When Policy Exchange sent me details of their proposal to sell the most expensive social housing and use the proceeds to buy cheaper homes, I thought it was actually government policy already; it seems to make perfect sense for those who own social housing to trade out and up and improve their stock so that they can increase the numbers who they rent to. Fortunately Grant Shapps is keen on the idea, pronouncing it “blindingly obvious”.
I have never been terribly keen on the idea that the state should provide your housing for ever; I think people should be encouraged to move up and on. It’s good for people to aspire and to see the fruits of their labour. It’s good that we as a society help those who need it but it is limiting – to individuals and to society – that we encourage people to stay in state housing for ever.
The concept that Policy Exchange talks about – of providers selling their most expensive stock and reinvesting the proceeds in more but less expensive homes – seems entirely with the grain of many of the other reforms which the government is undertaking. It is fair – why should those who don’t pay for their own housing live in better homes than those who pay for them? It is sensible – two (or more) for the current price of one? It is sustainable – because the policy also proposes a minimum standard for the new homes, so the overall stock will improve in quality over time.
There are various mutterings about social cleansing and divided communities this morning, which is total nonsense. We already have enormous variation between and within areas which this policy does basically nothing to change. Boroughs or housing associations would build/buy these new homes within their existing areas – so they would house two (or more) families for the current one that they would sell off. It would encourage innovation by reinvesting the proceeds in that local area.
Perhaps the most interesting thing highlighted by the policy and the government’s reaction to it is that it does not require any legislation and that housing providers can already do this (as I had thought). But very few of them do. Why is that? Is it because we have all become so conditioned to the state doing things that we fail to think of more imaginative ways to succeed?
An additional snippet of information has come from the Adam Smith Institute’s poll – I’ll probably come back to it more generally but YouGov found that 38 per cent of people agree that ‘the government has a duty to provide secure housing for people like me’ while only 29 per cent disagree.