Kevin Gulliver is the director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research but writes in a personal capacity; his interests are social and economic policy, especially relating to housing, health, communities and inequalities
Grant Shapps (a.k.a. Michael Green and Sebastian Fox) has laid down the country’s housing burden to rouse the Tory troops as party chair with his bluster, dodgy statistics and ‘How to Bounce Back from Recession’ toolkit (I wonder if George Osborne will use it?).
Most of the country’s housing agencies, social landlords and tenants, and potential first time buyers will not mourn his going despite knowing little of his successor Mark Prisk. Most expect to see little change on the ground.
Shapps’s legacy as housing minister, although he raised the profile of housing nationally, will be judged as mostly poor given the scale of problems faced, including ballooning waiting lists; homelessness back on an upwards trend; a sliding housing market that has failed to improve affordability appreciably; and a construction industry sliding back into recession.
His attempts to rebrand social housing as ‘taxpayer funded’ housing – clearly not understanding or not caring about the historic and current housing subsidy system in the UK which benefits private landlords and home owners too – was his parting shot following more than two years of sniping at social tenants as scroungers, feckless work avoiders and rioters irrespective of evidence.
His support for the benefit cap, resulting in the social cleansing of London and shipping out of waiting list applicants to the Midlands and the North, runs against the ethical grain of his much-promoted national mobility scheme for social tenants, which seems to be a measure of pent-up transfer frustration rather than a means of facilitating movement of tenants to take up jobs or to support vulnerable family members.
Shapps has overseen the largest fall in social housing starts in recent memory following the filleting of the social housing budget in the coalition’s first round of cuts in 2010, which is now seen as ill-considered even in some parts of the government. Housing starts and completions are down across all sectors; Shapps’s boasts he would out-build Labour look misjudged now.
Redefining ‘affordable rents’ as 80 per cent of the market rate, ramping-up right-to-buy discounts on council homes and Shapps’s various attempts to stimulate the home ownership market have all failed – even where well-intentioned if misguided within the current housing policy context of a deleveraging banking system and households wilting under a growing personal debt burden.
The latest range of coalition announcements on housing – including relaxation of planning laws and supporting lower borrowing by housing associations to build new homes – are too little, too late to make significant inroads into the UK’s growing housing crisis. Despite the evidence pointing to the effectiveness of large scale public investment in housing being a key way of stimulating growth and build assets for today and the future, the coalition has resisted doing anything so economically rational.
Shapps’s legacy is to leave his successor a much worse housing situation than he inherited at a time when housing has become a pivotal economic issue.