A right to decent housing does not exist in the Tory lexicon. Three Tory measures in the last few weeks are now exposing the ruthlessness with which a rigged market is cutting swathes through the housing needs of all the most vulnerable groups within the population. First, housing benefit is being abolished for all persons under 25.
This will cause the eviction of more than a third of a million people, despite the fact that more than half of them have children and many are working, or are ill or disabled. The aim is to save £1.8bn by forcing them to return home to their parents, yet many are only on their own in the first place because they were driven out of the parental home by domestic violence or abuse.
Richard Johnson, writing on Left Futures last month, identified the disproportionate effect on gay young people too. Returning to their parents may equally be impossible for those with children or who have jobs near where they live at present, which may be far from where their parents live.
Tory policies of enforcing higher rents, plus the hurdle of youth unemployment of a million, inevitably make them losers in the housing lottery.
Then there are the welfare cuts kicking in next April which will force thousands of families – estimated to be 82,000 in London alone – to abandon their homes. Rather than being given shelter locally as homeless families, local authorities are now saying they have no alternative, because of the double whammy of rising rents and benefit caps, but to transport these families into cheaper areas which may be tens or even hundreds of miles away.
London councils are being forced to acquire rental properties not only in places like Margate, Hastings or the Epping Forest, but as distant as Manchester, Hull, Deby, Birmingham, Nottingham and Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales.
Third, there is the Tory ‘bedroom tax’ which argues that if the household does not require a 3-bed or 2-bed house or flat, housing benefit will then only be paid for smaller accommodation, thus pushing out many families or even elderly persons and forcing them to downsize. Imagine the furore if this policy were applied to owner-occupiers. Or imagine, given the enormous row when those on over £60,000 a year (north of £1,150 a week) had a cut in their child benefit, how they would react if they were in effect told to move house into cheaper accommodation!
Fourth, homes for the care of the elderly, having been privatised under Thatcher, are now being tossed around like bargaining chips in the housing lottery. Bondcare, owner of 39 homes formerly run by Southern Cross, looks likely to end up with Lloyds Banking Group who have no expertise (or interest) in looking after vulnerable elderly residents. Lloyds’ Uberior Ventures investment arm has teamed up with PSX which owns 21 homes, but has defaulted on its debts and needs a sale or debt restructuring deal. Four Seasons Health Care, which runs 445 homes accommodating 22,000 elderly people, was sold 4 months ago by Royal Bank of Scotland to private equity boss Guy Hands who lives in Guernsey to avoid UK tax.