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35,000 low-cost homes lost last year by government’s open market policies

A dream home becomes just a dreamThe government’s latest housing policy is to force social landlords who receive government funding to build new homes to convert a proportion of their existing social rented homes into the Tories’ new ‘affordable rent’ tenure. ‘Affordable rent’ in government-speak actually means the opposite. It means pricing rents at up to 80% of local average open market rents which puts them beyond the reach of most of the country’s poorest households. Indeed the UK Housing Review figures show that nearly three-quarters of tenants who have moved into so-called ‘affordable ‘rented homes have had to apply for housing benefit to pay for the cost.

This has had two perverse results. Landlords have agreed under government pressure to convert nearly 100,000 social homes to ‘affordable’ rent since the policy was introduced in 2011, meaning that more and more housing in the social rented sector has now become increasingly inaccessible to households in the lowest quartile. Second, the policy has had contradictory and adverse impacts on the public finances. DWP is trying to curb the social sector’s housing benefit costs, but at the same time Pickles’ DCLG is pushing up housing benefit costs through the use of affordable rent.

What makes matters worse is that the government has also increased the discounts given to tenants to buy their home under the Right to Buy programme, bu that does not include building an alternative home for renting to replace the one sold. The result of all these measures is that the number of social rented homes in Britain dropped by nearly 35,000 on a net basis in 2012-3. This is the first time in a decade that the country has suffered a net loss of social homes.

This significant, but largely unreported, change of housing policy is driven by the Tory motive both to end the construction of social housing and to move housing entirely on to an unregulated market basis irrespective of the capacity of the poorest tenants to meet the demands it makes. In effect the policy has shifted abruptly from a social housing system based on high capital grant rates and a low rent to a system with low grant rates and high rents. Unsurprisingly, a great many tenants are left really struggling and falling ever more into arrears. This is the housing dimension of the wider Tory objective to phase out the Welfare State and replace it by unmitigated market criteria, with less expenditure by central government balanced by bigger demands imposed on the poorest tenants – redistribution from poor to rich, the usual Tory motif.

Image credit: copyright coramax / 123RF Stock Photo

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