Posts Tagged 'Conservative party'

Are the first cuts the deepest?

What has happened as far as the tally of injustice goes since the election results came out? For a start the election made one of the graphs in Injustice: Why social inequality persists look slightly out of date. As predicted the Conservative segregation index rose even higher than before. If you have a copy of the book turn to page 175 and put an extra dot in the margin, where 2010 would be, at a height of 16.4%. What happened was that on May 6th 2010 the greatest swings towards the Conservatives occurred in the seats where they were most popular to begin with. This is a symptom of a still dividing country, but it is also a quite inefficient way to increase your support. Thus the Tories did not manage to secure an overall majority. They increased their vote most in the seats they already held. In some of the poorer parts of Britain, and especially in Scotland, the votes for Labour actually increased. The Liberals were squeezed out and lost seats in the middle of this polarisation. They ended up sharing power as no one could rule without them.

Today we saw the beginnings of what this increased political polarisation means, the very first cuts were announced. Among them George Osborne declared the demise ever slowly slightly redistributive Child Trust Fund, cutting payments of £320 million in 2010 and £520 million a year from 2011-2012. In the fund’s place he announced new funding of an almost charitable nature: An extra £20 million each year from 2011 being spent on addition respite care, 8000 one week long breaks for severely disabled children.

What you should expect is much more of this. Cutting something which is actually redistributive and replacing it with something that costs only a tenth as much and is useful but tokenistic – aimed at the most ‘deserving’ of cases. Thus some 4000 council houses will be built; a paltry number, but just enough to salve a few consciences. It would be very better to reduce the wealth of the richest so many gave up their spare homes which others could then use. Similarly, there would have been no need for a Child Trust Fund in the first place had income differential not widened under New Labour.

Other cost cutting is also indicative of what kind of the world the Conservative-Liberal coalition would like to see emerge. David Laws, the Liberal Chief Secretary to the treasury, suggested that the £45 million annual first class travel by public servants should be curtailed. This is good, but far better not to be running train carriages designed for different social classes into the twenty-first century in the first place. It is far simpler just to begin to abandon first class tickets for anyone, and the kind of thing a country that has just become a great deal poorer might have to begin to think of doing (to use track space more efficiently). Would David Cameron’s dream of a big society still have first and second class travel, with just public sector workers, students, families and lower private sector management and anyone else not quite like him in ‘economy’? I worry that is their dream. Too many still want a more unequal world.

Daniel Dorling, author of Injustice: Why social inequality persists

Why the Right to Buy policy was so successful

How do you judge whether a policy has worked or not? Obviously, this is an important question, but the answer is by no mean clear cut. The reason I say this is because in my new book, Housing Policy Transformed: the Right to Buy and the Desire to Own, I argue that the most successful piece of public policy since the Second World War is the Right to Buy (RTB), which allowed social tenants to buy their dwelling at a considerable discount. Yet the RTB must be one of the most hated policies ever enacted. It is accused of causing a massive increase in homelessness, the residualisation of social housing and helped to create the apparently fatal fetishisation of owner occupation that led to the crash in the housing market in 2007.

So how can we claim that the RTB was so successful? The complaints about the RTB are all concerned with the effects of the policy on other issues rather than the policy itself. But if you look at the explicit aims of policy as set out in 1978 it is clear that the RTB achieved exactly what it was set up do. The Conservatives had two purposes: first, to extend owner occupation more widely amongst working class households, and second, to diminish the influence of local authorities over rented housing.

So when we consider that 2.5 million households bought their dwelling and local authorities now own less than 2 million dwellings instead of the 6 million in 1979 we must conclude that the RTB worked spectacularly well. The policy achieved precisely what the government intended it to.

So why is this not recognised in the literature? The reason is that virtually all the discussion on the RTB is conducted on the basis of the integrity of social housing. Quite simply, most academics and commentators see that social housing is a more legitimate tenure than owner occupation. Social housing is taken as the normal tenure around which the others ought to be judged. Therefore, what happens to social housing is all that matters.

Yet clearly this view is absurd when we consider the manner in which governments have to operate within the real world, where a majority of households are owner occupiers and a significant part of the minority aspire to it. Political parties, if they wish to get elected, have to respond to the aspirations of their populations, and this means that owner occupier will always be seen as more important than social housing.

Peter King
Centre for Comparative Housing Policy, Department of Public Policy, De Montfort University
Housing policy transformed: The right to buy and the desire to own is now available with 25% discount.
Peter King was interviewed for the article ’30 years on, the right to buy revolution that still divides Britain’s housing estates’ in The Observer, click here to read more.


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