagabonds be 
“commanded to avoid the town” will be rehashed, 
with a churn of homeless families moved to the 
cheapest areas, irrespective of whether there is 
any work. New strictures to be introduced in 
April include a cap of £500 a week on all 
benefits, housing included. While the focus has 
been on the (very few) supposed welfare oligarchs 
living in expensive inner London, the real 
financial scandal has gone unnoticed.

As one shadow minister, Karen Buck, points out, 
recent government forecasts predicted that £35 
billion would be spent subsidising private rents 
between 2011 and 2015, meaning the taxpayer will 
pay £12 billion more on supporting low-income 
households renting in the private sector than in 
the preceding four-year period.

Whatever small savings come from welfare 
crackdowns, the only winners will be the private 
landlords now demanding extortionate rents from 
benefit claimants and from young people forced to 
shelve any idea of buying their own homes. This 
week, Labour promised, as part of its policy 
review, to consult on forcing landlords to give 
longer tenancies and “predictable” rents.

The question is why – since the state is picking 
up much of the tab – it should not revert to the 
old practice of forcing modern Rachmans to cap 
their rent at reasonable levels. The wider 
problem, which Labour should have done far more 
to rectify when it was in office, is the dearth of affordable social housing.

All parties are scurrying to remedy that deficit. 
George Osborne promised 120,000 new homes in the 
Autumn Statement, and the housing minister, Mark 
Prisk, insists that the Government is “pulling 
out all the stops to get Britain building and 
deliver the homes the country needs”. Belatedly, 
the Tories have realised that, with a crisis 
imminent, the only “shovel-ready” project risks being their own grave.

But even if you leave aside the dead hand of 
recession, there is little consensus on what is 
needed. Nick Boles, the planning minister, last 
week attracted criticism for a plan that 
neglected brownfield sites and the 400,000 fallow 
plots that already have planning permission. By 
blaming Labour’s immigration policy (while 
forgetting to mention that immigrants also pay 
their taxes and benefit the economy), Mr Boles 
appeared to advocate diminishing both the green 
belt and good community relations.

Although Ed Balls has done his best to compel 
colleagues to back more social housing, the 
shadow housing minister, Jack Dromey, admits that 
“housing has not been sufficiently centre-stage 
for a very long time”. It will, he promises, be a 
key election issue for Labour, which looks 
unwilling to buy the myth that hacking benefits 
offers even a partial answer. Ed Miliband’s 
refusal to say whether he will vote against the 
plan to cap welfare payments to 1 per cent is 
almost certainly based on a reluctance to play 
into the hands of a cunning Chancellor who is 
likely to tweak his proposals to set a trap for 
Labour once he knows their intentions.

If the proposal, as outlined in the Autumn 
Statement, is unchanged, I understand that Mr 
Miliband will refuse to back it. Mr Balls said as 
much at Treasury questions yesterday. It is not 
only shabby but self-defeating for Labour 
doubters to say there are no votes in courting 
the poor when housing offers an example of a blight uniting all classes.

Even those unlikely to join the 2,200 people who 
sleep rough in the streets – a rise of one fifth 
in a year – are sucked into a world of blight, in 
which rising rents and rising damp are symptoms 
of a deeper malaise. Some young people who talked 
to the Institute for Public Policy Research spoke 
of how they were deferring getting married or 
having children; others said they had no sense of 
belonging or commitment to the area in which they 
lived. These are not the vagrants of tomorrow but 
the bank managers, the teachers and the potential 
backbone of the communities that bind Britain together.

Like the houses and flats that Generation Rent 
cannot and may never afford, that sense of 
belonging is beyond price. If it is to be 
restored, then rents must be brought down and 
investment shifted from welfare (and the pockets 
of unscrupulous landlords) into building the 
homes that Britain needs so desperately.

As the festive season begins, remember the new 
homeless and forget the wedge being falsely 
driven between strivers and supposed scroungers. 
Those who cannot find a job, the working poor and 
a generation who once dreamed that success meant 
stability are all discovering, as Christmas 
approaches, that there is no room at the inn.

+44 (0)7786 952037
Twitter: @TonyGosling
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"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered 
that shall not be revealed; and nothing hid that 
shall not be made known. What I tell you in 
darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye 
hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

Die Pride and Envie; Flesh, take the poor's advice.
Covetousnesse be gon: Come, Truth and Love arise.
Patience take the Crown; throw Anger out of dores:
Cast out Hypocrisie and Lust, which follows whores:
Then England sit in rest; Thy sorrows will have end;
Thy Sons will live in peace, and each will be a friend.  
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