Taxpayers Against Poverty: Affordable Housing Blog Series & Seminar

Posted on 27 Nov 2016 under Housing, Latest in Parliament

In November 2016 the APPG on Poverty hosted a discussion on affordable housing with campaigning organisation, Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP). This was an opportunity to discuss the ideas arising from TAP’s affordable housing blog series exploring alternative policy solutions to the UK’s housing crisis. 

TAP’s series of nine blogs in nine weeks were published in autumn 2016. The contributors were Professor Danny Dorling of Oxford University’s School of Geography and Environment, Fred Harrison, Director the Land Research Trust, and Stephen Hill, Director of C2O Futureplanners. They explored a set of different policy questions the UK must consider if we are to solve the endemic housing crisis plaguing the country. These included:

  • The role of surveyors and large housebuilders in avoiding the provision of affordable homes on the basis that they are not economically viable
  • Whether the establishment of a land-value tax could realign the UKs housing market
  • The misery the present crisis creates among low income families and individuals

The seminar was chaired by Kate Green MP and the speakers were Fred Harrison and Stephen Hill, who contributed to the blog series, alongside Guardian journalist, Dawn Foster, Dr Duncan Pickard, farmer and author, and Liz Davies, barrister and vice-president of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

Summary of the seminar discussion:

Rev. Paul Nicolson, founder of Taxpayers Against Poverty

“Ban all rent rises for a year”

Rev. Nicolson argues that crises normally motivate immediate action but the housing crisis is allowed to worsen indefinitely. The immediate future for landless tenants who are benefit claimants is one of increased hunger, debt & ill health. They are being forced ever deeper into penury in work and unemployment.  They have their rents increased twice: first by private landlords, housing associations and local authorities raising their rents with the market and secondly by central government cutting their housing benefit with the bedroom tax, the LHA and the benefit cap.

When the government cuts housing benefit it increases the tenant’s rents. Since April 2013 the frozen single unemployed adult benefit of £73.10 a week is required to pay rent by central government and council tax by local government. Not only do shredded benefits like that this lead to deprivation and financial poverty, but also to poverty of health – costing the NHS, schools and wider economy billions.

This crisis has backdrop of historical gluttony when it comes to housing. Since the 1980s when lending was deregulated, rent controls abolished, and the free flow of money in and out of the UK permitted, private landlords, housing associations, national and international speculators have enjoyed profiting from both rising rents and the exponential value of property. 

Rev. Nicolson calls for the immediate action by way of a Bill, passed rapidly through both Houses, which bans all rent rises from for one year from November 2016 with the option for Parliament to renew the ban at the end of the year

Dr Duncan Pickard, farmer and author

Duncan argued that and annual ground rent should be paid to government by the owners of all unused and developable land and empty property immediately to capture for the public benefit a proportion of the increase in the value of land which would otherwise enter the pockets of national and international speculators, and which they have done nothing to earn.  

Where many focus on the urban when it comes to housing, Duncan offers his own personal insight and fresh analysis on the decimation of rural communities through both the farming industry and the land it entails. Duncan locates the problem in the perverse tax system which favours investment in residential property and penalises employment and trade via income taxes and VAT. The result for rural communities is the financial unviability of smaller farms, and rural communities that transform into mostly holiday homes of the wealthy who live and work in cities. He therefore proposes:

  • Introducing an Annual Ground Rent on all unused, developable land in urban areas
  • Charging more Council Tax for houses which are second, third and above than for primary houses. Houses which are vacant for more than a month should pay Council Tax, the amount charged increases the longer the house is vacant.
  • Plans should be prepared to replace taxes on employment and trade with Annual Ground Rent to reduce the present unfair taxation of those who live and work in peripheral areas of the UK.

Stephen Hill, Director, C2O Futureplanners

Stephen concedes the many things needed to be done to solve the housing crisis, some big and structural, and some more micro solutions. He identifies three immediate problems he would look to solve. Firstly he believes that Professional Surveyors and Planners don’t work in the public interest. Secondly he views the political elites as taking a skewed approach of self-interest when it comes to the housing crisis, and thirdly he believes metropolitan elites as failing to comprehend the localised nature of the housing crisis, instead taking a scattergun, one size fits all, London-centric approach.

Stephen therefore puts forward the following solutions:

  • Make professional surveyors and planners accountable to the public through a system of registered appraisers, public interest declarations, a public interest sounding board, and thought leadership.
  • Political elites need to also be made accountable to the public, through a UK Housing Evidence Centre that is put on a statutory footing, independent of government, with the responsibility of fact checking, giving an evidence base of all UK housing and labour markets, and offering a Policy Impact Assessment
  • Share responsibility with citizens everywhere so that land is owned and used only to benefit the local community. Ensure locally accountable democratic control through Community Land Trusts.

Fred Harrison, Director, The Land Research Trust

Fred strongly argues that fundamental issue at present, is the way poverty remains largely non-politicised. This should not be the case: the tax system favours land values against income, resulting in what he describes as ‘Death by Acts of Parliament’. There is therefore an inherent need to change the fiscal system to rid us of deadweight taxes which cost the economy around £500 billion through supressing the economy. Instead, Fred argues we need:

  • A national conversation that informs people of the flawed fiscal system that we have
  • A Citizens Rent Dividend that is a benefit by right
  • Parliament to publish 2 key stats: an annual assessment of the nation’s net income, and the annual deadweight losses attributed to Treasury’s preferred taxes

Liz Davies, Barrister, Vice-President, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

The Housing and Planning Act of 2016, is identified by Liz as a law which will significantly exacerbate the housing crisis, making an already bad situation even worse. It should be abolished.  The Act Liz argues, fundamentally changes the duties of the law, requiring local authorities to sell off social housing on the open market instead of giving shelter to those in need. The Pay to stay element of the Act being brought in arbitrarily declares those with higher incomes have to pay much higher rents, rendering it cheaper for many to pay for a mortgage than stay in council accommodation. High value council properties will be sold to fund Housing Associations. Finally the change in tenure stipulation, leading to Local Authorities determining the length of tenure (generally speaking the limit is set at 10 years with some exceptions), leads to unfair instability on those who live in social housing.  

The Act demonstrates the government’s tunnel vision when it comes to solving the housing crisis, as it becomes clear they only recognise the private sector. Liz therefore believes:

  • The Housing and Planning Act must be amended before it passes through Parliament so the assault on social housing is stopped.
  • In the long term it should be repealed.

Dawn Foster, writer and journalist

Dawn reflects on the change in attitude towards housing over her lifetime: in her youth there was no differentiation between home owners, or those in social housing. As she grew older she observed a change in attitude to a point today, where we see housing as assets – and where social housing is stigmatised. She therefore calls for:

“A nationwide programme of house building that suits local needs must get underway”

A change in the attitude towards housing so that we are able to build a diverse housing ecosystem, which serves the needs of all people equally. The critical means of doing this is to make both renting and social housing more acceptable and normalised.