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Posts Tagged ‘Housing’

Inequality and the Generation Gap. More Than Meets the Eye?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Read any newspaper or magazine which focuses on economics and politics over the last few days and you will have almost certainly stumbled upon the idea of “intergenerational inequality”. The basic argument goes; for most of modern history in Britain every successive generation has enjoyed improved living standards compared to the generation that came before it. However, thanks to the economic crisis of the past decade there is a real chance that this will not hold true for the generation born between 1981-2000 (the so-called “millennials”). A basic tenant of our social contract and a fundamental aspiration for every parent, that our children should have a better life than we did, has been thrown into doubt in a way that is truly unprecedented.

Is that fear justified? I’d argue “Yes, up to a point”. It’s true that the figures don’t make for pretty reading. According to the Resolution Foundation, older millennials (around 30-35 years old) are the first workers to earn less than those born five years before them, and many of them entered work before the Great Recession. At the same time, it’s been reported recently that pensioner household incomes have overtaken those of working age equivalents for the first time.

Clearly something needs to be done, but the danger here is that we start seeing intergenerational inequality as a zero sum game, where making things better for young people can only be done by taking away from older people. Will, for example, will following the advice of some in abolishing the “triple lock” on pensions (where pension increase per year by the higher of the growth in average earnings, the Consumer Price Index or 2.5%) create good-quality, high-paid jobs for young people by itself? I’d argue not. Reducing inequality must come from lifting people up to the same level, not dragging them down.

I’d go further and say that treating entire generations like some vast amorphous block does nobody any favours. Take two young people born on the same day; one living in the countryside and another living in an inner city. Do they really have any similarities beyond the fact that they share a birthday? Do we miss any potential inequality in income and opportunity between these two because we’re more focused on how they’re doing compared to their parents? A few facts and figures can show what this means in practice. While some pensioners may be earning more than those in work, there are still 1.6 million pensioners (14% of the total pensioner population) living below the poverty line after housing costs. A higher income young person at age 20 has a greater income than a poorer member of their parent’s generation at any age.

We must resolve ourselves to fighting inequality wherever we see it, not setting up one generation against another. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways in which we can do this. Building more and better housing will benefit both young people looking to settle down and older people looking to move or downsize in retirement. Protecting pensions gives security not just to people on the verge of retirement age, but to young people who want to know that pensions will still be there for them decades from now. This is more than a dry debate about economics. If we accept that inequality both between and within generations is one of the gravest issues we face (and I believe it is) then how we deal with it says a lot about what kind of country we are.

I’ve had enough of the policies of scapegoating, divide-and-rule and “us versus them”. We need to be far more ambitious and far more progressive before we can even begin to put things right.

A Wake-Up Call on Decent Housing

Friday, October 21st, 2016

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Britain has a housing crisis. That isn’t the first time I’ve said that or something similar on this blog, and unfortunately it almost certainly won’t be the last time either. Much of the debate about this housing crisis is often tied up in homelessness or the lack of houses being built, and while they are incredibly important issues, focusing on them exclusively risks losing sight of a wider, deeper problem. Much in the same way that many of those in poverty are also in work, many of those who suffer the consequences of Britain’s housing crisis have a roof over their head.

It’s a problem that has been laid bare by Shelter. Just in time for their 50th birthday, the national housing charity has released a report on what they term the “Living Home Standard”. Working with market research company Ipsos Mori, Shelter have used discussion groups, surveys and workshop to ask the British public, the men and women on the street, what matters to them when it comes to owning and renting a home. The result is a fair but comprehensive set of 39 criteria that must be met in order to provide an acceptable home that secure the occupant’s well-being, broken down into five categories; affordability, decent conditions, space, stability and a good neighbourhood.

Now the bad news. By Shelter’s estimates, 43% of people in Britain do not live in a home that meets those standards. Of those 43%, just over a quarter failed on affordability, almost a fifth failed to meet the standard for decent conditions (including pests, dampness and safety hazards) and one out of every ten renters were struggling on insecure, short-term tenancies that allowed them no room to plan for the future. Think about that for a moment. If 43% of people in Britain couldn’t get enough food, or if the unemployment or poverty rate was 43%, there would be an uproar and rightly so. Yet we still continue to allow so many people in Britain to be failed when it comes to one of the most basic of needs, the need for decent housing.

It’s not just the numbers as well. The report brings together harrowing stories about just what it means to those 43% living in substandard accommodation. From the single mother with two children living in a one-bedroom flat, to the woman whose house was so riddled with mould that the furniture literally fell apart around her, and the man who couldn’t afford to buy a birthday present for his son after the month’s rent had gone out. They have all paid the price for our country’s negligence in making sure that housing is available for those who need it. There may be someone close to you in a similar situation, or perhaps you yourself are in that situation. Don’t you think there has to be a better way?

In Tameside, we think there is. That’s why we’re working with private landlords on the issues that matter to them and to tenants. That’s why we’re doing our bit to help build the 250,000 homes a year we know need to be built just to keep up with demand nationwide. That’s why we’ll continue to bang the drum for rental contracts that give security and flexibility to both landlords and tenants. Although the statistics and the stories paint a dark picture indeed, I believe that real and positive change is possible if we work together and leave no stone unturned in pursuit of our goals. The alternative is more of the same, and that is not something that any of us should live with or accept.

Sign Up and Be a Tameside Energy Hero

Friday, August 12th, 2016

eonenergyI’ve said in the past that climate change is not only one of the biggest national challenges we face, but the biggest global challenge as well. While slowing down or even reversing the course of climate change is not something that a local authority can do by itself, that doesn’t mean we should give up even trying. We’re taking steps in Tameside to reduce our carbon footprint, and now I’m happy to say that as part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority we’ve now teamed up with utility company E.ON to launch the “Energy Heroes” scheme to improve energy efficiency of Tameside’s homes as well.

Over the next six months, residents of Greater Manchester who meet the qualifying criteria (details of which can be found here) can apply for energy-saving improvements to be made to their homes, including installing new boilers and loft/cavity wall insulation. The application process is free and there is no requirement for you to be an E.ON customer. Engineers from E.ON will arrange a survey of your house, after which they will discuss the options for improving or replacing your boiler and/or insulation. You could end up saving up to £215 a year on your energy bills when it’s all said and done, not to mention making your home more comfortable and easier to heat.

But investing in energy efficient housing has more benefits than cheaper energy bills and greater comfort. As a country, increasing our energy efficiency reduces our carbon footprint and the costs of generating, storing and transmitting electricity. It’s estimated that 40 million tonnes of carbon a year, 30% of Britain’s entire carbon footprint, are emitted from our 25 million homes.  Many of these homes, particularly those built 20 or more years ago, also have few of the insulation and energy-saving measures that we take for granted in more modern housing. This means that the greatest strides in improving energy efficiency can be made in our existing housing stock.

However, we will not get to where we need to be in terms of energy efficiency just by putting new boilers and insulation in older homes. We need to incorporate energy efficiency principles not just into future housebuilding policies, but into all of our national infrastructure priorities. This must feed into a long-term, sustainable focus on our green industries, giving them the certainty and political stability they need to grow and invest. It is my hope that the “Energy Heroes” scheme will be the first step towards achieving this.

If all this sounds ambitious, that’s because it has to be. Half measures and baby steps will do nothing to get us to where we need to be. We must at all costs avoid the fiascos of the previous government, which despite its claims to being the “greenest government ever” ended up scrapping, often even before they managed to get off the ground, policies like zero carbon homes, subsidies for wind and solar energy, the Green Investment Bank and incentives to buy low-carbon cars.

We need bold and decisive leadership and actions, and if the government cannot or will not provide it, then places like Tameside and Greater Manchester must stand ready to provide it themselves.

Taking Action Against the Costs of Poverty

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

I’ve said in the past that the levels of poverty we are seeing in the UK, a rich and developed country by any standard, is morally unacceptable and socially damaging. In a country that collectively earns £1.9 trillion a year (approximately £
29,000 each if averaged out among every man, woman and child living here) half a million citizens each year are still forced to visit food banks. Over 1 in 5 families with children are at least short of having the minimum income that people think is needed to participate in our society.

It goes without saying that those who suffer the most from this poverty are those who are directly affected by it. However, evidence is now emerging that the costs and consequences of poverty may have a far broader reach. The recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report, produced by Heriot-Watt and Loughborough Universities, attempts for the first time to give us firm numbers on how poverty impacts the public purse.

The report concludes that poverty is directly responsible for almost £69 billion of public spending a year. By far the largest portion of this additional public spending is from healthcare, with estimates of the costs of treating health conditions associated with poverty running as high as £29 billion. To put it into perspective, that’s almost a quarter of the UK’s total annual spend on acute care and primary care. Other costs include £10 billion on schools providing initiatives such as free school meals and pupil premiums, £9 billion on policing to deal with higher incidences of crime in more deprived areas, £7.5 billion on children’s services and early year’s provision, £4.6 billion on adult social care and £4 billion on housing. A further £9 billion of costs can be attributed to knock-on effects of poverty such as higher unemployment and lower earnings later in life, including £4 billion in lost tax revenues and £5 billion in additional benefits such as job seeker’s allowances, employment and support allowance and pension credit.

There are two lessons that we should heed from this report. Firstly, taking real, effective action to tackle poverty would bring
not only huge social rewards, but huge economic rewards as well. Secondly, it highlights the false economy of austerity, as any money saved by cuts to services is dwarfed by the additional money spent dealing with both the immediate and knock-on effects of those very same cuts.

With a new government in place and economic uncertainty growing, now is the time fImage result for jrf povertyor a radical and different approach to eradicating poverty in the UK. We need concentrated effort from government, businesses and individuals. We need to realise that refusing to spend now in a way that will bring long-term economic and social benefits isn’t prudent financial management, but unforgivable short-sightedness. We need to reframe tackling poverty as a vital step to creating better public services and a better economy. If we wan
t to be a kinder, fairer and better country, we can and must do all of this, and do it now.

Solving the Real Housing Crisis

Friday, August 5th, 2016

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For many people in Britain, the dream of home ownership remains a key priority, a milestone on the road to adulthood and a goal that motivates millions to work and plan for a brighter future. Increasingly however, it is a dream under threat. When people think of the cost of housing in Britain, the typical image that usually springs to mind is of offshore companies buying empty properties valued in the tens of millions in some of the posher bits of London. While that’s undoubtedly a part of it, it obscures some of the deeper and more insidious problems, the real housing crisis, that people face when trying to keep a roof over their head in 21st century Britain.

That’s why the recent report on Britain’s housing market from the Resolution Foundation should be taken seriously. The report identifies three reasons for a decline in home ownership in the UK; rising prices caused largely (but not entirely) by a lack of homes being built, stagnant wages and a tightening of the easy credit and mortgages that helped to bridge the gap until now.

It’s not hard to see where we go from there, and the report confirms that home ownership rates have dropped not just in London, but across the entire country. In England, rates of home ownership peaked at 71% of the population in 2003 and have now dropped to 64%. That mirrors similar changes in Scotland (Peak of 69% in 2004 to 63% now), Wales (Peak of 75% in 2006 to 70% now) and Northern Ireland (Peak of 73% in 2006 to 63% now). The biggest fall in home ownership, however, has happened right here in Greater Manchester. From a peak of 72% in 2003 home ownership rates have plummeted to 58% today.

We need to understand this, and work with housing associations and the private sector to create a diverse and balanced housing market that provides for residents at all stages and walks of life. Devolved authorities and housing associations are well-placed to start making that vital change happen.

We must come together, combining our voices to make the government consider measures to encourage public sector house building, such as lifting caps on council borrowing for housing and associated infrastructure, allowing all of the money raised from homes sold under Right-to-Buy to be ploughed back into local housing stock, and encouraging and funding the commissioning of private developers by the public sector. However, these measures need to go beyond promoting home ownership and social rent into providing for those who rent privately as well. Over the last ten years, the private rented sector in Tameside has increased by over 45%, and it’s not going to get smaller any time soon. That’s why we’ve brought private landlords into our discussions as well, and we’ll continue to work with them to encourage good practice and make sure that private rented is a real and quality alternative for those who cannot or will not buy or rent socially.

There’s no time to waste. Following last month’s Brexit vote a number of construction companies, most notably Barratt Homes, have announced they are either slowing or considering slowing their pace of construction until the economic picture becomes clearer. At a time where we need to build 200,000 new homes a year just to keep up with demand that’s time we cannot afford to lose. For the sake of our young people and their children, let’s unleash the potential of both the public and private sectors to take on the one of the biggest challenges our country faces.

How We Fell Into a Housing Crisis, and How to Get Out of It

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Graph showing house building in the UK from 1946-2012 by local authorities, housing associations and private builders. Source: http://blogs.ft.com/ftdata/2013/02/22/about-those-housebuilding-stats/

I’ve written several times in the past about how housing, or more precisely the lack of it, is one of the biggest challenges we face as a country. It seems particularly appropriate that, on a week where the government is tearing itself apart over the gross unfairness of its own budget, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CiH) released their annual report of the UKs housing market. It does not make for pretty reading.

Two pieces of data in this report illustrate in the starkest of terms the disaster that has befallen British housing. Firstly, demand-side support (that is to say, investment to help people buy houses) such as Help to Buy and Starter Homes now amounts to £43 billion while supply-side support (that is to say, actually building houses to people to rent or buy) totals less than half of that at £18 billion. That figure is enough for the CiH to conclude that investment in affordable housing will soon fall to its lowest level since the Second World War.

You don’t have to be a student of economics to understand that the only thing that happens when you increase demand without increasing supply is that you make things more expensive. That’s why housing prices in many parts of country are now approaching their 2007 peak, and in many other places (mainly London and South East) they’ve gone far, far beyond that.

That leads us nicely on to the second piece of data, which shows that despite the money thrown at helping people to buy their own homes, first-time buyer numbers have not increased. In 2000 over half a million people bought their first home, 15 years later that number has plummeted to less than 300,000. Put simply, all the government has got for its £40 billion is an unsustainable housing bubble that has made it even harder for people to get their foot on the property ladder.

And if you think that’s bad, people who rent have it even worse. If investment (or the lack of it) continues at its current rate it is estimated that a combination of Right to Buy sales, demolitions and conversions will lead to a 9% loss in both council and housing association properties let at social rents by 2020. That’s a loss of over 350,000 badly needed social rented homes. Not only are the government refusing to build more homes for let at social rates, they are going out of their way to get rid of their existing stock as quickly as possible.

We’ve already seen where this path leads us. Obscene house prices leading to a colossal housing benefit bill for the Treasury and collapsing home ownership among the young. The only thing more infuriating than the economic illiteracy of our current housing policy is its devastating human cost.

We need to have a serious conversation about rebuilding our housing market from the ground up. We have made progress on this as a council through Residential Growth Summits and our house building and investment work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Greater Manchester Pension Fund and Matrix Homes has been so ambitious that even Conservative ministers have praised it. However, in truth this is a national problem that requires a national solution. For the sake of the economic and life chances of the next generation we need to start finding that solution sooner rather than later.

Tameside Nominated for Council of the Year

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

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Last week I spoke of the importance of continuing to invest in Tameside despite the onslaught of more cuts to our funding. Only a focus on growth and reform will provide a sustainable future for Tameside, and since the government have been proven to have little to no interest in it we’ve had to roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves.

I’m happy to tell you that our work has been recognised by the Local Government Chronicle, who have shortlisted us for Council of the Year in their annual awards. The awards, which are held in March of every year, shine the spotlight on councils that have achieved more with less in areas such as health and social care, the environment, housing and driving growth. The councils recognised by these awards are success stories, organisations that have bucked the dead hand of austerity to not just retain the quality of their services, but improve them for the sake of residents and businesses.

It’s both an immense vindication of our approach, and an appropriate recognition of the work the council and its partners have carried out in what has been very difficult financial circumstances. Looking back on the year, we can definitely be proud of some of the nationally-recognised achievements that have led to our nomination.

To name but a few: Ashton Market was voted by The National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) as Britain’s Favourite Market, and we now building on that by launching a £4.5 million redevelopment. Matrix Homes, a joint venture between local government and the (Tameside Council administered) Greater Manchester Pension Fund was described as “pioneering” by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis in a speech to a national housing conference. We were also the recipients of a Customer Service Excellence Awards after an assessment discovered that not only were we 100% complaint with customer service standards, we actually went above and beyond what was required.

I don’t think we have a divine right to win the award. Every council in the land is suffering under austerity and I am sure that the others nominated have come up with their own excellent and innovative solutions. Receiving a nomination in the face of such competition is an achievement in itself. Regardless of what happens in March when the awards are handed out, you can rest assured that Tameside Council will not rest on its laurels in fighting the good fight against austerity and making the borough a better place to live, work and do business in.

Kickstarting Growth in Tameside

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

At the Q&A at the Business Summit questions were asked about transport infrastructure and the use of local traders.

No man is an island, and the same is true with councils as well. To achieve our goals for Tameside we cannot assume that the Council has all the answers and solutions. Working with partners both locally and nationally in areas where we share an interest is one of the best ways to deliver effective and efficient solutions to the issues that we face.

That’s why last week I held two separate breakfast summits to give all our stakeholders in the private and public sectors an opportunity to share what we can all do together to improve Tameside as a borough and as an economy. On Wednesday I held a Business Summit that was attended by over 70 local businesses, including companies as diverse as manufacturing firm Coleherne Ltd (a Pride of Tameside Business Award winner) and digital outfit Banter Media. I discussed the good progress we’ve made on our pledges to help young people, the long-term unemployed and ex-force personnel into employment by offering them support and providing businesses with incentives to take them on. The meeting also provided an excellent opportunity for the council and businesses to network and share ideas, most notably how we can best take advantage of new devolved powers in areas such as transport infrastructure and skills development.

At the Housing Summit we showed how housing investment in Tameside could be used as an engine for growth.

On Thursday I also held a summit on residential growth in Tameside with over 100 major housing developers, landowners and others involved in the housing delivery chain. I’ve said before on this blog that I think that the crisis in housing is one of the biggest challenges we face as a country. We’re not building enough, and we’re not building them at the quality and price levels that people need. But where other people are talking, we in Tameside are doing. At the summit, the first of its kind to be held in by a Greater Manchester local authority, I announced the council’s plans to release 36 hectares from former school sites and other council-owned land to kick-start the delivery of 1,500 new homes. We also took the opportunity to discuss several important issues such as the challenges faced by housing developers, the advantages of Tameside’s location between Greater Manchester, the Peak District and Yorkshire and how the council could support delivery through mechanisms such as the £300m Greater Manchester Housing Investment Fund and the Greater Manchester Spatial Strategy.

Both events have given me optimism that, even in the midst of the financial challenges we face, we have the resources and the expertise in Tameside to deliver on what matters to our residents and businesses. I look forward to many more such events in the future, and I look forward even more to getting on with the hard work that must be done to turn Tameside into one of the best places in the country to live, work and do business in.

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