The UK housing crisis in numbers

Public spending cuts could put 1.25 million more people on waiting lists for affordable housing

As the two main political parties compete to say who can cut what fastest, the National Housing Federation (NHF) has joined the chorus of voices calling for their sector to be protected. It warned today that the government will fail to meet even half its target of building a million affordable homes by 2020 if the housing budget is not exempted from public spending cuts.

So just what is the story with the housing crisis?

Well, to start at the beginning, the UK has a severe housing shortage. Even during the boom, we were unable to build houses at the rate they were required. The population is swelling because of immigration and higher birth rates, while the number of households is rising even faster than population because more people are living alone and more people have second properties. The government has stated in the past that we would need 240,000 extra houses a year to meet demand. The current rate is just 125,000.

So, in 2007, Gordon Brown pledged to build three million houses by 2020. Of these, one million were to be "affordable" homes. The dearth of low-cost rental properties is the most contentious and worrying aspect of the housing situation. Back in 2007, Jon Cruddas warned that it was "feeding political extremism". Add to this the hardship caused by the recession, and there is a heightened risk of alienating those on lower incomes and pushing voters towards the populist posturing of the far right, which (inaccurately) racialises the housing shortage.

A substantial number of people are affected. There are now a record 4.5 million people on waiting lists for affordable housing. The NHF predicts that a further 1.25 million could find themselves in the same situation if spending cuts go ahead.

The NHF projection is based on cuts indicated in December's pre-Budget report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that unprotected government departments would face budget cuts of 17.98 per cent. Judging by this figure, the number of affordable homes actually built by 2020 will be 440,000 -- less than half the million planned.

A complicating factor is that the construction industry is always first to be hit in a recession. In fact, the picture looks even bleaker: the NHF estimates that, with these cuts, 278,000 jobs or apprenticeships will either be lost or not be created over the next ten years.

In response to the NHF warning, the housing minister John Healey said:

The Tories not only opposed us, they also proposed a £1bn cut in last year's housing budget that would have seen 9,000 fewer homes built and the loss of many jobs in the construction industry. Taking this as a clear indication of Tory priorities, the NHF would do well to consider the threat a Cameron government would pose to affordable housing.

Attacking the opposition is the default position for both parties in the run-up to the general election, but it is singularly unhelpful here. The tit-for-tat adding of notional numbers to the mix will do nothing to tackle the deepening crisis.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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