Wednesday, August 04, 2010

David Cameron announces plan to end lifetime council tenancies.

Here in Britain, council tenants have lifetime tenancies, meaning that one has the security of always knowing that no-one can remove you from your home as long as you pay your rent.

The Conservatives have always hated this, thinking that tenants in council housing always favour Labour. Thatcher tried to get around this by offering council tenants the right to buy their own homes. And those tenants living in very nice council estates snapped the offer up, but millions of others, living in less desirable housing, did not. Indeed, all Thatcher really achieved was in trapping those at the very bottom of the social housing ladder where they were forever. Because, having sold off the desirable council properties, her government stopped building any new council housing.

But, Cameron has come up with an outrageous new plan to tackle the problem of housing estates always voting Labour. He intends to remove the security from those millions of tenants forever.

Cameron said he wanted to see fixed terms for all new council and housing association tenancies lasting as little as five years to help increase social mobility.

The prime minister admitted that "not everyone will support this and there will be quite a big argument". Speaking in Birmingham, he said: "There is a question mark about whether, in future, we should be asking when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period? Because maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won't need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector."

A consultation paper, due to be published as early as tomorrow, will say the new short-term tenure would be for local councils to implement, but would involve regular reviews of tenancies to see if the council tenant still needed such a large property or had sufficient income to shift to the private sector.

The way things work at the moment is that council tenants can decide, depending on their income, whether or not they wish to one day give up their council house and enter the housing market by purchasing a property. Cameron appears to be implying that, once one can afford to enter the property market, then the government now plans to make that compulsory.

No member of Cameron's elitist cabinet has ever - to my knowledge - lived on a council estate, so it strikes me as arrogant in the extreme for this bunch of Eton educated toe-rags to talk of removing rights which council tenants have enjoyed since the second world war. And all because Cameron doesn't like the way council tenants tend to vote. Of course, that's not the reason they are giving:
Under the government's proposals council tenants could be forced to downsize. A total of 234,000 households in the social tenant sector are overcrowded while 456,000 are under-occupied, meaning people have more than one extra spare room, according to official figures.
Thatcher nationalised much of the nation's resources in the hope of turning Britain into a country of share holding capitalists. To the same end she hoped that selling off council houses would turn us into a nation of property owning capitalists. It was all done in an attempt to make much of the country natural conservatives. The grand experiment utterly failed. Within five years the shares from nationalised companies held by individuals had been mostly sold and council house tenants who bought their homes on the whole retained their affinity to Labour.

It appears that no-one has broke that news to David Cameron who now seeks to tackle the council housing "problem" - as the Tories see it - anew.

Grant Shapps, the coalitions housing minister, came out with this:
"It is time to consider whether our affordable housing system can be better used and whether one of the benefits would be greater social mobility."
When I hear the phrase "social mobility" I think of people moving up the social hierarchy through education and earnings. Shapps and the Conservatives are using it, in this instance, to suggest that "social mobility" could mean moving you from a three bedroom house in a shitty estate to a one bedroom house in a shitty estate. They would still call that "social mobility".

"Social mobility", in the sense that they use the phrase, means that you are less secure and can be moved around at the council's whim. Indeed, if you are deemed to be doing well enough, "social mobility", in this sense, can mean depriving you of your home and insisting that you purchase on the open market. That's what Shapps means when he talks of "social mobility". It's an almost Orwellian misuse of the language.

Critics of the proposed reforms say it could disincentivise the unemployed to seek well-paid work as they might lose their tenancy as result. There are also fears that it would increase the chances of council estates becoming ghettos of the workless poor.

The homeless charity Shelter said tonight: "We do not believe the big question in housing policy is security of tenure for new tenants. The prime minister has sidestepped the fundamental cause of our housing crisis – the desperate lack of affordable housing supply."

One of the greatest achievements in post war Britain were the housing schemes built under the government of Clement Atlee, when he decided, in a Britain much more indebted than we are today, to end the slum dwelling of much of the population.

Cameron is using the current financial crisis to undo the security which Atlee's government gave to the nation's poorest citizens.
Cameron today urged the public to recognise that the deficit was a moral issue and suggested public spending would not be restored to its current levels when the economy improves.
The Tory philosophy on display here is the shrinking of the state. The "moral issue" Cameron refers to is "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". They are, once again, using this financial crisis to make the poor less dependent on the state by removing safety nets.

Cameron's latest ploy is to remove the safety net around council tenants homes. I can't think of any safety net more vital than the one which guarantees a roof over one's head. And yet that is what Cameron now wants to take away. And he is doing it because the Tories have never liked the way council estates vote.

It's despicable. And Cameron knows it, which is why he admits, "there will be quite a big argument" about this. You bet there will be. And, if Clegg backs this, the Liberal Democrats will sink into the sea.

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