A strange form of progress – the reality behind the coalition government housing propaganda

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The Oxford English Dictionary definition of propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”. All governments do it, putting a ‘spin’ on information or statistics in order to pretend that a particular policy is a roaring success when it isn’t, or is at least marking progress. If there is a germ of truth in such propaganda then it is likely to be more plausible. The coalition government, however, has produced some of the most dishonest propaganda such that there is a chasm between the picture it paints and the reality. Here’s an example of the new Housing Minister, Kris Hopkins presenting (some of) the latest housing statistics as proof that “government action is getting Britain  building again”. 

A “smoking ruin” 

The housing market bequeathed to them by New Labour was, according to Hopkins, “a smoking ruin”. However, by ”prioritising limited resources” the government is, apparently,  returning the housing market to health. A Phoenix from the ashes? Definitely not. The last year of New Labour in office saw 119,910 new dwellings built in England. The ‘success’ of the coalition can be measured by the fact that in the 3 succeeding years it has failed to match even this very low figure in the worst year of the crash: 107,870 in 2010-11, 117,600 in 2011-12, and back down to 107,820 in 2012-13. So they have failed to equal the numbers produced by a “smoking ruin” never mind returned the housing market to “health.”

When you look at ‘net additional dwellings’ we have seen a decline in each of the three years of the coalition [1]. This figure is produced by combining new homes built together with conversions (e.g. houses converted into flats), change of use (a shop into dwellings or vice versa) and demolitions. In the last year of New Labour there were 144,770 net additional dwellings added to the housing stock in England.  Under the coalition the numbers have been 137,390 in 2010-11, 134,900 in 2011-12, and 124,720 in 2012-13. That’s a 13.83% decline from the worst and last year under New Labour in the midst of the crash. The 2012-13 figure is just under 100,000 less than in the pre-crash year.

To add insult to injury Kris Hopkins says that “Today’s figures” are “the latest evidence that solid progress is being made across the housing market as a whole”. Obviously there must have been an improvement in the building of “affordable homes”. It’s worth bearing in mind before we examine the figures that “affordable homes” are not necessarily new homes and not necessarily affordable[2], as the case of the £705,000 “affordable home” [3]shows.

Mr Hopkins offers the ‘proof’ of success that between April and September of this year there were 12,988 “affordable starts” on site, a massive increase on the 3,722 in the corresponding period in 2012. Another coalition government success? Certainly not. Mr Hopkins and the DCLG were judicious in not mentioning other statistics released for “affordable homes” (DCLG Housing Statistical Release, Affordable Housing Supply, 21st November 2013) .

  • 42,830 “affordable homes” were provided in England in 2012 to 2013, a decrease of 26% compared with the previous year’s 58,100.
  • a decrease of 36% homes delivered in the social rented sector, 24,550 in 2012-13, compared with 38,610 in the previous year
  • a decrease of 25% in new build affordable homes, 39,400 in 2012-13 compared with 52,830 in the previous year.

This very large decline hardly merits the term “progress” does it?

In fact the only significant increase is that of “affordable rent” homes. These are ostensibly ‘social housing’ with a rent up to 80% of the private market rent level. So from 930 “affordable rent” completions in 2011-12 the numbers rose to 6,960 in 2012-13. However, even if you add these together with ‘social rent’ homes not only was there a 36% decline over the previous year, but ‘Social rent’ homes declined from 34,021 to 14,362.

Affordable rent” is in reality unaffordable for many and comes at the cost of converting ‘social rent’ homes into “affordable rent”. The statistics for these  provide more evidence of the need for “affordable rent to be abandoned.

As for that six month figure cited by Mr Hopkins, it is “starts”, whereas the real measure of a building programme is completions. Mr Hopkins failed to mention the completions figure which was 9,322, which is less that half of the equivalent half-year figures for 2009-10, and less than the coalition government’s own completion figures for the same period in each of the previous 2 years.

The total “affordable homes” produced under the coalition in 2012-13 marked a decline of over 15,000 from the previous year and over 18,000 less than in 2009-10; another strange manifestation of “progress”.

One other statistic which Mr Hopkins neglected to mention relates to “Right to Buy”. The DCLG reports that since April 2012, under the new enhanced “Right to Buy”, over 13,400 homes have been sold. The coalition said that there would be “one for one replacement” of each home sold. The DCLG tells us that there are under construction, or acquired, only 1,600 homes.

In short the dishonesty of the government’s presentation of statistics is brazen. They have failed to achieve the production figures of the “smoking ruin”. They have failed to achieve the level of “net additional homes” during the year of the crash. They are producing less ‘social rent’ homes and driving genuinely affordable rents towards market levels by way of the  cynically named “affordable rent”. Information “of a biased or misleading nature” cannot hide these facts. The government’s own statistics condemn them.

Martin Wicks

November 24th 2013

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