Newsnight tonight gave another chance for assorted morons to sneer at social housing. The occasion being the government’s cap on housing benefit, and other assorted methods of destroying communities. Ex-Homelessness campaigner and founder of Big Issue John Bird being the biggest moron of all, with his claims that the only route out of poverty is home ownership. This is a staggering display of blithering idiocy since the reason for most of the homelessness over the next two years is the toxic debt accumulated during the property boom which died in 2007.
When will Newsnight guest some advocates of social housing? People who can make the case that it is an essential part of the social infrastructure, like railways or hospitals or the national grid, and not some act of gross charity. There are plenty of highly-qualified specialists and academics willing and very able to take a sledgehammer to the myth of Ownership Heaven, and many examples from the continent to draw on.
Properly funded and de-stigmatised, social housing can provide all the ‘support’ and ‘education’ Bird keeps drooling about, because it can provide communities – stable, caring communities which aren’t subject to the whims of the market. Combined with a rent cap, this would solve most of broken Britain’s problems, and slash the housing benefit bill. But the Coalition has chosen to do almost the exact opposite:
As David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, says: “Because it is based on near-market rents, the new funding model will trap thousands of tenants in welfare dependency because they will simply not be able to earn enough money to pay for their homes without the support of housing benefit – which means the benefit bill for new low-cost housing will go through the roof.”
As long as the divisive, alienating dogma of ownership and the property ladder is unchallenged, we will stagger from one social crisis to another, and one global financial crash to the next. The main casualties will be the millions who couldn’t afford to be the cause of the fabled budget deficit, not having mortgages. Hopefully, the other casualties will be this government, when the realities of this lunacy become clear and the people get angry.
Meanwhile, of course, the cleansing of Kensington will release more property onto the rental market, reducing prices for those who can easily afford to pay the full price in those prime postal codes. So the rich will benefit from the displaced, who will be forced into competition for housing in the outskirts, which will on balance become more expensive. Turning up the gas on the housing market in this way will prove useful if, as many predict, we are heading for Japanese style stagnation, and the collapse in house prices that will result. Perhaps that’s what Vince Cable expects.