by Peter Stanford
THE Thatcher years have seen housing policy move away from notions of helping those on low incomes and in rented accommodation, to an emphasis on subsidising the wealthy home owner according to the Catholic Housing Aid Society.
In a report released on Wednesday Heading for Rubble, CHAS label the current system of housing finance "unfair", and charge that unless radical changes are made the system will collapse.
Spending on mortgage tax relief, the cornerstone of this Government's housing policy, has grown from 21.2 per cent of housing investment to 44.4 per cent in the seven years since Mrs Thatcher came to power. Housing benefit and investment in new housing stock for rent has suffered a corresponding decline, while local authorities which want to build have been subject to stringent financial controls from central government.
Heading for Rubble uses charts and graphs to show that while a home owner earning £30,000 a year will receive an average of £28.46 per week in mortgage tax relief, those on £9,000 will get only £6.76 each week.
At a time when numbers of homeless families are clearly exceding the capacity to find them a roof, such expenditure is not justified. the report argues.
In its place CHAS recommends that the housing benefit system be expanded to cover not only tenants, but homeowners on low incomes. This reform would be paid for by the gradual withdrawal of mortgage tax relief. "Some may
contend that it is not politically feasible to reform the system of housing finance" CHAS notes. However, in their view "it is not politically feasibleto continue with a system that, at present, is heading for rubble".
Shelter's 20 years page three The private rented sector is in the process of a long term decline, the report points out. The number of such homes has fallen by 1.3 million between 1970 and 1985. Yet this shortfall has yet to be met with any significant growth in public rented housing. In the period 1974-79, local authorities and housing associations built annually an average of 135,000 homes to rent. That has fallen to a yearly rate of 44,000 under Mrs Thatcher.
Central government curbs on local authority spending have resulted in over £6 billion in unspent receipts, partly from council house sales.
Such restrictions are illogical, the report highlights. It would cost, in the first years, £6,400 to build a new home for a homeless family with two children. It costs £10,800 to keep the same family in a bed and breakfast hotel. Equally investment in public sector housing would generate many times more jobs than tax cuts.
CHAS has harsh words to say about the way in which mortgages are awarded. In 1985 advances totalled £26,000 million, but only £2,900 million was spent on new houses.
Heading for Rubble is available from CHAS, 189a Old Brompton Road, London SW5