Regeneration plan? The government doesn't have one

MPs find that ministers have "no adequate strategy" to tackle problems faced by England's deprived c

Ministers have no "adequate strategy" to tackle the problems faced by England's most deprived communities, and a focus on economic growth will increase the gap between rich and poor further, according to a report by MPs. Spending cuts compound the problem.

The cross-party communities and local government select committee (which has a Tory/Lib Dem majority) concluded that the government's regeneration plan "lacks strategic direction and is unclear about the nature of the problem it is trying to solve", adding:

It [the regeneration document] focuses overwhelmingly upon the achievement of economic growth, giving little emphasis to specific issues faced by deprived communities and areas of market failure.

Clive Betts, the Labour MP chairing the committee, pointed out that a billion-pound programme to renovate housing in sink estates had been cut, leaving just £30m as a "transition fund". He criticised the government's emphasis on large scale projects such as high-speed rail and the London Crossrail:

The measures identified by the government focus overwhelmingly on the pursuit of economic growth. The government's measures will not attract sufficient investment for renewal into those communities where the market has failed.

There is no sign that the private sector is filling the gap as public resources are being withdrawn... Without further investment targeted at those places most in need, ministers will store up serious social, economic and environmental problems for the future.

This echoes the conclusions of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which warned that favouring more prosperous areas of growth "risks creating a spiral of decline in certain deprived areas" and will further increase the gap between affluent and poor areas.

While this is unsurprising, it is profoundly worrying at a time when the gap between rich and poor in Britain is wider than ever before, with income inequality ahead of Ireland, Japan, Spain, Canada, Germany and France.

Indeed, ministers have made little effort to even create a strategy, with no definition of what "community-led regeneration" means, and no attempt to identify why and where it is most needed.

The problem here is the same it has always been: deprived communities tend to be disenfranchised, therefore there is little political capital to be gained from their regeneration. When times are hard, it's the obvious thing to cut -- indeed, even when times are good, as under 10 years of Labour, these projects remain on the backburner. This summer's riots showed the nihilism of young people within these communities, and the need to regenerate.

Before coming to power, David Cameron himself noted the importance of wealth inequality, citing The Spirit Level in his 2009 Hugo Young lecture. Back in 206, he said:

The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich.

Sadly, this laudable aim does not seem to have been borne out.

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

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.