Greens accuse Government of “counterproductive assault on tenants’ rights”

Camerons double whammy “will remove tenants’ security and discourage social mobility”

The Green Party has accused the government of dealing council and housing association tenants a double-whammy as the Prime Minister proposes to slash housing benefit (1) while attacking security of tenure.

During a recent visit to Birmingham the Prime Minister indicated publicly – but with no prior announcement from the Department of Communities and Local Government – that he would like to see fixed terms for all new council and housing association tenancies, lasting as little as five years (2).

In a strongly worded private letter (4), Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas MP has questioned the evidence base and called the Prime Minister’s proposals “ill-judged”.

In the letter Caroline Lucas points out that “Cutting housing benefits will serve to further increase demand for social housing, as private tenants are unable to afford their rent.” She accuses the Prime Minister of “coercion”, saying that “making continued occupation of a tenant’s home dependent on an official deciding whether or not the tenant deserves to remain there would both remove tenants’ security and discourage social mobility.”

Keith M Ross of Swansea Green Party commented, “The recent tragedy that has befallen one family in Swansea highlights this issue. As Caroline Lucas points out, these are people’s homes not just their houses; and this point has long been ignored when considering council housing policy.

“The shortage of council housing supply is not due to under-occupation, or tenants hanging on to houses that are too big for them – it is a direct result of under-investment in council and social housing by successive governments. It is a consequence of the ‘right to buy’ policy introduced by Margaret Thatcher, and continued under the Brown/Blair Labour governments; a policy that saw all the best quality properties sold off while councils were prevented from replacing them by draconian legislation.

“As we know from our experience in Swansea, the council struggles to find the funding to maintain our council housing stock to the Welsh Housing Quality Standards (3) due to very unfair legislation governing the way that councils are allowed to finance improvements to council housing.

“If the government truly wants to solve the problem of shortage of social housing, they could do much worse than to change the rules that hamper local councils, and cancel the historic debt that sees local councils paying most of their rental income to central government. Freeing up local councils in this way would give them greater autonomy in the provision of social housing, and would be perfectly consistent with the governments ambition to create a ‘big society’.

“What better way could there be to begin the process of empowering individuals within our society than to give those less well off access to decent, affordable and secure housing?”

Notes:

1. See ‘Housing benefit cuts will increase homelessness, Green Party leader warns
2. See eg ‘David Cameron announces plan to end lifetime council tenancies: Council homes for life to be replaced by tenancies lasting as little as five years based on need and income‘, Guardian, 3rd August.
3. Details of the Welsh Housing Quality Standards can be found on the Assembly Government.
4. The full text of Caroline Lucass letter can be found here.

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