Stephen Greenhalgh is leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council and heads up the Conservative Councils Innovation Unit, which is tasked with "formulating a bold Conservative blueprint for local government". John Moss is a Chartered Surveyor who has worked in regeneration for over twenty years and worked on the Party’s regeneration policy review under Lord Heseltine; he contested Hackney South and Shoreditch in 2005. Here they preview their forthcoming paper on the reform of social housing.
On the day of the first Opposition social housing debate for three years, we ask here whether this is the time to reform social housing. It may not be an issue for the current intake of Conservative MPs at this time, but it will become an issue for many new MPs elected from target marginals which have far higher levels of social housing. Figures supplied to Greg Hands MP from the Commons Library show that shadow housing minister Grant Shapps's seat (Welwyn Hatfield) has the highest percentage of social rented housing of any Conservative seat. Some key targets have huge percentages: Hammersmith at 36%, Westminster North at 30% and Birmingham Edgbaston and Battersea both at 29%.
Whilst Conservatives are at a highpoint in local government, we still have a mountain to climb in our inner cities. We have no Conservative councillors in Liverpool, Sheffield or Newcastle and just one in Manchester. Many inner London boroughs remain either Labour or Liberal Democrat-run. Our control of Birmingham relies on what Mike Whitby terms "a rainbow coalition" with the Lib-Dems, and in Leeds we rely on the Greens as well. Finally Boris Johnson's stunning victory in our capital city was largely a suburban revolt. Why is this?
The current state and levels of social housing in our inner cities may provide part of the answer. All our inner cities have relatively high levels of social housing compared to their suburbs. Today social housing has become welfare housing where both a dependency culture and a culture of entitlement predominate. Two thirds of social tenants of working age are unemployed and only 22% are in full time employment. 50% of social housing is located in the most deprived 20% of the country. Competition revolves around drawing welfare support and taking something out of the system. Conservative principles of freedom, self-reliance and personal responsibility run counter to this culture. Calling for the state to provide a “hand up instead of a hand out” is unlikely to resonate