Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown out a threat to the security of council tenants. Cameron said he wanted to time-limit all new council and housing association tenancies to as little as five years: ‘maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won’t need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector.’ David Cameron (3 Aug 2010) This makes a lie of the Prime Minister’s pre-election promises that he would respect tenants’ rights. It follows savage cuts to Housing Benefit announced in the June budget, and threats to slash spending on public services.
Even if unscripted, this new threat steps up what is an ideological attack on a fundamental principle of council housing as a pillar of Britain’s welfare state. It is the latest in a long line of such attacks on tenants’ rights (see over). It hits at the principles underpinning the post war consensus millions of people support. Will he also say people who can ‘afford’ the private market will be forced to pay for their health care or kids education? We need publicly-owned, secure and affordable council housing as an alternative to the high costs, risks and insecurity of buying or private renting.
A home, not an asset
Council tenants need and have the same right to a ‘home’ as anyone else – not just a temporary place to put their head down until they find something better. Good quality council housing is vital to ensure that whatever we earn everyone – and our children, and parents – has a home that’s secure and affordable.
The principle that needs defending is that council housing should be a mainstream tenure of choice, available to all who want to rent as an alternative to the private market.
The solution to a shortage of decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing is to build more! That would also have the benefit of creating jobs and opening up council housing allocation policies to the wide range of people who used to live on council estates re-establishing mixed and sustainable communities.
No transit camps of poverty
Means testing council tenants, to force out anyone who gets above the bread line, would destroy communities. It would turn council estates into transit camps, undermining any kind of social cohesion. If anyone whose income rises above the breadline is forced out or threatened with rent rises, it would reduce the mixture of incomes on estates and increase the concentration of deprivation.
Means-testing would intensify the poverty trap. And differing rent levels is a crude step to bring market forces into council housing Poverty trap The threat of losing a secure tenancy or having to pay higher rents would increase the poverty trap and be a strong disincentive to finding (better paid) work.
It is wrong to force someone out of their home and into the private sector because you judge they can afford it – they could be out of work tomorrow. Short term work and fluctuating incomes are a major cause of mortgage arrears. Means-tested benefits are already a major problem for millions in short-term or low-paid work or running small businesses, giving little alternative to flexible or part time ‘informal’ (undeclared) work.
These attacks on tenants’ rights and council housing are part of the push for further deregulation and privatisation. Private developers and landlords want to get their hands on councils’ publiclyowned land, replace it with more high cost private housing, and drive out those who can’t afford it. The right to a secure tenancy was won by tenants’ determined campaigning. This forced the Labour government to include ‘security of tenure’ in the 1979 Housing Bill, which was then included in the Conservatives’ Housing Act 1980.
Those who are opposed in principle to high quality public services available to all and who want everyone forced into the hands of the private market are determined to undermine and weaken the position of council tenants. Stigmatising council housing as ‘housing of last resort’ is one method. Trying to take away our ‘secure’ tenancies or impose means testing or time limits is another.
Unemployment, on council estates as elsewhere, is the result of increasingly low-paid and insecure work. The problem of homelessness, overcrowding and long waiting lists are not caused by security of tenure, but by lack of investment and failure to build new homes. There are two million less council and RSL (housing association) homes now than 30 years ago, due to privatisation and failure to replace homes sold off. That’s why we have two million households on waiting lists.
Many on the waiting list are not judged in ‘priority need’ –they are the butchers, bakers, teachers and nurses who want a first class council home with lower rents, secure tenancies and a democratically accountable landlord. Investment in council housing is central to meeting this need.
Robbed – not subsidised
Government is robbing council tenants (not subsidising us) to the tune of £1.5 billion a year –while over the last twenty years billions of pounds of public subsidy has been poured into RSLs, and taxation has favoured homeowners and more recently buy to let landlords. The bank bailout is the biggest home ownership subsidy of all time. Hands off our homes, our rents and our rights. Build more council homes.
Cameron admitted in Birmingham that “not everyone will support this and there will be quite a big argument”. Simon Hughes MP and others have already warned the Government not to pursue this policy, mindful of the anger earlier attacks on secure tenure have provoked.
Tenants have fought determined campaigns against privatisation and to defend our homes and rights. This attack will provoke fury among council and housing association tenants. With the cuts in housing benefit, the Government is declaring war on tenants. We will broaden and strengthen our united campaign. Together tenants, trade unions, councillors, MPs and campaigners have fought off previous attacks on council housing, and now the voice of protest needs to ring loud in the ear of every councillor and MP.
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