RESPONSE TO SHELTER’S COMMISSION ON SOCIAL HOUSING The inhuman pressures of the UK housing market are being allowed to override human need for shelter of the poorest tenants with the lowest incomes

18 March 2018

TAP is supporting Shelter's Commission on Social Housing because the Grenfell survivors are represented on the Commission. The commission will decide what to say following the evidence they receive. It has been set up in the wake the Grenfell tragedy. Here is TAP's evidence. It is supported by DEBT DEATH & DEADWEIGHT edited by Fred Harrison, the Director of the Land Research Trust and a Director of TAP. 

We hope many TAP followers will fill in SHELTER'S on line survey or send evidence to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) by May the 11th 

TAP's focus is always on the plight of the poorest renters. 

From Taxpayers Against Poverty

The inhuman pressures of the UK housing market are being allowed to override the human need for shelter of the poorest tenants with the lowest incomes.

The Commission asks the crucial question "How would you define 'social housing'?"

We offer three answers to that question:


  1. Affordable social housing is good in principle. Social rents in Council Housing, Community Land Trusts and the Walterton and Elgin Community Housing can be affordable because the land is removed from the market and taken out of the rent calculation.

  2. Social housing is a disaster in practice. Because rents are linked to and go up with the price of land in a rising housing market, which profits landlords, national and international property speculators in UK land; but the incomes of renters are losing value or are stopped. They are taxed with council tax and housing benefit is cut, creating debt, hunger, mental and physical illness, and an early death.

  3. The Haringey Development Vehicle was a disaster in the making for social housing. Because council land, on which truly affordable social rents depends, and which has been providing over ten thousand affordable homes since the 1950s, was going to be moved into the chaotic UK housing market. It involved the demolition of both 1100 homes in the Northumberland Park ward and the deprived community who currently live there. The council and the developer know all there is to know about the price of land, demolition and building but know nothing about the value of a deprived community.


The Reverend Paul Nicolson lives in Tottenham. He received the Social Policy Association Best Non-Academic Awardl in 2015 and is a member of the Advisory Council of the Institute of Brain Chemistry & Human Nutrition.  He was ordained priest in the Church of England in 1968, but opted to earn his keep in lay employment. From 1968 to 1982, he was first employed by ICI in its central personnel department with the team that negotiated with the trades unions and then as a trades-union official with the Confederation of Employee Organisations'',

In 1979, he was elected by the Kimpton ward as an independent councillor on North Herts District Council, where he served on the planning committee. The village had a council estate of about 100 homes that housed extended families who had lived in Kimpton for several generations. In 1982, he joined the parochial ministry in the Chiltern Hills, between High Wycombe and Henley-on-Thames. He lived In the village of Turville, where a two-bed roomed council bungalow was sold the following year to the tenant under right to buy
for £25,000, sold on for £250,000, and is now worth nearer £600,000.

In 1997, he founded the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) in response to the misery caused by the poll tax to the tenants of social housing. In 1999, he took his pension and moved to Tottenham to run the Z2K full time. The Trust now has an office in Westminster and, thanks to the good work of its staff, helps every year 1,200+ of the poorest London households who are entangled in the complexities of the UK benefit system, and tackles 3,000+ cases of debt. Each household it assists invariably has more than one debt. In 2012, Rev Nicolson withdrew from the position of chair of Z2K to launch Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP), whose 150 founding members joined in response to a letter he had published in The Guardian. TAP is not a charity - it is concerned about the interventions of the Charity Commission in the field of poverty politics - but,
instead, a not-for-profit company registered at Companies House, operating without allegiance to any political party. Its objects are based on Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living
adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary
social services, and the right to security in the event of
unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other
lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and
assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall
enjoy the same social protection.

TAP now has 530 members and 20,982 followers on Facebook across the United Kingdom. Rev Nicolson continues to help a few individual cases of severe hardship in Haringey.

A. Social housing is good in principle

Social housing ought to provide affordable homes for tenants receiving statutory minimum incomes in work or unemployment - ie, the Universal Credit and the National Minimum Wage (NMW). On 2 February 2018, the House of Commons Library reported:

"The Low Pay Commission estimates that there were 1.9 million
jobs paid at or below the NMW in April 2017 - around 6.7 of
all employee jobs. This compares to 1.5 million jobs paid at or
below the NMW in 2015, before the introduction of the
National Living Wage."

An affordable social home is one when the income left after the rent has been paid is the minimum needed to provide healthy living and participation in the community - to establish that minimum income after housing costs requires research. Z2K's very first task was to raise £100,000 to commission the Family Budget Unit to research the minimum-income standard needed by a single mother or a couple with two young children. We gave this research to Unison and London Citizens, who used it to persuade then London Mayor Ken Livingstone to launch the London Living Wage, which he did in 2004.

The methodology of the research on which the Real Living Wage is based includes work by nutritionists, whose food budgets are priced in supermarkets, and discussed with benefit claimants for usability and with the wider public for reasonableness. The same rigour has been applied to the cost of fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities, and of participation in the community.

Minimum-income standards research is now financed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and undertaken by the University of Loughborough, which seeks public approval of its minimum-income standards before they are published. The level of the Real Living Wage is finally decided by the Living Wage Foundation. In 2016 Chancellor George Osborne stole the name "Living Wage" to rename the National Minimum Wage, but left out any supporting research, so the new National Living Wage is, in reality, no such thing.

Following the launch of the London Living Wage, backed by the Z2K-funded research, the late Professor Peter Ambrose, together with Team Ltd, a property developer, worked together in 2007 on establishing the London Living Rent.  Linked to the London Living Wage, it ensures the income left after rent has been paid is enough to provide healthy living and participation in the community. The level of housing benefit ought similarly to be set to provide a minimum-income standard after housing costs. 

The crucial point about the rent in this model is that it is based on zero land costs. The same is true of Community Land Trusts (CLT), all council housing and Walterton & Elgin Community Homes10

A ::: £30k - profit, overheads, risk, etc

B = £115k -land and financing charges,

and sales costs

C = £125k - design and build, and planning

costs, including some profit (70sq m flat @

circa £1,800 per m gross build costs

Above is an outline of Team Ltd's 2007 model to provide an affordable two-bedroom flat for rent or purchase in East london suitable for occupancy by and affordable for a two-adult and two-children household with one adult working full time and one working part time, taking into consideration the then full market cost of £270k and then London Living Wage of £7.20 an hour

13.Removal of elements A and B reduces provision cost to f125k. This depends on:

  1. zero land costs (probably using CLT land tenure) and
  2. no market risk - assured demand at the price or rent level (LLW
  3. at £125k, depends on an innovative systems build, plus good design.

The East london Housing Affordability Standard calculated in early 2008 by Z2KTrust and London Citizens, was £135 per week or £7,020 per year for such a household - this was the amount available for housing costs after the costs of all other items required to live a safe, healthy and participative life had been paid by the household. £7,020 pa = 5.6% return on £125k if the flat is rented, or
translates to an interest-only mortgage loan of £125k at an interest rate of 5.6%.

A change in the overall balance of housing support from 80:20 demand/supply to the approximate 50:50 of the late 1980s - ie, substantially more production subsidy - would materially aid the provision strategy and dramatically reduce the cost of housing benefit (currently £18bn per year, with damaging social costs) - see Z2K Memorandum to the Prime Minister on Unaffordable Housinq, May 2005 .

B. Social housing is a disaster in practice.

This debate is plagued by the government's promotion of affordable housing that is not affordable and of a national living wage that is not a living wage. The current definition of social housing on the Government website is nothing short of catastrophic for low-income renters.

"Social rented housing is owned by local authorities and private
registered providers (as defined in section 80 of the Housing and
Regeneration Act 2008), for which guideline target rents are
determined through the national rent regime. It may also be
owned by other persons and provided under equivalent rental
arrangements to the above, as agreed with the local authority or
with the Homes and Communities Agency.

Affordable rented housing is let by local authorities or private
registered providers of social housing to households that are
eligible for social rented housing. Affordable Rent is subject to
rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the
local market rent (including service charges, where applicable},"

The ridiculous notion that defines affordable housing as 80% of ever-rising local market rent while incomes stagnate ought to be deleted from the Government website and housing affordability linked to income. Housing is not "social" when the income is so low and the rents are so high that there is not enough statutory minimum income left to provide healthy living and participation in the community. For decades, governments have been warned about the impact of low incomes and debt on mental and physical health. The warnings are shown in undeniable research by Crawford {1972}, Black (1980), Acheson (1999), Wanless (2002), the Government Office for Science (2008) and Marmot (2010).

Their persistent findings are neatly summed up in a blog for the TAP website written by Dr Angela Donkin of the Institute for Health Equity, the first of nine in TAP's healthy equality campaign. . 

"Income can impact on health in different ways.

Income impacts on health directly, for instance, because of insufficient money to heat your home or buy a healthy balanced diet. Cold homes increase rates of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, excess winter deaths and mental illness. Inadequate diets increase the riskof malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

Low income, and particularly debt or insufficient income, also impact on health indirectly through increased stress, depression and anxiety, and sub-optimal coping behaviours, such as increased rates of smoking and drinking."?'

Since the 2010 election, governments have set about increasing the rents of social housing, and freezing or stopping the statutory minimum income. Low income and high rents have squeezed the incomes needed for food, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities, therefore damaging the health of the UK's poorest citizens.

Rents are increased by the government with the bedroom tax, the local housing allowance and the overall benefit cap because they all cut housing benefit, which leaves unpaid rent to be paid from Universal Credit or children's benefits. Income is often depleted by a zero-hours contract or stopped altogether by a benefit sanction. When an income is stopped, the debts pile up and have to be paid as soon as the statutory minimum-income payment is restored. That renders the lowest social rents unaffordable and therefore unpayable, resulting in mounting evictions, burgeoning use of temporary accommodation and an increase in rough-sleeping for the seventh consecutive year.

ln DEBT DEATH & DEADWEIGHT a collection of excellent essays on health and poverty edited by Fred Harrison, I described the poverty that afflicts landless tenants in the United Kingdom:

"For the UK's seven million landless tenants, the housing crisis is
worsening. They possess no equity to fall back on - no escape from
council tax, income tax or VAT. Since April 2013, council tax has been
charged at 8.5 to 30 of state-benefit incomes by 289 councils out of
326 in England. They add court costs and bailiffs' fees to the arrears,
which cannot be afforded out of a single adult unemployment benefit
of £73.10 a week. The magistrates issued over 3.5 million council-tax
liability orders to councils in England and Wales in 2016/17
16. Since
April 2013, when the Government started to cut housing benefit, rent
also has to be paid partially out of that £73.10. A cut in housing benefit
is an increase in outlay for the tenant on top of that caused by
ever-rising rents due to the chaotic UK housing market.

That £73.10pw Jobseeker's Allowance (equal to £317pm Universal
Credit) remains the wobbly bottom building brick of the benefit paid to
four million people. Children's, housing and council-tax benefits are
added to it. It is paid to about 4 million people a year

It is already £18.70pw below the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation's 2017 minimum-income standard for food, fuel, clothes
and transport of £91.80pw, and therefore insufficient to cover rent and
council tax.
Before April 2013, the £73.10 was supported by 100
housing and council tax benefits.

Jobseeker's Allowance/Universal Credit has been losing value since
1979. Increases have been frozen since 2011. The benefit came into
operation in 1912 at seven shillings a week - about 22% of average
male earnings in manufacturing. By 1979, the benefit rate was still
about 21% of average earnings (Bradshaw and Lynes, Benefit negligence 2009). By 2008,
however, the renamed Jobseeker's Allowance had been halved to an
all-time low of 10.5% of average earnings. This was the result of tying
benefits to the price index while real earnings increased."

Understanding the forces that created the crisis, which are set out in DEBT DEATH & DEADWEIGHT
should lead to a more humane resolution for the nation's
low-income, high-rent and vulnerable families. It is impossible not to conclude
that the impact of increasingly unaffordable rents and uneconomic state
benefits on the well-being of tenants has contributed to the steady rise in the
cost of mental illness to the economy now estimated at an annual £113bn17

C. The Haringey Development Vehicle was a disaster in the making for social housing.

At no stage did Haringey Council undertake a health-impact assessment of the effect on tenants of the demolition of their homes. The council's website" tells us that Northumberland Park ward is the most deprived ward in the borough of Haringey, and in the top 5% of most deprived wards in the entire United Kingdom. The majority of the residents are either unemployed or in low-paid work. It has a 10% to 12% incidence of low birth-weight, which are levels seen in the developing world. Its residents die on average seven years younger than the residents of Highgate in the west of the same borough.

Haringey Council planned to demolish 1,100 council homes the rents of which were calculated with zero land costs - an increasingly rare but absolutely necessary pre-condition for affordable social housing in London. Over a I5-year period from the late 1950s a medieval farmhouse, disused industrial sites and most of Northumberland Park's villas were replaced by Tottenham council's expansive Northumberland Park Estate. By 2014, council tenants had paid for their homes in affordable rents many times over. The maintenance of the estate by Haringey Council was cut to a minimum when plans for demolition began.

The plan was to move the area upmarket and cash in on the increasing value of the land as a result of possible arrival of Crossrail 2 straight through Tottenham and northwards up the Lea Valley. With land in critically short supply, this would have meant the loss of the few remaining sites of public land on which truly affordable social housing could be built being sold into a London housing market flooded by national and international speculators who are forcing prices and rents ever higher

 "I live literally on the border of Northumberland Park ward,in Tottenham, and attend its parish church. I meet regularly inthe church hall with a group of council tenants andleaseholders, and with one pensioner freeholder, whose homes were to be demolished. It seemed to me from the beginning that Haringey Council and property developer Lendlease knew all there is to be known about the rising price of land, demolition and building and nothing whatsoever about the value of a deprived community paying council rents. The support of a community is particularly necessary to people with very low incomes who need networks of support, which planners ought always to respect. There might be informal economies that provide jobs, services and livelihoods not otherwise available. Demolition moves the poverty, but it does not remove the causes that create and maintain poverty". Rev Paul Nicolson.

Haringey Development Vehicle was to end the possibility of that viable model of affordable housing (see above) by throwing the land and the tenants into the housing market and submitting the land to the casino of housing affordability that is the viability assessment. The council had decided that the number of truly affordably social homes built on that public land would depend of the size of the profits of the landowner and developer, because that is precisely what the viability assessment is for. The rents ought to be low on the Northumberland Park estate because the public, council-owned land is not part of the chaotic London housing market. 

The inhuman pressures of the UK housing market are being allowed to override human need for shelter of the poorest tenants with the lowest incomes. 

A study of poverty by Gustavo Gutierrez tells us:

"In the final analysis, poverty means death: lack of food and housing,
the inability to attend properly to health and education needs, the
exploitation of workers, permanent unemployment, the lack of
respect for one's human dignity, and unjust limitations placed on
personal freedom in the areas of self-expression, politics and
religion. Poverty destroys individuals and families. It has been called
'institutionalized violence'."



Rev Paul Nicolson, Taxpayers Against Poverty. 19th March 2018.


It is only the thickest of skins that can shield minds from being shocked about the
poverty of the UK's unemployed. One case I helped will suffice. Decent people are
shocked when told this true story.

"Mr John Smith had no record of ever being fined. The first he heard of the fine
was when the Bailiffs called to tell him he had been fined for TV licence evasion.
The bailiff demanding £445 down at 7.30 in the morning. He has a long history of
anxiety and depression and has been treated in the NHS psychological services.

On the 1st January 2014 he was sanctioned for three months for attending an
interview on the wrong day. His housing and council tax benefits were stopped
creating rent and council tax arrears. The debts pile up when the income needed to
pay them off is stopped for weeks sometimes months. He is still paying off rent
arrears at £10 every two weeks out of his £72.40 a week adult unemployment
benefit (ESA).

It was after the sanction that NHS psychological services referred him for twelve
fifty minute sessions of therapy. He then received a letter from Haringey Council
giving notice of intended demolition of the block of flats where he lives.

The Joseph Rowntree minimum food standard for a healthy diet was £43 a week. It
was impossible to buy such a diet and all other necessities on £72.40 a week. It is
now £73.10 and equal to £317 a month Universal Credit. According to Jonathan
Bradshaw it is been losing value since 1979.

John Smith has since been employed on a zero hours contract which left him
without income for a month and transferred to the Universal Credit which stopped
his income for six weeks. He has contemplated suicide.