Saturday, 19 August 2017

Extreme poverty is creating another kind of banking crisis

Food banks symbolise a fractured and failing society

Food banks are emergency lifelines for a growing number of people and they have no place in a supposedly civilised society, writes Mark Cantrell – their existence ought to shame us all

Sunday, 18 June 2017

News Special: A perfect engine for driving homelessness

In a nation with nowhere to call home

They couldn’t have designed it better if they tried. Welfare reform and a lack of genuinely affordable housing have combined to create the perfect vehicle for driving people out of a secure home. No wonder homelessness is rising

By Mark Cantrell

This article first appeared in the April/May edition of Housing

SOONER or later something’s got to give; maybe it already is. Society’s foundations are beginning to buckle under the strain of a housing crisis compounded by welfare reform. Now the cracks are beginning to show, if recent reports on rising homelessness are anything to go by.

But neither the housing crisis, decades in the making, nor the more recent erosion of the social safety net, result from the acts of some malign deity; both are the product of human agency. Quite where conspiracy ends and cock-up takes the upper hand (or is it the other way around?) is anybody’s guess, but the sum total of policy for the best part of a decade appears to have combined to create the perfect mechanism for excluding more and more people from a secure home.

While those on moderate incomes might ‘just about manage’ and somehow cling on, at least for now, inevitably it’s those at the lower end of the income spectrum who are in imminent danger of being priced out of a home – if they haven’t already.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

News Special: Housing White Paper

You’ll never fix the broken market without social housing

The Government’s much-anticipated repair-plan for Britain’s broken housing market is missing a critical part of the fix. It begs the question, do ministers really want to solve the crisis – or just contain it to manageable limits?

By Mark Cantrell

This article first appeared in the February/March 2017 edition of Housing magazine

THE Housing White Paper was billed as a “bold, radical vision” to fix Britain’s broken housing market, but we’ve heard it all before. On the day, the package that finally arrived hardly resonated with originality and it left many feeling decidedly unconvinced.

The White Paper was soon labelled “timid” and “vacuous”. Indeed, shadow housing minister John Healey greeted its publication with an incredulous: “Is that it?” 

Meanwhile, UK Business Insider reported analysts at Barclays Bank were so unimpressed by what they regarded as its lack of substance that they likened it to “homeopathy”. Ouch, so “watered down” it’s not even snake oil, then?

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Cover Story: Britain must put its housing in order if it truly wants to defeat poverty

Plans laid to end age-old scourge

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has issued society with a challenge for the millennium with its bold strategy to end poverty by 2030. But the organisation’s vision will stand or fall on one critical element – a genuine and joined-up solution to the housing crisis

By Mark Cantrell

First appeared in October/November 2016 Housing magazine

POVERTY: it’s as old as human civilisation, so for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) to call time on this most-ancient of ‘institutions’ is quite a bold declaration. 

During those long millennia of history, the issue of poverty and the poor has vexed everyone from priests and prophets to revolutionaries and social reformers; despite some nibbling around the edges, all they’ve managed is some moral finger-pointing, or else a defeated shrug – the poor will always be with us, as the refrain goes.

Not so, says the JRF. In early September, the organisation launched a five-point plan to tackle poverty in the UK within the space of a generation (see below). In two linked publications – ‘UK Poverty: Causes, Costs & Solutions’ and ‘We Can Solve Poverty In The UK’ – the organisation has set out what it described as the most comprehensive strategy of its kind.

All told, the documents make the case that it is well within our capabilities to consign poverty to the history books by 2030. Well, more or less. This is the 21st century, after all; an era born of a couple of centuries’ worth of profound social, cultural, technological and economic advancement (give or take the odd hiccough or catastrophe along the way), and this has bequeathed to us the material means for a progressive approach to human affairs. It’s a question of whether we’re willing to make the effort.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Private landlords are tired of being a scapegoat

We’re in the business of providing homes, just like you

The private rented sector has come in for some stick lately, but it’s currently meeting housing needs other tenures are failing to address. Changes to taxation, however, are threatening the business model and undermining its ability to deliver, argue the two main trade bodies

By Mark Cantrell

First Published in Housing magazine

A thick skin is a must for private landlords, you might think, especially given the private rented sector has taken a lot of flak lately, but while criticisms can be rebuffed, it’s a little harder to fend off attacks on one’s livelihood.

Over the last 10-15 years, the sector has grown considerably; it has overtaken social housing provision as the second largest tenure, and is chasing on the heels of home ownership. But this shift in fortunes has not come without a certain degree of vitriol aimed at private landlords.

Some of this vitriol may be well deserved – no tenure is a paragon of virtue, after all – but there is certainly a sense that private renting is being used as something of a whipping boy for the faults of others. Private landlords may not be under siege in quite the same way, or intensity, as the social sector, but they’ve certainly come under fire.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Getting behind the rent

Lost in translation

New research has claimed an indisputable link between the introduction of Universal Credit and tenants getting behind in their rent. The implications for landlords and tenants alike are significant, but it can be fixed – if the Government is prepared to listen

By Mark Cantrell

This article first appeared in the AugustSeptember edition of Housing 

IRONICALLY, for a welfare benefit supposedly built to better support claimants into work and out of poverty, Universal Credit isn’t quite up to speed when it comes to dealing with some of the realities of life at the bottom of the labour market – and this has implications for landlords.

Rent arrears is a problem; not only is it a direct detriment to a landlord’s income stream, but dealing with the issue is itself a further drain on resources that could be deployed to other effect. What’s more, it can indicate hardships taking root in the communities where they operate for which there may be no immediate and direct solution to hand – just a further strain on resources.

Exasperation might prompt some to accuse tenants in rent arrears of being feckless – incompetent and irresponsible – when it comes to managing their money. For sure, personal mismanagement is a real and present factor in why some people fall behind with the rent, but it’s not the entire story. The reasons for arrears can be many and varied, but recently a further causal factor has been added to the mix, with the publication of research that claims an indisputable link between rent arrears and the introduction of Universal Credit.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Cover Story: May The Lady Be For Turning?

Britain on the blink

Can housing save the economy from the Brexit blues? 

The collapse of David Cameron’s Government opened a Pandora’s Box for Britain, but a window of opportunity for the social housing sector. Can the new Prime Minister be persuaded there’s more to securing a decent home than ownership alone? Well, some voices are willing to try

By Mark Cantrell

First published in the August/September edition of Housing magazine 

THE last couple of months have seen a remarkable uprising against an orthodoxy fervently embraced by Government, but while the ‘old order’ has been swept away (kind of), the legacy of that discarded regime remains a force to be reckoned with.

No, we’re not talking about the Brexit vote, per se, though it certainly threw things into some disarray. For politics junkies, the meltdown in the country’s political leadership may have proved an entertaining circus, but to sober policymakers urgently looking for a little, well, leadership, it has been something of a sorry farce.

The Conservatives sheathed the knives and regrouped first. Now – after Theresa May’s root-and-branch Cabinet reshuffle – Government is back in the business of governing. About time too, it might be said. There’s likely a lot of trouble ahead.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Well, who needs council housing anyway?

Quite a lot of people, actually...

With social housing in decline there’s never been a greater need for councils to strengthen their presence as landlords offering secure, low-cost housing but Government policy threatens to snuff out their new beginning

By Mark Cantrell

This article first appeared on the June/July edition of Housing magazine

IT'S been a bad year for council landlords. The Government has come gunning for their property, while their relationship with organisations long-regarded as trusted partners turned decidedly Shakespearean over the matter of extending right-to-buy to housing association tenants.

Local authorities, after all, are the ones expected to cough up the compensation provided to housing associations for any sell-offs. The National Housing Federation argued it simply did what had to be done to safeguard its members’ independence – and it was up to councils to fight their own battles – but it’s left a sour taste for many a council chief.

Once shafted, twice shy, they might say. That housing associations – whether, individually, they wanted the “voluntary” deal or not – are now locked into a Faustian Pact with Government, courtesy of the Housing & Planning Act, does nothing to wash the taste away; nor, indeed, the fact that housing associations as social landlords are themselves facing existential turmoil.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Cover Story: Buy-to-Let Blues

Landlords under siege?

Private landlords and buy-to-let investors are feeling rather aggrieved by recent Government policies their representatives have called an attack on the sector, but however hard-pressed they may be it’s not like they’re social landlords

By Mark Cantrell

First published in the AprilMay 2016 edition of Housing magazine 

BY now, it ought to be fairly obvious that the current Government just doesn’t like social landlords, but in the drive to push home ownership at all costs it seems ministers have gone off private landlords too. 
Lately, the private rental sector has found itself the brunt of policy initiatives some regard as likely to be detrimental to its business – landlord bodies have been quick to invoke the poor benighted tenants, who it is said will ultimately lose out as a result of Government interference.

The Government has indeed been busy and it hasn’t yet quite marked the first anniversary of last year’s surprise Conservative majority win: first, the Chancellor of the Exchequer curtailed mortgage interest relief for the buy-to-let sector in his 2015 Summer Budget. Later, he followed through with a 3% increase in Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) for the purchase of additional homes in his Autumn Statement.

Frankly, people buying a home to let should not be squeezing out families who can’t afford a home to buy,” said George Osborne in his speech, oiling the wheels of populism with a little of the moral opprobrium normally reserved for social housing.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

LIFE: Living In The Future Of Retirement

Silver chic in the world of tomorrow

Unless the Reaper picks us off early, we’re all going to grow old, writes Mark Cantrell, so we need to spare a thought to how we’ll live in those senior years to come. But no matter how well-informed we are, second-guessing the future is notoriously difficult; fertile ground, then, for a vivid imagination

This article first appeared in the February/March 2016 edition of Housing magazine

FUTUROLOGY is fraught with difficulties – we’re still waiting for those flying cars (which is probably just as well) – but even if our predictions amount to little more than science fiction, that hardly makes it a frivolous pursuit. Tomorrow, after all, is an undiscovered country we can’t afford to leave unexplored, especially when it comes to coping with advancing age.

There are some things we know. Our society is growing older. There are already more than 11 million people aged 65 or over in the UK and the number of senior citizens are only forecast to grow. By 2033, it is projected there will be 3.5 million extra older households in England alone – 60 per cent more than exists today.

What’s more, to add a further twist to an already bitter and cruel housing crisis, there’s a serious shortage of housing suitable for an older generation, whether that be the kind that provides care and support to those that need it, more general retirement housing, or just smaller properties suitable for older people to downsize to (thereby freeing up larger homes for young families).

We can also add that, barring some kind of societal catastrophe, the future of housing – for oldsters and youngsters alike – is going to feature an array of smart technologies. Quite how that will shape up is anybody’s guess, for all the hype – technology is notoriously fast-moving and fickle.