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Policymakers have ignored key worker housing for too long

As we start to look forward to the recovery, it is right that the government focuses on sustaining and creating jobs, especially within the key sectors of hospitality and tourism. Here the whole property industry has a critical role to play in supporting this agenda, especially through the increased provision of housing in inner London, which is both accessible and affordable, for not only those key workers who have been providing essential services during the current crisis, but crucially those working in the very sectors the government is actively seeking to support.

Although we are still very much in the response phase of the current COVID-19 crisis, significant attention is already being paid to the recovery phase, and the detailed plans to facilitate the gradual re-start of the UK’s economy. As well as recovery, there is also the longer-term lessons learned from the pandemic to ensure that the country is better equipped in the future to deal with any future public health crisis.

Whilst it is too early to draw firm conclusions and recommendations, both from an economic as well as a societal perspective, one obvious consideration is starting to emerge strongly. Namely, that we need to ensure that as a country we have a much greater resilience across key public sector roles, such as health and social care, and that we fundamentally review the definition of a ‘key worker’ to recognise those workers, often in relatively low-paid jobs, who keep the UK functioning.

Nowhere is this recognition more needed than in how we look to develop national, regional and local housing policies that seek to embed that resilience right at the heart of the communities where these workers are needed the most. Underlying this resilience is the need to house key workers in locations close to their work regardless of broader housing market pricing.

For many years Dolphin Living have championed, in a London context, the need for those workers who ‘keep the city alive’, and the need to increase the supply of key worker affordable housing in locations these workers want to live.

This reflects our primary charitable objective of providing homes in central London at below market rents that allows working Londoners on modest incomes to live close to their place of work. Our residents comprise not only those traditional key workers who have played such a crucial role during this crisis, such as health workers, the emergency services and teachers, but also those who play a key role in delivering and supporting London’s infrastructure over the longer-term.

Dolphin Living fundamentally believes that the need for housing for key workers in central locations has been evidenced by the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to new ways of working.

This crisis has forced us challenge many of the assumptions we have made about how our cities function. In particular we need to reconsider the notion that we can accommodate key workers on the fringes of London and beyond, yet still depend upon them in times of emergency to be available 24/7, often with little or no transport infrastructure to support them. This approach will surely result in a loss of key workers to central London as long commutes are even less desirable in light of the pandemic.

As a response we need to fundamentally review how we provide sustainable critical services alongside additional investment to support housing for keyworkers where they are most needed. The current issues relating to transport capacity considering social distancing disproportionately impact upon many of those we would define as key workers, who often cannot afford any alternative other than public transport and cannot work from home.

However, that is not to suggest that we should be seeking to deliver these new homes without some consideration around the locations and housing key workers actually want to live in. For it would be a mistake to look to re-create the police accommodation blocks of old without any notion of genuine and real choice for the key workers upon whom we all rely.

This notion of locational choice is something we have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing following polling we commissioned YouGov to undertake. Perhaps unsurprisingly we found that commuting time is a top priority for working London renters: 56% ranked the distance or travel time to work in their top three priorities, and over a quarter (27%) ranked this factor first. Similarly, 55% ranked having public transport available within ten minutes’ walk in their top three priorities, and a fifth (20%) ranked the factor first.

When we analysed the findings further we found that a clear majority (65%) of working London renters believe that an acceptable commute time is up to around 45 minutes, and nearly all (92%) think it should be no more than one hour.

Housing delivery in recent years has focused on those in the direst need both economically and socially, subsidised by market housing that in London is unaffordable to median earners. An unintended consequence of this approach, in high value areas particularly, means that little thought has been given to the needs and wants of the key workers upon whom we rely, as highlighted by this pandemic.

Therefore, we are asking that the government’s recovery strategy commits to a massive expansion of affordable house building, including a significant proportion of intermediate rental housing, within London as part of the overall pledge to support the capital’s economy.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Olivia Harris</span></strong>
Olivia Harris

Olivia was appointed as Chief Executive in April 2017. Previously, Olivia was Finance Director at Dolphin Living, providing financial and commercial oversight on a wide range of property and related projects, including debt and fund raising.

Olivia is a Chartered Accountant and has worked for more than 15 years in the property industry and is Chair of the Westminster Property Association.

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London Housing Budget in a Pickle

By Nicky Gavron AM, Labour’s Housing and Planning Spokesperson on the London Assembly.
The coalition government has slashed London’s housing budget by 60 per cent, although you wouldn’t know it from the press release. Under the cover of giving new powers to City Hall, a budget of £3 billion has been spun to mask the huge cutsLondon faces.
Boris Johnson described Eric Pickles’ £3 billion settlement as “excellent”. But it is nothing of the sort.
Not a penny of Pickles’ money is new. It was all previously within existing London budgets, including:

  • Money the government pledged to the Olympic Park Legacy Company (which soon becomes the new Mayoral Development Corporation); and
  • £1.4 million of the now axed London Development Agency’s staffing budget.

The budget trumpeted most by the Mayor – £1.9 billion for housing – is a 60 per cent cut on the amount given to London in 2008 by the previous Labour government.
The Labour settlement gave London more money over three years than the Tories are now giving the whole country over four.
Could anyone take this spin as anything other than an attempt to mask the huge cuts to housing and regeneration inLondon?
With this reduced budget settlement for London come a host of new powers and responsibilities. The Mayor accurately describes the new powers as a “landmark” for the city. We agree. Labour has always supported more housing and regeneration powers for City Hall, especially when we are in the grip of a housing crisis.
Rents are rocketing and supply is plummeting across all sectors. But, faced with these challenges, what is the Mayor doing with his new powers?
He does not have a single policy to deal with extortionate private sector rents – believing it should be left completely to the market. And on the supply of affordable homes even he admits his policy is completely unsustainable. Housing associations will be forced to make up the shortfall left by government cuts by borrowing excessively – a policy that threatens their long-term viability.
When seeking election the Mayor said there was capacity to build 40,000 homes on land under City Hall’s control. In typical Johnson style he promised to “put his land where his mouth is”.
But this pledge has gone unmet. Housing completions on land he controls have plummeted to less than half the number Ken Livingstone delivered.
Under Boris Johnson London has more powers but things are going backwards. We urgently need a Mayor with a real plan who can use all the levers now at City Hall’s disposal to tackleLondon’s housing crisis.
Nicky Gavron can be followed on twitter @nickygavron and at
London Labour Housing Group can be followed on twitter @fairdealldnhsg and on the Fair Deal for London Housing Facebook page!/groups/FairDealforLondonHousing/ 

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Ken's book: wickedly droll with some good stuff about housing

With most reviews focusing on his relationships and children, I got the wrong impression
of what Ken Livingstone’s autobiography might be like.
The book’s title, ‘You can’t say that’, seemed particularly apt this week when some rather
humourless Tories in Hammersmith got upset when he said they should all be put in prison for their housing policies, adding ‘And if there’s any justice you will burn in hell and your flesh will be flayed for demons for all eternity’. Not noted for Paisley-like fire and brimstone views, and having himself been called every name under the sun by
Tories over the years, you would think even they would be able to spot a little rhetorical flourish.  Ken is, after all, ‘wickedly droll and gossipy’ according to publishers.  And it wasn’t him that compared the Government’s housing benefit policies to ‘Kosovo-style cleansing’.
The book tells the story of four decades of politics in London and Ken’s dominant part in it.  Probably best identified by his maverick role in the Labour Party, his elevation of transport policies to the top of political agendas, his key role in the winning of the Olympics and the memorable way he spoke on behalf of all Londoners after the 7/7 bombings, Ken’s 40 year record in promoting better housing is less well-known.
But it is hugely impressive nonetheless.  In Lambeth, in Camden, at the GLC and as Mayor, Ken has consistently supported – and more important, delivered – the building of more genuinely affordable homes, more family homes, and more mixed communities.  He has campaigned vigorously against bad landlords and fought to make public housing more responsive to tenants – long before it became the vogue.  He believed in proper housing strategies based on evidence and he fought for the resources necessary to implement them.
He became full time Chair of Housing in Camden in the 1970s and says he found it ‘exhilarating to be running something again’.  He gives credit to council leaders Frank Dobson and Roy Shaw for finding the resources to support council housebuilding, pointing out that ‘we were building 2,000 new homes a year, at which rate families on the waiting list would all have been rehoused within a decade.’  And his other policy priorities were all about people and not just about courting political popularity: ‘I humanised the way we treated homeless families, cut the number of those in bed and breakfast to under 20 and passed empty homes to a short life housing association.’
Fast forward to his Election as London Mayor in 2000.  The most common statement made about housing at the time was that the Mayor had few if any housing powers.  But
a combination of the imaginative use of planning powers through the London Plan and genuine leadership brought housing towards the centre of his mayoralty’s achievements.  His policies in favour of affordable homes made a huge difference to what was happening on the ground in London, changed the mind set of developers and social housing providers alike, and his ambition for the east end opened up huge opportunities for new homes in new communities in what was virtually a new city – given huge impetus by the winning of the Olympics.
Towards the end of his administration, before the forces of darkness took control of London, he tells the story of being summoned to meet Gordon Brown – with whom he had a few rows over the years – shortly after Brown succeeded Tony Blair.  The story reflects the ambition of both to invest in new homes, to create jobs and to get growth through construction.  He says: ‘Brown planned to build 3m new homes by ending Blair’s ban on building council houses.  Giving me £5bn to build 50,000 homes and the power to draw up London’s Housing Strategy and decide where to build meant that this would be London’s biggest housing programme since the 1970s.  Now I could stop boroughs agreeing housing schemes which had no affordable housing in them and insist on an increase in three- four- and five bedroom homes to 40 per cent of the total.’
Ambitious yet practical.  Principled yet pragmatic.  Housing policies that worked for the poorest but also worked for ordinary Londoners in all tenures.  Understanding London’s needs and making London’s case at every available opportunity.  And the occasional colourful phrase (rather like his opponent).  Ken deserves to run London again and to end the complacency about housing that symbolises the Johnson years.  And for people wanting a better idea about what makes Ken tick, the book’s not a bad read.
Ken Livingstone, ‘You can’t say that’, published by Faber and Faber

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Housing horrors

A new campaign launched by Ken Livingstone
Rip-off agency fees. Deposits lost unfairly. Rogue landlords evicting tenants with little notice and hiking rent with no warning.  Smashed windows, faulty locks and broken fridges not being fixed for weeks or months. Rodent infestations. Damp and mouldy bathrooms being left to rot.
These are just some of the housing horror stories Londoners renting in the capital have told me about in recent months. But I am under no illusions that there are many more out there.
Hundreds of thousands of people live in the private rented sector across London and I am determined to stand up for ordinary Londoners and improve housing for all.
In the coming months I will be setting out ambitious plans to improve the private rented sector which will be shaped by the experiences of Londoners.
I’m urging people to  tell me about their housing experiences so that if elected I can take action to improve housing for all.
You can leave your story on my website (click on the link at the top of the page), or get in touch on my facebook page, or on twitter using the hashtag #housinghorrors
Ken Livingstone

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Boris Johnson’s housing strategy: it’s all smoke and mirrors

When you strip away the froth and the gimmicks, the more Boris Johnson publishes about his housing strategy for London the more it looks like a plan for the gentrification of large areas of the capital.  No more social housing funded from his London pot, just ‘affordable rent’ at much higher rents.  An end to the ‘50% affordable’ target in housing development.
No social rent targets set for the boroughs.  No mitigation of the government’s Local Housing Allowance caps and the cap on total benefits, which even he fears might lead to ‘Kosovo-style cleansing’ of poor people from some parts of the city.
Johnson’s recently published London Plan, which will determine development over the next decade, has been well critiqued by Labour’s Nicky Gavron in the Guardian. She shows how the plan’s overall housing target is inadequate to meet London’s needs, but reserves her strongest criticisms for his policies for social housing and Johnson’s decision to remove Ken Livingstone’s planning policy that 50% of new homes should be affordable
and that, of those, 70% should be for social rent.  These policies were based on detailed
assessments of housing need and the capacity of sites to deliver, and were beginning to have real effect.  They were also supported by the independent Inspector responsible for
investigating Johnson’s proposals.  All the inspector’s key recommendations have been ignored or over-ridden by Johnson and Eric Pickles, it appears on ideological grounds.
Why smoke and mirrors?  Well, Johnson talks the talk but he walks a very different walk.  He may be a card, but he is at heart a highly ideological Tory.  Just like his fellow Bullingdon boy, David Cameron, the compassionate talk and the occasionally progressive idea hide the harsh market-driven policy.  For example, despite saying that he didn’t want London to become like Paris “where the less well off are pushed out to the suburbs” his plan proposes building market housing in areas where there is a lot of social housing to provide a better mix but then fails to ensure that social housing will be built in areas of mainly market housing to create more mixed communities everywhere.  It seems nowhere
is appropriate for social housing.  He gives the go-ahead to his friends in the boroughs to remove social housing in so-called regeneration schemes, homes that will not be adequately replaced.  Taken together with the government’s housing benefit policies, we now have a fully fledged policy of removing social housing, failing to build any more, and encouraging the social segregation of the city.  His policies will make London like Paris but
Why smoke and mirrors?  Well, just published, his latest consultation document – Initial Proposals for a Revised London Housing Strategy continues to claim credit for the delivery of social rented homes as if he really cares about having a balanced housing programme.  Housing development is a very long process and the social rented homes he’s talking about are mainly the completion of those that were started under the programme for 2008-11 that was set by Ken Livingstone and the Labour government before leaving office.
Why smoke and mirrors?  To understand the mayor’s real housing policy we have to look at his first unfettered decisions – the new programme for 2011-2015 – which virtually excludes funding for new social rented homes.  Any new social rented homes that get built in future will either be subsidy-free (for example as a result of s.106 agreements) or will be built with local borough subsidy (eg through free land) or directly by the councils themselves.  Johnson replaces homes for social rent with housing at ‘affordable rent’ levels (up to 80% of market rents).  He claims in his document that this is a great achievement – providing ‘affordable’ homes with far lower levels of public subsidy.  Magic.  But the truth is that the rents are not affordable, the cost is transferred to the occupier or, if the occupier is eligible, onto the housing benefit bill.  It is a less direct and less efficient way of providing homes.  Despite the government’s protestations that it wants to make it easier to get into work, the scheme’s high rents make it harder.
Throughout, the real aim, to ‘marketise’ housing and remove social housing as a concept, is hidden from public view.
And the man with a shock of white hair, a top hat, a few jokes and a droopy magic wand, releases the blue smoke, flashes the bright lights and deploys the mirrors.  The trick is complete.
Cue applause.  Or catcalls – because he’s been rumbled.

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Less for Less for London: Boris in a spin over affordable housing

Boris ‘codswallop’ Johnson’s failures in housing are becoming clearer as the London mayoral Election campaign hots up.  It may be that his calamities in other areas achieve bigger headlines – dismissing the importance of the hacking scandal was a very big misjudgement, and losing so many senior police officers seems slightly careless – and he has begun to show a grumpy side to his character that belies his carefully crafted jovial upper class twit image.
London was starting to do well in housing when Johnson took over in 2008.  Ken Livingstone’s London Plan and Housing Strategy policies were beginning to bite and have real effect, policies such as the 50% affordable target across London were well known and understood by developers, and, despite the global financial crisis, Ken had secured the largest housing budget for decades from the Labour Government.  The Homes and Communities Agency outturn statement confirms that expenditure between 2008 and 2011 (ie the period covering Ken’s planned programme) in London was £3,753m, £1,251m a year over three years.
The newly announced programme of £157m a year for four years represents a cut of 87% and the gap will have to be made up by much greater housing association borrowing.  In April Stephen Howlett, then Chair of the G15 Group of major Housing Associations, told the London Assembly Planning and Housing Committee: “I think one calculation is that, to deliver the Mayor’s programme, will take as much private money over the next four years as associations have borrowed since 1988 to deliver the homes in London. Those exact figures are open to comment but I have to emphasise that housing associations in London will be taking on enormously increased debt and risk as a result of this.
Commenting on the announcement by the Mayor and the Homes and Communities Agency on the allocation of funding for affordable house building to London, Nicky Gavron AM, Labour Group Spokesperson for Planning and Housing on the London Assembly, said:

Despite the Mayor putting a brave face on it, London is getting less for less.
The new information is that the Mayor has been given only £627 million to spend on affordable housing between 2011 and 2015. This is a cut to London of 87% compared with the previous funding round.
From 2008 the last Government gave London £5bn to spend on affordable housing, of which £3.7bn was used to deliver 50,000 affordable homes by 2011. Johnson missed this deadline and £1.1bn of this new package is to finish the job and is committed to homes  already in the pipeline.
To make up for the Government’s cuts, the private sector contributions of £2.5bn announced in his press release will come from borrowing by housing associations. This is more in four years than they have collectively borrowed since the late 80s. This model  of funding is not sustainable.
The settlement also confirms that 1,500 homes in the pipeline and funded under the previous Government’s programme as social housing – the lowest-cost housing for rent, which is so desperately needed – have been lost in London because they will now be converted to the so called ‘Affordable Rent’* model. In many cases this will double rents for low-income households in London and price many families out of the housing market.
In the context of housing benefit caps, welfare reforms and rising homelessness, the growing need in London is for low rent family housing. But this deal is particularly damaging for families. We understand that only around 30% of the homes will be family sized. This seriously undermines Boris Johnson’s pledge that 42% of new homes should be for families, a fact omitted from his announcement.

*The London Assembly Planning and Housing Committee recently published a report on the impact of the Affordable Rent model on London, the findings of which are summarised here.

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Housing policy will lead the way for Labour, says Livingstone

Labour’s housing policy will help lead the country out of the ‘turgid economic trough’ being created by the Tories, Ken Livingstone told a packed London Labour Housing Group conference on Saturday.  ‘Investment to create 100,000 new homes would create three-quarters of a million jobs’ the mayoral candidate told the conference, called to debate housing policies for London to be included in next year’s manifesto. 
Describing the fight for the mayoralty as a ‘mid-term election’ Ken argued that Labour needed to redefine housing policy as a key part of economic policy as well as being important in itself in meeting the housing needs of low and middle income Londoners.  One of the jobs of the new mayor will be to draw up a major programme of housebuilding ready for the return of a Labour government. 
The Tories have abandoned the idea of mixed communities in London, he said, but Labour will always build a mix of homes for a mix of people on a wide range of incomes, just as it had done in the past.  Ken also reminded the conference that effective campaigns on housing had forced major u-turns from both the Heath and Thatcher governments and could do so again with the coalition. 
Karen Buck MP, shadow minister for welfare reform, told the conference that the Tory government’s policies in the Localism and Welfare Reform Bills would have a huge impact on London and could force tens of thousands of people to move – all searching for cheaper areas.  The policies would also be counter-productive – leading to higher rents in all tenures and far greater homelessness – making it impossible for them to make their savings.
Karen said that the policies directly contradicted the Tories’ claim that they wanted to incentivise people to get back to work.  They had almost completely forgotten that housing benefit is also an in-work benefit  – over 40% of people receiving local housing allowance were in work in some boroughs – the losses would make it impossible for many of them to remain in work. 
Setting the context for the conference, Nicky Gavron AM, Labour’s housing and planning lead on the London Assembly, said that more and more people were seeing housing as a key battleground for the mayoral election.  The difference between the two mayors could not be more stark.  Ken’s legacy was strong, Nicky argued.  There was a strong planning framework, the best housing record since the 1970s, the highest level of capital investment ever and a massive land bank ready for development.  Johnson had squandered this inheritance and virtually all his housing claims could be dated back to Ken’s administration.  He was undermining the planning system, scrapping Ken’s targets especially the 50% affordable target and the emphasis on social rented homes.  The government’s own inspector had criticised Johnson’s polices, saying his targets were too low, he should keep the 50% London-wide affordable housing target, and should support social rented housing provision.  Johnson caved in to his Tory friends in the boroughs, allowing them to cut affordable housing.  Only the Labour boroughs are keeping London’s affordable housebuilding going. 
The conference, with representatives from all areas of London, inner and outer, debated a series of detailed policy proposals for the manifesto, including policies to increase housing supply, to meet the needs of the poorest and most socially excluded households, to help the ‘squeezed middle’, and to guarantee the future of social housing in the capital.  The policies will be developed further before the manifesto is published.   
Labour Party members interested in joining the Labour Housing Group should follow this link.  London members interested in the work of London LHG should contact

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Progressive London: Housing foundations for the future

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

This year’s Progressive London’s conference takes place on 19th February and housing will be top of the agenda with session entitled “Housing – Foundations for the Future” which will discuss the progressive alternatives to the present housing policies that experts believe will force 80,000 Londoners to leave their homes.

Labour Mayoral Candidate Ken Livingstone, who is hosting the Conference, said: “The Tories’ attitude to housing can be clearly seen by the results of their policies in London. Between 2000 and 2008 156,181 new homes were built, an average 19,522 a year. Since Boris Johnson was elected in 2008 house building has fallen significantly, just 25,700 new homes, an average of 12,850. If the Tory Government and the Tory mayor’s policies are not reversed then London will become a housing no go area for the ordinary people who keep this city alive. Londoners need homes, homes they can afford, and homes that families can live in.”

Stephen Cowan, Labour Group Leader at Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who will be speaking at the session said: “The present governments housing policy will directly lead to greater segregation and larger poor communities. It has been shown that 80,000 Londoners will be forced to move if changes to housing benefit, the ending of security of tenure and the forcing up of the social housing rent cap to 80% are introduced. Now is the time for Labour to set a new and progressive housing agenda.”

The Progressive London Conference will take place on 19th February 2011 at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS.  More details from

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London Labour Housing off to a flying start

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

Last night’s launch of the London Labour Housing Group was an astonishing event.  Getting on for 200 people packed the Grand Committee Room in Parliament, full to overflowing.  Chaired by Nicky Gavron AM, guest speakers were Ken Livingstone, Karen Buck MP, and Linda Perks from Unison.  Alison Seabeck MP, Labour’s shadow housing minister, popped in from the Committee on the Localism Bill to wish us well.  The audience included MPs, councillors, unionists, tenants and Labour members from all over the capital, with outer London as well represented as inner.

Ken’s speech ranged over 4 decades of housing policy in London, the peaks when boroughs like Camden were producing 2,000 homes a year and the GLC had a target of producing 10,000 a year on top of the boroughs’ efforts, and the troughs when Thatcher was in power and the Tories held County Hall and all programmes were cut back.  If Labour policies had continued through the 1980s, it can confidently be said that London’s post-war housing crisis would have been overcome and the city would be totally different today.  Councils need to build again and we need to find ways of bringing private rents under control.  But our policies must also meet the needs not just of the poorest but of the many Londoners, people earning up to £70K a year, who can no longer afford to buy and also have limited housing options.  As London’s population continues to grow, genuinely radical policies are needed if the capital is not to resemble Paris, with the centre of the city occupied by the rich and the poor consigned to the outskirts.

Karen Buck MP

Karen focused on the changes to housing benefit and the local housing allowance.  She contrasted the number of people predicted to have to move from their local areas under this policy with the furore over Lady Porter in the 1980s; her attempts to remove the poor from Westminster were miniscule compared to what will happen now.  The danger lies in the range of changes combining together to force people on low incomes to move, but increasingly it was being realised that there is nowhere for them to move to.  If people attempt to move from expensive to cheaper areas the impact of the increased demand will be to raise rents at the lower end of the market – which would be catastrophic.  Rising homelessness, growing unemployment, increasing rents, growing dependence on private rented accommodation, all of these pressures would increase the HB bill; the policy would be devastating in effect but counter-productive in saving money. 

Linda emphasised the impact of the cuts on local government in London, and the fact that councils would be cutting back on front line services at just the time that people need them most.  It was important to link what was happening in housing to other sectors, especially health, because it was all part of a single policy to roll back the state.  She stressed the importance of getting maximum support for the TUC national demonstration against the cuts on Saturday 26 March in Hyde Park and pledged Unison’s support for housing campaigns in the coming months. 

There were around 30 contributions from the floor, identifying weaknesses in previous Labour housing policies, the issues being faced in the boroughs, the links between housing, employment, health and education, and ideas for future campaigns.  There was a strong focus on the need to win the Mayoralty in 2012 with a strong and radical housing policy.  The new London LHG will help develop those policies but also support a range of housing campaigns because the issues will not be properly addressed until we have a Labour Mayor in 2012, more Labour boroughs in 2014, and a Labour government whenever the General Election comes.

You can join Labour Housing Group at and contact London Labour Housing Group through

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In praise of Ken (and maybe Boris)

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

Feeling (uncharacteristically since May) in a positive frame of mind, I had planned three posts this week all of which intended to say something good about government policy.  It was only after some cogitation that I realised all three of the ideas I liked were leftovers from Labour administrations but I am willing to give credit where it is due if the coalition picks up and implements sensible reforms.  Unfortunately, of the three – Boris Johnson’s plans for social housing mobility in London, the council housing finance proposals, and strong steps towards encouraging mutualisation in housing – the latter two announcements have been deferred with the Localism Bill from this week until a point in the future.  I certainly don’t feel able to commend the coalition until I’ve seen confirmation of the plans in writing.

So, for the moment, that leaves Mayor Johnson and mobility for social tenants, which will hopefully be a precursor to improvements in mobility for tenants nationally as well.  His consultation paper, introduced in the Mayor’s usual combative style, can in fact be sourced back to Mayor Livingstone’s housing strategy.  Of course, Johnson eschews the opportunity to highlight a bipartisan measure in favour of trying to take all the credit for himself.

Livingstone’s approach to mobility had two drivers in addition to the principle that more mobility for social tenants was a good thing in itself.  First, The London Plan had a major focus on redeveloping swathes of east London where very large housing sites were available and there were huge opportunities to create sustainable new communities (including the Olympic sites).  But if a large and increasing share of London’s available capital resources went to support new affordable homes in only a few boroughs, a mechanism had to found to ensure that the benefits of new development were more widely shared amongst Londoners as a whole.  

Existing sub-regional arrangements, good in themselves, were not enough and a pan-London mobility scheme, starting with a share of new development and growing gradually to take in a share of re-lets across the capital, became an essential element of the Plan.  Secondly, Livingstone identified a particular problem with wheelchair standard and other homes adapted for disabled people.  Frequently such homes were being let to people not in need of them whilst others in dire need were not eligible because they did not live in the same borough.  A wider geographic system and pan-London register of dwellings and households was needed to make best use of these scarce resources.  

These are good examples of circumstances where localism is not enough and a wider area or regional approach is essential for good policy.  Anyone reading the consultation paper will be struck by how complex it can be to achieve a balance between local, sub-regional, regional and cross-regional needs. 

The consultation paper shows some concern that the government’s proposals on tenure (with much more flexibility given to landlords to vary the length and terms of some tenancies) will make mobility schemes harder to operate: users are already often bewildered by the complexity of existing schemes.  And it is also sensible in arguing that the scheme should not incorporate much by way of ‘conditionality’ – such as a requirement that tenants moving must be in or accessing work or training.  

Overall, it must be said, the consultation paper shows little actual progress since Johnson took over, now 2 ½ years ago.  Livingstone had put in place the necessary requirements on landlords as part of the 2008-11 London affordable housing programme.  We should be well beyond the stage of a consultation paper.  The paper itself is still aspirational in tone and a long way from real fruition.  It may be that it will not be implemented until Mayor Livingstone is back on the throne in 2012.

Mobility for London’s social tenants: An HCA London Board Consultation, December 2010.