Joan Smith: When is a house not a home? When it's a council house

Share
Related Topics

We know how strongly the Conservative Party feels about where people live. Home is very important to Tory politicians, so much so that their ambition is to lift the inheritance tax threshold so that families can more easily stay there. The proposal delighted Middle England when it was announced in 2007, and it's only the annoying circumstance of a financial crisis that's persuaded the present government to postpone it. Clearly it's unfair for families to be faced with selling much-loved homes after 20 years or more just to pay death duties. Stable communities where people know their neighbours and support each other are central to the Big Society.

Scrub all that when it comes to social housing. Local authority tenants need to understand that they don't have homes but temporary accommodation, apportioned to their exact needs, and if they want more flexibility they must join the ranks of owner-occupiers. From next year, council tenants who claim benefits will face financial restrictions similar to those in private rented accommodation; if changes in their circumstances mean that they have too much room, their housing benefit will be cut to persuade them to face reality.

Here's the policy, from the impact assessment published last week alongside the Government's Welfare Bill: "Where claimants are currently living in accommodation which is considered too large for their needs, the housing benefit restriction will provide an incentive to move to more suitably sized accommodation." An "incentive" sounds attractive but what it means in this instance is being threatened with eviction. Of course elderly Mr Patel or 84-year-old Mrs O'Grady will be perfectly free to stay where they are if they choose to make up the shortfall in rent from their own resources; the Government isn't heartless, you know. And local authorities could cut rents, just as ministers challenged landlords to do when they announced similar proposals for the private rented sector.

Up to 700,000 people may have to leave their homes – sorry, temporary accommodation – when the measures come into force. Under the new rules, a separate bedroom is required only for each cohabiting couple and for adults over 21, so a family with two teenage daughters would be regarded as "under-occupying" a three-bedroom council house. So would an elderly woman who has been sharing a two-bedroom flat with her sister, as soon as the latter dies. It's not clear where the thousands of newly homeless will go, given that there's a national shortage of 240,000 one-bedroom properties, but that's a detail. So, apparently, is being forced to move to an unfamiliar new area.

I grew up in council houses which I regarded as home. My parents wallpapered and gardened, in the belief that we had more than a passing connection with the property. I now see the error of my ways, and the self-indulgence of my parents in choosing to live in the old Rothschild mansion in Gunnersbury Park, west London. My dad was offered a flat there because he was a council gardener. But that doesn't excuse my family having ideas above its station.

You can rely on Tory ministers and their middle-class Lib Dem chums to keep the unruly masses in their place. There is a difference between Judy O'Grady and the Colonel's Lady: only the latter is entitled to more bedrooms than she strictly needs.



www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect