Avid readers of HJA’s Housing blogs will recall the recent “Could this be the End to Lifetime Tenancies?” post prepared by our colleagues Vneeta Ratti and Jayesh Kunwardia. We would now like to take the opportunity to look further in depth at the proposals, but to focus more on how the existing system of secure tenancies and social housing were created and whether the current government is keeping true to the aims its predecessors set out to achieve.
Post-First World War Britain suffered with a huge necessity for working-class housing in towns throughout Britain. Liberal politician David Lloyd George led a post-war campaign called “Homes Fit for Heroes” due to the growing concerns over the health and generally poor physical condition of the British army’s recruits. Determined to “lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor”, he also promised “a land fit for heroes.”
In 1919, the then coalition government passed the Housing, Town Planning Act 1919, which vowed government subsidies to help finance the construction of 500,000 houses within three years though only 213,000 were actually built and it wasn’t actually until after the Second World War that council house building programmes were truly implemented.
The public policy mandate for collectivism, a mixed economy, access to justice, healthcare, social housing and a broader welfare state lasted until the privatisation programmes of the New Right government of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s “right to buy” scheme depleted social housing stock, and there was a sharp decline in the building of new council homes.
As pointed out by our colleagues, the Conservative government now plan to scrap lifetime security of tenure for renters in council and housing association properties, in favour of 5 year fixed term tenancies. The changes come as no shock following the government’s constant and numerate attempts of truncating funds spent on the lower classes of society, with only the poorest and most vulnerable members of society truly suffering. Surely the Tory implemented bedroom tax already eroded the very idea of secure social housing tenure in all but name, and the new “pay to stay” policy completely undermines the entire purpose of affordable housing. It would appear that this government’s proposal to end lifetime tenancies is likely to result in driving the poorest and most vulnerable members of society out of their homes unless they are prepared to pay prices which are simply unaffordable for them.
But who is who is going to suffer most from the changes? Most likely the most vulnerable in society: those with severe mental and physical disabilities, those with small children, those who are pregnant and those who simply cannot afford any other alternative, the very people the system was designed to protect. A lack of secure tenure will mean that such people are exposed to the risk of losing their home. The proposals could mean that social housing tenants are forced to move every 5 years, meaning that they are provided with no stable home, or even a place they can actually call home and left almost on par with tenants in the private sector.