How does this sound for a realistic policy on home rentals? —
In addition to restoring security of tenure to every decontrolled house, we are appointing rent officers and rent assessment committees for fixing fair rents. The new Act also gives basic protection to almost everyone in his home, including the lodger and the worker in his tied cottage. Today it is a crime not merely to evict without a court order but to harass or to persecute anyone in order to force him out or force his rent up.
It’s from the 1966 Labour Manifesto. The preamble to that seems almost more pertinent in the present context:
The 1957 Tory Rent Act inflicted injury on hundreds of thousands of families by decontrolling their homes in a period of intense housing shortage. Labour was pledged to annul this social crime.
Back to the future
Malcolm reflects on that, if only because his entry into leftist politics was at a time (the end of the 1950s) and a place (Norfolk) when tied cottages — particularly for farm workers — was a very live issue.
In case anyone missed it, it’s about to come back again. Hidden behind Caroline Spelman killing off the Agricultural Wages Board is her other announcement: the Agricultural Dwellings Housing advisory committee would also be dissolved. All of which might, being generous, make sense if the workers on the land had the clout to negotiate a proper wages-and-conditions agreement. But, of course, it will always be cheaper for the agribusinesses to import cheap immigrant labourers and house them in caravans and Portacabins. With, if not the complicity, at least the active encouragement of the supermarket chains.
Only a cynic (perish the thought) would draw a direct line between a “free market” in former tied cottages, a chronic shortage of affordable housing, Iain Duncan Smith’s “welfare reforms” and ‘Gids’ Osborne’s budget, promising second homes on the back of government loans.
Duncan Smith, lest we forget, is possessed of a a £2m+ Tudor home (with ample spare bedrooms, five acres of gardens and a swimming pool), by courtesy of a very wealthy wife, heiress to the Cottesloe millions and 1,300 acres of Buckinghamshire.
It goes with the squirarchical mind-set
In the next few days anyone in social housing with that mythical (but Big Brother designated) “spare bedroom” faces a cut of 14% in benefits. Oh, no! It’s not a tax! Anymore than cutting the 50% tax rate for multi-million earners (those deserving bankers and plutocrats) is a benefit!
Let’s take Mr and Mrs Whatsit, who have lived in social housing for thirty-odd years, since they married. There they raised two strapping sons, who have done well, moved out, and left that “spare room”. As a result Mr and Mrs Whatsit, both heading towards retirement, but young enough not to come under Iain Duncan Smith’s oh-so-generous OAP waiver, are faced with a major cut in their income, or the unlikely prospect of finding smaller accommodation — there are 180,000 families in the Whatsits’ position, but just 70,000 one-bedroom flats available.
Now, here’s the suggestion: why was there not an incentive — rather than a fine — to persuade the Whatsits to move? Especially since we now know that Osborne has squoodles of money available for second homes:
The Budget included a £3.5bn Help to Buy programme under which the Government will provide up to 20 per cent of a deposit and the buyer only 5 per cent for a new-build home. The Government made clear that could not be used to buy a second home but failed to do the same for a separate scheme to underwrite £130bn of mortgage lending for any property.
But, then, when did a functioning Tory prefer to persuade rather than to coerce?