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Former minister hits out at failure to halt social housing's decline

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Former minister hits out at failure to halt social housing's decline

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government

Former minister hits out at failure to halt social housing's decline Former minister hits out at failure to halt social housing's decline

Former housing minister John Healey says so-called friends of social housing are not doing enough to fight its corner as the government continues to redefine what 'affordable homes' actually are.

In an exclusive article written for the 'Politics' edition of 24housing published this Friday, the Labour MP accuses ministers of "slapping a Do Not Resuscitate notice on the ailing social housing sector" at a time when demand has never been greater.

He writes: "Under this government, right to buy discounts have been hiked and investment slashed, with the number of homes built for social rent dropping to a 20-year low. For the first time since the Second World War, more people are now living in the private rented sector than in social housing.

"The truth is that coalition ministers have slapped a DNR – do not resuscitate – notice on the ailing social housing sector, which no one is challenging, not even its family and friends. A long-term decline, which Labour made important but insufficient steps to arrest, is accelerating fast.

"The attack on public housing is nowhere clearer than in the new ‘affordable rent’ programme which is partially privatising the cost of social housing, not just for newly-built homes but for re-lets too."

John Healey points to research he commissioned by the House of Commons library as evidence that the 'affordable rent' model, which allows social housing providers to charge rent at up to 80% of the local market rate, is unaffordable for many.

He writes: "The problem is predictably most acute in London. On a standard measure, housing becomes ‘unaffordable’ when rent or mortgage repayments cost more than 35% of net earnings. But, on ministers’ ‘affordable rent’, a two-bed property in London would cost 52% of the average full-time worker’s monthly earnings.

"In many areas, this would mean an astonishingly high level of income - £41,600 a year in Hackney, £52,300 in Camden and £74,300 in Kensington and Chelsea."

Healey says the "impossibility" of paying such rents is greater still for those currently in social housing.

He adds: "Far from fighting these changes, much of the housing sector seems determined that if public housing is to go, it goes out with a whimper rather than a bang. While supply is being squeezed, rents rising and tenure shortened, charity and campaign groups talk about shared ownership and intermediate tenures, while some housing associations talk openly of operating in a ‘post-grant’ world.

"I’ve always hated the term ‘social housing’ because it reeks of welfare when in fact public housing is more than that – it’s an essential part of our social and economic fabric. Councils and housing associations provide people in and out of work with somewhere to start in life, have a family, put down roots and play a part in the community, as well as necessary support for the most vulnerable.

Healey, who was housing minister under Gordon Brown, says there are measures that could be taken to "resuscitate" public housing.

He writes: "(It) will take hard work and strong political will. It will mean upfront capital investment, strengthening local planning and land purchase powers, creating more headroom to build in the newly-reformed housing revenue account, potentially changing the borrowing rules for councils to build on the same basis as housing associations and, above all, arguing that new publicly-sponsored homes are in local residents’ longer term social and economic interests."

Read John Healey's article in full in the 'Politics' edition of 24housing out on February 7. Other contributors include Kris Hopkins, Lord Freud, Emma Reynolds, Clive Betts, Stephen Williams and Lord Matthew Taylor.

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