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Grant Shapps MP: How the innovative Conservative house-swap scheme would give social tenants nationwide mobility

SHAPPS GRANT Grant Shapps MP is Shadow Housing Minister and explains here the policy he announced this week of a national house swap scheme.

Here's something that not a lot of people know. If you happen to live in social housing - in other words your landlord is the local council or a Housing Association - then you are four times less likely to have moved home in the past year than your private sector counterpart.

Does this really matter?

I guess that just depends on whether you've got a desire to relocate, perhaps for work or family reasons. Sadly, if you do, then you're going to find that moving home is actually a big problem.

Surprisingly, there's no nationwide house-swap scheme which would allow you to move from your current area to where you need to be for that new job. And as a result, even for those social housing tenants who managed to move in the past few years, a third went less than one mile from their old home and just one in ten moved further than ten miles.

In other words, if you're in social housing the system expects you to stay put, more or less forever. Your aspirations are squeezed, your expectations lowered, and your horizons limited. Automatically - if not intentionally - you are being treated like a second class citizen.

So, ironically, social housing is actually polarising society, driving the 'haves' and 'have nots' further apart.

Of course tenants, understandably, don't want to give up the security of their home to take a chance and move around the country in pursuit of work. So in areas of economic decline where jobs - particularly in manufacturing - have disappeared, this lack of mobility has hastened the creation of sink estates with unemployment and deprivation all too prevalent.

And it's not just the individual families who are affected... we all lose.

This section of the workforce is too immobile... our economy ever more lop-sided... and our housing stock underutilised. For these reasons, it's never been more important that we create opportunities for social tenants to move with security and that's why we'll introduce a nationwide social house-swap programme.

But rather than setting up a centrally held database and expecting the government to run the scheme out of the departmental offices, our solution is more dynamic and innovative.

Remember when communication used to be restricted and expensive? Now it's possible to have a conversation with a friend on the other side of the planet using Skype, at no cost and for as long as you like. Where information used to be slow to move around the globe,  now it can be sent thousands of miles at the click of a mouse with both sides able to view and edit ideas in real-time.

With all these innovations the market has led the way - Amazon, Google, Twitter, eBay. In this world of internet connectivity, we are able to jump online and buy insurance using Compare The Market. And instantly we've done the job of the insurance broker by searching multiple databases and finding the most competitive quote.

With another few clicks we've bought the insurance and saved fifty quid in the process. As the Meerkat might say. Simples!

Yet for some reason no-one has yet embraced the internet to inject mobility into social housing. My local authority which - by the way is an excellent social landlord - is nonetheless typical. They've just introduced a scheme which means that, for the first time, you can move from Welwyn Hatfield to... two other locations within Hertfordshire.

Great. But we can and must do better than this.

When one of my constituents wants to move from Hertfordshire to Herefordshire... that should be possible too. Social housing mobility is still stuck in the Twentieth Century. Yet nowadays, with the notable exception of some good work done by budding online home-swap sites, social housing has still largely missed the online revolution.

So this week I've announced that a future Conservative government will facilitate that nationwide affordable-house-swap programme.

We will introduce an Open Database Connectivity platform to ensure that - for the first time ever - every family in social housing will have the chance to relocate by exchanging their home for another one - anywhere in the country.

By ensuring that home-swap information is provided in an Open Data format, entrepreneurial businesses will be able to create even more innovative housing-exchange services. Perhaps they'll text you when they find your ideal home-swap. And rather than having to travel to see it you'll immediately be able to take a virtual 360 degree tour of your prospective new home.

Who knows what great ideas will spring up once we encourage real enterprise and innovation into the house-swap sector.  The Government's job is not to build these systems from scratch, nor to construct rival websites to the commercial services already out there.

Instead, it is to agree and facilitate a data format which can be used to create a nationwide affordable home-swap programme. And that's precisely what we will do.


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