It is no secret that we have a housing crisis in this country. Young people are priced out of the market completely, deposits are incredibly hard to save, mortgages are few and far between, while prices in popular parts of London and the South East, where the majority of jobs are being created, continue to rise.
With all of these factors currently facing the Coalition, it is refreshing to see radical new ideas from councils around the country. This morning, Conservative-run Hammersmith & Fulham Council announced plans to place a cap on social housing. From April 2013, no couple earning more than £40,200 will be able to apply for social housing. Instead, a new focus will be placed on helping local low to middle earners, members of the armed forces and foster carers. This is welcome news.
In addition, H&F council are looking to end the concept of ‘a council house for life’ for new tenancies by imposing five year fixed-term tenancies, reduced to two years for tenants aged 18-25. This will encourage people to find a job and move on to their own home, freeing up the house for others.
There are a number of unique factors affecting housing in London. Prices are already far higher than the rest of the country. The election of socialist Francois Hollande, combined with his threats to introduce a 75% income tax and various wealth taxes, has created an exodus of French wealth creators to London. This in turn pushes prices up in central London, especially popular areas such as South Kensington. However, we cannot turn away this sort of investment in London, so we must look to other areas for solutions to our housing problems.
The current system is unsustainable. Houses worth more than £1 million are used as social housing, distorting the market and pushing up rents. In August, Policy Exchange released a very interesting report advocating the sell-off of high value council homes, allowing the government to use the funding to build new affordable homes. As usual, the left used emotive language such as ‘social cleansing’, but the real issue is quite simple. In these difficult economic times, there is only a certain amount of investment available for social housing, and it should be aimed primarily at those most in need and most deserving.
It cannot make sense for Londoners on six figure salaries to receive social housing when there are so many in real need of it. The excuses they make are laughable. Bob Crow has saved an estimated £80,000 over the years by paying a reduced rent for his council house, but claims he lives there so he can stay ‘part of his local community’. I doubt that most people would consider his personal preferences to be more important than young families who cannot find anywhere to live due to the likes of him refusing to pay market rents. Especially considering he has £650 lunches in Mayfair.
There will be the usual criticisms from the Left, but they provide no solutions to the housing crisis apart from higher taxes and higher council tax bands. The real answer lies in deregulating the planning market so more houses can be built at a lower cost, and focusing social housing on those that really need it, not union fat cats like Bob Crow.