While the chancellor is scratching about like a restless chicken for the odd billion here or there, he ignores the main opportunities for reducing public expenditure. Britain’s welfare system is not designed to help its citizens but its landlords and business owners. £27bn a year goes on housing benefit. None of it sticks to the fingers of tenants. It goes straight to landlords, who raise rents with impunity knowing the state will foot the bill. £30bn goes on working tax credits to supplement the wages of people whose employers refuse to pay them a living wage. Together these benefits account for about a quarter of total welfare costs. They do not benefit poor people at all. Rent controls and the enforcement of minimum wages could cut welfare spending without persecuting poor people and disabled people. Why isn’t Labour proposing this?
• Rather than tweaking legislation to prevent private landlords and letting agents from making obscene amounts of money from rental properties (Report, 23 November), surely the only genuine solution is to ditch the dogma and return to a national programme of building council housing. However, even in this year of the unexpected, I cannot see common sense making a much-needed comeback.
Steyning, West Sussex
• The chancellor has promised extra help for the growing housing crisis in London and elsewhere in England. However, the measures he has put forward will at best make a marginal impact on a housing market in London, where the sale of social housing and the failure to replace it has created a crisis. In Scotland we have banned the sale of social housing, are building 60,000 new social housing units and have regulated private renting. We need tougher measures to regulate rents in the private sector but we are showing that another way is possible. However, I think we need independence for Scotland to get the full control over our economy and budget to make sure that all our social policies are fairer.
• It’s very good news for tenants of rented property that the chancellor has announced that he will crack down on the letting fees agents charge them.
In effect, however, agencies charge twice, since they also charge landlords administrative fees for arranging new tenancies, for renewing existing tenancies, and for inventories. These charges are levied on landlords in addition to the percentage of the monthly rent that agencies take for managing landlords’ properties.
• The chancellor made a number of announcements that are intended to kickstart further housebuilding and deal with issues in the planning system (£4bn plan to tackle housing crisis wins a cautious welcome, 24 November). We await further details of how the government intends to deal with more fundamental housing and planning issues to be outlined in a white paper that was disappointingly not published on Wednesday, but is expected soon.
One of the key headlines was an announcement of £2.3bn, forming part of the new £23bn national productivity investment fund, towards infrastructure needs in order to unlock 100,000 new homes in areas of high demand.
Another headline announcement was for £1.4bn, forming part of the same fund, to go towards providing 40,000 additional affordable homes by 2020-21. When one considers that the government’s intention is to build 1m new homes over the course of this parliament, helping to provide 40,000 new affordable homes appears as a drop in the ocean.
It is clear that the government is still relying on the private sector to drag Britain out of its housebuilding malaise, but in the last week government figures have been published showing affordable housing delivery has hit its lowest level since 2001, so it is questionable whether Wednesday’s proposals go far enough.
Associate solicitor, planning and environmental, Coffin Mew
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