The right and the wrong way to attack the Tories on housing

by Peter Goddard

So David Cameron has announced his latest cuts, this time directing his bloody shears at housing benefit for the young.

Predictably, left-wing commentators have howled their outrage at this latest withdrawal of the state.

The problem, though, is that while many on the left focus on the gross abrogation of an individual’s right to benefits, criticising Cameron for cutting benefits in this way is little more than accusing a Tory of being a Tory.

The Tories are, as with most of their proposed cuts, using the opportunity to portray the recipients of housing benefit as the undeserving poor, to be contrasted with and despised by the squeezed middle.

These benefits are always shown as being paid to some feckless individual, who ultimately makes a better living on welfare than they would by honest toil.

During straitened times such as these, the rights based case for benefits will only go so far with the public.

Surely it would be better to oppose the Tories in terms of the national interest, the common good. Something in which everyone has a material, rather than moral, stake.

Some facts: Over the current 4 year period of the spending review, £4.5bn will be spent on capital investment in new affordable homes while £95bn will go on housing benefit. Out of that, over £30bn will go to private landlords. In comparison, in the 1970s, roughly 80% of public spending on housing was on building new homes with just 20% on cash benefits.

The driver for Cameron’s latest flailing policy statement is the need to cut the housing benefit bill. Something everyone can agree is a common goal.

Yet the incentives created by this government are to convert current housing stock into rented accommodation. Sucking supply out of the housing market, funding rent paid to private sector landlords who reap ever greater profits.

Rather than cutting benefits to the young, many of whom may not be in the fortunate position on being able to stay home with mummy and daddy, the way to reduce our burgeoning housing benefit bill would be to build homes. Change the incentives. Divert funding from lucky private sector landlords into building the public homes needed to house people.

That a house building spree might have the knock-on effect of making housing more affordable for working people and provide stimulus to an ailing building sector into the bargain is a sizeable bonus.

So the next time the Tories talk about people living off the generosity of the state, we can agree that the landlords in question are indeed a drain on our national resources and that something, indeed, should be done.

That something means addressing the root of the problem, which in housing is about supply and getting Britain building.

Wouldn’t that be more fun than just shrieking about rights again?

Peter Goddard is a sales and marketing consultant

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2 Responses to “The right and the wrong way to attack the Tories on housing”

  1. Nick says:

    These benefits are always shown as being paid to some feckless individual, who ultimately makes a better living on welfare than they would by honest toil.


    Big assumption that this isn’t the case. The problem is that many people are better off on benefits, rather than grafting hard. They have made a rational decision.

    The country can’t afford to cut taxes for those in work, because you’ve left a toxic legacy of debt.

    So that leaves the stick. Cutting benefits.

    As for landlords, I presume you believe in the rule of law. Are you going to remove the allowance of interest against profits? If so, you’re going to bankrupt all housing associations.

    What you also fail to address is immigration. The shortage of housing is the same as the number of migrants. What a coincidence.

  2. swatantra says:

    Circumstances might actually lead to stronger families through extended families taking care of each other eg grandparents looking after toddlers and young families looking after elderly and ailing grandparents as happened in the past.
    There is no earthly reason why anyone under 21 should have flat of their own and that would include single teenage mums.
    Many more new homes must obviously be built but these should be for youngish families, homes with gardens, but if flats must be built then allocate a well maintained recreational communal space for their residents.

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