Margaret Hodge has decided that this is a good time to say that too much Council housing is going to economic migrants at the expense of local residents. Allocation policies should be rethought to reward ‘length of residence, citizenship and national insurance contributions’.
Carefully, the Industry Minister has managed to conflate the ‘coming over here taking our housing’ and the ‘un/deserving poor’ knee jerk reactions. Housing for the hardworking poor British, cries the Barking MP. Co-incidentally Barking and Dagenham have made the BNP the second largest party on the local Council.
The trouble is that Hodge has put her finger on a genuine problem, but, whether through ignorance or calculation, has decided to perpetuate some unpleasant myths about it.
There is a huge shortage of Council housing and people who have lived in an area all or much of their lives are faced with their children finding it impossible to get a affordable place of their own or get a transfer to an adequately sized property. This most certainly breeds anger and resentment when it appears that others are simply walking into homes. I hear it every day and it is, without a doubt, a strongly felt view.
But where Hodge’s soundbites are dangerous is in echoing these resentments rather than a serious look at allocations policy and where the problems actually arise.
Hodge is quoted as saying:
“In exercising that choice as an economic migrant, should they then presume to have automatic access immediately to public social housing?”
But who are these ‘economic migrants’ snaffling Council housing? Who is getting immediate automatic access to housing? Let us see.
People who can’t access Council housing assistance at all include:
- Asylum seekers
- Anyone on a work, student, business or marital visa with a ‘no recourse to public funds’ limitation (just about all of them), infact pretty much anyone subject to immigration control.
- ‘Old’ EU citizens who are not workers or workseekers (so anyone unemployed for roughly over 6 months)
- ‘New’ A8 EU citizens, if they are not working (for any reason) at any time in the first twelve months of stay, or are not registered on the WRS [Corrected 21/5]. After twelve months continuous work, same as ‘old’ EU.
- ‘Even Newer’ A2 EU citizens, as with A8.
Who does that leave? Who are these swarms nicking ‘our’ housing? It may well be that what people are seeing is housing of asylum seekers (not by the Council) and some housing by social services of homeless with children who have been refused the housing duty. Sometimes Council stock is used, generally that which can’t be let via the usual route. But the basic point remains true. An ‘economic migrant’ who has pretty much anything less than indefinite leave to remain, or isn’t EU and employed, is going to have severe difficulty getting Council housing.
[Edit 21/5/07 – of course, if Hodge wants to limit EU workers access to, in effect, welfare rights, there is going to be an almighty battle with the EU as well.]
And then the allocation policies are required to give priority to the homeless or those with health or medical needs, overcrowding etc., over measuring time of residence in the area or time on the waiting list. Anyone without those range of needs will be on a lower band and wait for a very long time regardless.
This indicates the real problem. The utter lack of housing stock. No revision of the allocation policy is going to make a significant difference to the pent up anger unless accompanied by a large scale increase in available stock (including repairing currently unusable housing). Of course the Tories started the problem with the double whammy of right to buy and stopping Councils using rent revenue to build more stock. But Labour have presided over the continuation of this policy and are only now showing signs of waking up to affordable housing as a major issue.
Hodge strikes me as displaying typical new Labour instincts in wanting to change allocation policy from being based on ‘need’ to the basis of being ‘deserving’. To then blame ‘economic migrants’ for the shortage of housing stock in pressured areas strikes me as downright irresponsible. Recognising your constituent’s concerns is one thing, parroting them without actually looking into the issue is another. One might even consider it to be a cynical gesture.