Government must not forget poorer homeowners, says TUC

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date: 12 July 2011

embargo: 00.01hrs Wednesday 13 July 2011

The widely-held ideological view that buying your home is always best has led successive governments to ignore poorer homeowners, says a new TUC report published today (Wednesday).

Can Housing Work for Workers? is the latest in the series of Touchstone pamphlets and was written for the TUC by the Fabian Society. It calls for a new approach to housing policy and says that although more and more people want to own their own homes, home ownership does not always bring prosperity.

The report says that back in 1975 only 62 per cent of the adult population aspired to own their own home, but by 2010 the figure had risen to 89 per cent. However huge mortgages taken out by workers in low-paid jobs can leave cash tied up in property while families become poor and unable to move to pursue employment opportunities elsewhere.

The report challenges the commonly-held stereotypes that social housing is for the problematic poor, that home ownership is for the aspiring many, and private rental for a minority in limbo. It says that after housing costs are taken into account there are 3.1 million people of working age who are owner-occupiers and who live in poverty. Of these, two million have mortgages.

Can Housing Work for Workers? says that in areas where house prices are depressed, ways must be found of helping families whose mortgages and housing commitments make it impossible for them to move in search of work to do so. That's not to say that people should be forced to relocate, says the report, as it calls for active state intervention to target areas in economic decline to encourage businesses to move there and so increase the number of job openings available.

Commenting on the report, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This report argues that false assumptions about the benefits of home ownership have led to policy makers failing to acknowledge that many owner-occupiers are trapped in areas with few jobs.

'A new approach is needed, which includes extending financial and advisory support to owner-occupiers and accepting that both private rented and social housing have a vital role to play in creating greater mobility for those seeking work and greater financial security.

'Without new thinking, the UK is likely to repeat the mistakes of the past and become trapped in a cycle of housing boom and bust.'

James Gregory from the Fabian Society, who wrote the report, said: 'We need to get away from the sense of a tenure hierarchy in which we just assume that homeowners are happily independent and self-sufficient. The reality is that many face the same problems as private and social renters, particularly with access to vibrant labour markets, and our policy tools need to address this.'

Can Housing work for Workers? sets out a plan for a new, ideology-free way of supporting poorer home owners and improving labour mobility:

  • extend housing support to help the two million adults in owner-occupied housing who live in poverty, and introduce a new housing cost credit to bring all forms of assistance for housing costs into the same system
  • compulsory insurance for all new mortgages - in which the risk is shared by government, lender and borrower - and which would cost owners around £1.60 per £100 of mortgage payment or around £170 per year on the average mortgage of £140,000
  • build more social housing units and make it easier to move between home ownership and private rental. Moving out of owner-occupation should not be seen as a social failing and the government should pursue policies which manage the transition better
  • the government should encourage the creation of communities featuring a mix of rental and owner-occupied properties, and not pander to the perceived preference of some not to live next to social housing tenants
  • in areas of the country where there are failing local economies, there should be economic intervention which recognises the link between housing and labour market policy
  • there needs to be a better regulation of the mortgage market and scrutiny of the financial health of borrowers, and greater provision of long-term fixed rate mortgages, offering greater stability to those for who do borrow.

The issues raised in How is Housing Connected to Work? will be discussed at a seminar at Congress House later today. Speakers at the event will be Brendan Barber, James Gregory, Caroline Flint, Shadow Communities Secretary and Andrew Sissons from the Work Foundation. It takes place from 9.30am-11.30am.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- Can Housing Work for Workers? is available at http://www.tuc.org.uk/tucfiles/42/canhousingworkforworkers.pdf Hard copies of the report cost £10 and can be purchased from the TUC publications office at www.tuc.org.uk/publications or by phoning Steve Mills on 020 7467 1294.

- The Fabian Society www.fabians.org.uk has played a central role for more than a century in the development of political ideas and public policy on the left of centre. Analysing the key challenges facing the UK and the rest of the industrialised world in a changing society and global economy, the society's programme aims to explore the political ideas and the policy reforms which will define progressive politics in the new century.

Media enquiries:

Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: media@tuc.org.uk
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: egibson@tuc.org.uk

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