WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest Tory manifesto about-turn, this one delivered by Croydon’s very own gaffe-prone career politician
Gavin Barwell, the Nimby Tory housing minister who has campaigned against building homes in his Croydon Central constituency, yesterday delivered the latest U-turn on Conservative Party policy by pulling the plug on a flagship pledge to build “a new generation” of social housing announced in their manifesto just weeks ago.
Theresa Mayhem, the unelected Prime Minister, had promised her policy would deliver “a constant supply of new homes for social rent”. But yesterday Barwell admitted that the homes would in fact be significantly less affordable.
Barwell’s tenure as housing minister has been brief, and could come to an abrupt end next Thursday if latest opinion polls are confirmed at the ballot box, where Labour’s Sarah Jones is bidding to win the Croydon Central seat which she lost by 165 votes in 2015.
It was just a couple of weeks ago when the Conservatives announced they would build “a new generation of homes for social rent”, in a blatant bid to attract working-class votes.
The Tory manifesto spelt out a plan for “new council housing deals”, which would help councils “build more social housing” – a welcome reversal of nearly 40 years of Thatcherite policies which have deterred and penalised local authorities’ efforts to intervene in the housing market.
But Barwell has been quoted in an interview with Inside Housing admitting that the Tories would not in fact be reinstating traditional council housing.
“No, I think the idea is that they are what you’d call affordable rents in housing terminology, but they are social housing,” he said.
“Affordable” housing is classified as being available at 80 per cent of market sale or rent values, which in large parts of the country, and especially London and the south-east, is utterly unaffordable for families on average earnings.
Barwell’s Communities and Local Government department defines social rented housing as having lower rents “determined through the national rent regime”. This is often around half the cost of the unaffordable “affordable” housing which Barwell is now offering.
There has been no social housing funded by government since Barwell was first elected to Westminster in 2010 and the Tory-led austerity policies of Gideon Osborne were imposed on the nation. Since when, unaffordable affordable rents have been criticised for driving up the benefit bill and locking low-income tenants out of social housing.
Barwell’s embarrassing admission represents the second about-turn on a Conservative manifesto pledge, after the damaging row when they had to reverse-ferret over the “Dementia Tax”.
As housing minister, Barwell must take a huge slice of responsibility for this latest policy clusterfuck: to include a promise in the manifesto to return to building council housing, and then to withdraw it so quickly, will surely reflect badly on him within his own party circles. The pledge was the only housing promise contained within the uncosted Tory manifesto.
As might be expected, Tory officials have been doing their best to play down the reversal, but according to the Independent news website, Labour claim it shows one of the Prime Minister’s key pledges to help low-income families had “fallen apart”.
The Chartered Institute of Housing branded it “very disappointing”. So they must now know how thousands of Croydon Central residents have felt about their MP for the past seven years.
“We have to commit to building new homes that people can afford,” Terrie Alafat, the CIH’s chief exec, said.
“In reality affordable rents are still often out of reach to a significant proportion of the population.”
The 2017 Conservative manifesto did not include the 2015 election promise that the Tories would force housing associations to flog off their assets at huge discounts under an extension of the Thatcherite “Right to Buy” policy. In his Inside Housing interview, Barwell managed to confirm that the Tories, if elected, would deliver a policy not in their latest manifesto. Probably.
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