Housing Minister Yvette Cooper’s ‘assurances‘ that proposals to free up larger social housing units will not compel those who are under occupying to move out of their homes is an insane development which shows the timidity of Ministers.
Figures suggest there are almost as many under occupying households as over crowded ones and, as any council or housing association housing officer will tell you, a significant number of under occupiers are recipients of housing and council tax benefits – the state is paying people to stay in large homes they cannot afford and do not need at the expense of families who are being forced into the private rental market.
However difficult it may be for us to accept, when politicians of all shades condemn ever rising council tax bills, when half a million families are overcrowded, when millions more cannot afford to buy a home or get access to affordable social housing it cannot be right for council tax payers to subsidise people in this way.
Cooper said: “We know it’s really important to many people to stay in the homes where they brought up their families and which hold happy memories for them, and there’s absolutely no question of this initiative applying to them.”
But private homeowners who cannot afford the running costs of their properties come to a point where they have to sell regardless of emotional ties or memories – there’s no endless pot of state aid for them so why are social landlord tenants treated differently?
If we lived in a housing utopia where we didn’t have thousands sleeping rough and hundreds of thousands squeezed into too small properties where would the harm be in allowing people to stay in their current properties?
But we don’t live in that world, we live in one where many families lack decent homes because current occupiers are denying families the chances they had.
Councils however have helped create the current shortages of family size properties by showing little pragmatism and imagination.
I know of many cases where older people have applied to be moved to smaller properties but with a spare bedroom to have their grandchildren come to stay.
Maddeningly many councils simply won’t allow this, once you accept you have to move you’re allocated a pokey one bedroom flat, often above street level, condemning you to a life without overnight visits and trips to the shops only on those days the lifts work.
For the sake of denying a two bedroom flat the council then looses a much needed four or five bedroom property.
Under occupiers should be treated with respect, decency and compassion but we need to face up to the reality of allowing people to hog a valuable public resource for which they no longer have a need.