Just an extra update to inform everyone that the government has announced it is scrapping the policy of compulsory higher rents for council tenants on joint incomes of £31,000 and above (£40,000 in London). Instead, it is to be left to the discretion of individual local authorities and housing associations whether to implement a policy of Pay More to Stay.
No doubt this is in part a victory for the campaigners who have worked so hard all year to drive home that the policy is unjust, unworkable and expensive; they should be massively congratulated for their work and staying-power, and we should take heart from the fact that gains are achievable.
However, a reading of the statement made by the Housing Minister Gavin Barwell makes it clear that this government has nowhere near finished with its attempt to run down the council housing sector and falsely depict it as a form of welfare provided at the public expense which should only go to those who are most needy or vulnerable. He repeats his insistence that the introduction of fixed-term tenancies will enable councils to make sure that social housing is targeted at those with lowest incomes:
“Councils will review tenancies at the end of each fixed term to ensure that tenants still need a socially rented home [my italics]. The Government’s guidance to councils will make clear that they should take into account a household’s financial circumstances when looking at this, and that, except in exceptional circumstances, tenancies should be targeted on those on lower incomes”.
Taken as a whole, Barwell’s statement amounts to a repetition of the lie that social housing tenants are subsidised at the taxpayers’ expense- and this from a government which happily allows private landlords to rip off the housing benefit system and whose Housing and Planning Act is basically a plan for publicly-subsidising the profits of corporate builders and helping better off tenants to buy at the expense of those in desperate need of a home they can afford.
The Pay More to Stay policy has probably always been the shakiest strand of the Housing and Planning Bill, partly because of the huge practical difficulties of implementing it and also because it was too open to the charge that it acted as a disincentive to people to try to earn more (which is apparently now the only objective and duty of any decent and responsible citizen!). It was perhaps also the policy around which tenant resistance would have come most easily, inasmuch as it would have affected existing tenants, and affected them immediately. It left too much power in the tenants’ hands – we could have refused to pay! But it’s vitally important now that we keep our sights on the other issues posing an immediate threat to thousands of social and private-sector tenants, and which also damage the viability of social housing in general.
Of these, the lower benefit cap is the most dangerous and most immediate – a sure-fire way of making sure that those most in need are least able to afford housing of any sort at all! You may not be affected yourself, but you will know someone who is, and it could be you in the future. Please come and join us to get rid of this monstrous policy.
The next public meeting is hosted by Hyde Park and Woodhouse Labour Party, with Hands Off Our Homes as speaker, and will be at the Civic Hall at 7pm this Wednesday, 23rd November. Free, all welcome. See you there.