Reposted from the Guardian on line
The first flashpoint is the bedroom tax. Backbench Conservatives returned from constituents’ doorsteps with a very different view on the policy. They heard for themselves the human tragedies that imposing such a cost on maintaining a family home creates.
Many are worried about one group in particular: divorced or separated fathers with low incomes who cannot afford a second bedroom, which can be the sole barrier between maintaining a relationship with their children and losing visiting rights altogether. For Conservatives to the right of the party, a pertinent question is being asked: is the bedroom tax now costing us more socially than it is saving financially?
Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham, has reportedly written to the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, to share his fears. He says “the time has come to review this policy”, calling for “feedback from constituencies as to what is going well and what needs to be potentially reviewed and amended”.
The second clash is over the right-to-buy for housing association tenants. This has been simmering under the surface for a long time (Hammersmith & Fulhamproposed its own alternative some years ago), but there was no question of party critics breaking ranks during the pre-election period. Now it’s open season.
Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, said the extension of the right to buy to housing associations should be offered through equity loans rather than a large discount on the price of the property. The purpose of this, he said, was to give a better return to taxpayers by enabling the state to retain a stake in the property and would allow a one-to-one or higher replacement of properties lost to social landlords. It helps to avoid placing rural exceptions on a national policy, a process which can lead to accusations of unfairness. And it would, in Berry’s own words, “enable the government to benefit on a long-term bat on the property market, especially in areas of high demand”.
Unlike Kawczynski, whose views are based more on his observations on the stump than on his detailed understanding and analysis of housing policy, Berry cannot be dismissed so easily. He is the private secretary to Grant Shapps, and was beside him throughout his tenure as housing minister. In April 2013, Berry was called by Cameron to join a Downing Street policy group as a special adviser on housing, local government and regional growth. He knows his stuff. Cameron ignores his public intervention at his party’s peril.
Berry’s comments came as data analysis published in the Financial Times revealed that ministers may have significantly overestimated how much money can be raised from the sale of council properties. Property consultants Savills found that the government is likely to raise just £3.2bn a year by selling 5,500 homes – far below party predictions of £4.5bn raised by a projected 15,000 sales a year.
All of which again prompts the question, the self-same question that is hanging over universal credit: is it all worth it?
With so many of the government’s housing policies facing the same problems, it all adds up to something very flimsy indeed.