This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Given the fact that there have been hardly any Councils homes built over the last few decades the fanfare over “biggest build for 30 years”  is spurious. Under the New Labour government’s National Affordable Homes Programme there were, I think, only 42 built, though these did at least charge Council rents. The 100 under this government’s “Affordable Homes” programme might sound like an improvement on very little. In fact it’s less than it appears. The bid that has been accepted will not provide an additional 100 homes, but only 67, since 33 flats at Sussex Square will be demolished. So it doesn’t even add up to the 33 homes per year that Mark Dempsey suggested.

David Renard told the Adver: “It shows we are committed to investing in our housing stock and providing sustainable homes for people who need them.” It shows nothing of the sort. To put it in context, the Council lost 67 homes through ‘right to buy’ in just one year, 2013-14. So a programme which produces an additional 67 homes over three years will not even keep pace with the loss of homes through ‘right to buy’.

The administration has accepted the coalition government’s imposition of its ludicrous “affordable rent” (AR), up to 80% of private rent. It is bad enough that the 100 homes built will charge AR, but, in addition, because the government grant is so low, around 140 existing Council homes will, when they become empty, be converted from a Council rent to AR in order to help pay for the programme. So the administration is supporting pushing Council rents up towards market levels.

The Financial Times recently did an investigation into AR. They discovered that of tenants charged it, 75% are on housing benefit (HB), even higher than the two thirds on HB in ‘social housing’. The FT estimates that nearly 100,000 ‘social homes’ have been converted to AR since the policy was introduced in 2011. That’s one reason why despite all the ‘benefit reforms’ relating to HB the bill is expected to rise to over £27 billion by 2018/19 according to this government’s own estimate. Replacing Council rents with AR is stupid and counter-productive. Since 2009/10 the number of people in work claiming HB has risen from 478,000 to 962,00. The growth of AR will no doubt continue to push up these numbers.

It is true that any Council is constrained by national government policy. However, the Swindon administration is culpable because it refuses to oppose the disastrous housing policy of its government. It supports their ‘enhanced right to buy’, with its increased discount, so it accepts that the Council will have a declining number of homes at its disposal every year. Despite kicking nearly 8,000 households off Swindon’s housing list this year, there were still 8,272 on it in April. How far will 67 additional homes and the continued loss through ‘right to buy’ go towards solving that problem? We need more Council homes charging Council rents if the housing crisis is to be tackled, not less. Otherwise the situation will continue to deteriorate.

Martin Wicks

Secretary, SwindonTenants Campaign Gro

Advertisements