Friday, 15 January 2016

How to face the UKIP challenge

          Never one to step back from a challenge me. I recently got myself embroiled in a debate (well, I say debate, I was providing arguments whilst ‘kippers were sharing faked up images from Tommy Robinson) on twitter. The disagreement was over UKIP policies. I actually had to think on this – do I know their policies well enough? Do I understand them? We certainly can’t assume that we have enough liberal people in the country that UKIP can’t be a threat. Maybe I am doing them a disservice – and there is more to support than denigrate.
So, the challenge is twofold. One, I have set myself is to review and consider their manifesto. After all, they might be a party that we face at the next election (unless they crumble in the run up to or the aftermath of the EU referendum). Two, how do we see off their challenge? They themselves feel that they are a direct challenger to Labour in working class areas (although, you know, only when they aren’t faced with a democratic vote of the people of an area like in Oldham West and Royton).
Certainly, in specific instances, UKIP do sound like they have some compelling arguments and ideas. Patrick O’Flynn came across as the least rabid right-winger on Question Time on Thursday 14th January 2016 . Although I would urge caution – the other right wingers included Camilla Long, Kelvin Mackenzie and Nick Boles, so Genghis Khan may have appeared reasonable in that company. He certainly gained some praise for the housing policies he espoused.
As the last formal document expressing policy for UKIP, I got hold of a copy of their 2015 manifesto which comes with a handy back of a fag packet economic assessment of their tax and spending plans – provided by CEBR. This is marked up as “independent”. Now, if anyone has ever bought a house, you know that there is no such thing as independent. Whoever pays the bill calls the shots and gets the report they want. I couldn’t quite find the details of the independent person who had paid for this report. I am sure UKIP will help explain how this was done independently. So in the interest of fairness we will assume it was performed independently.
I will be honest, there is probably too much to wade through in one sitting – even if you enjoy blogging as much as I do. So I can going to focus on specific areas. What got me into this conversation was the explanation of UKIP housing policies, so we should look at
                The main thrust of the UKIP argument is really strong. A really sensible proposal. An absolute acceptance that there is a massive shortage of social housing, and that it has been caused by housing sell offs during the 80s. In order to combat that, they have a number of different planks to their housing strategy.
  •                 Bringing 280,000 houses back in to use by charging 50% additional council tax for homes left empty for 2 years.These are houses which the owners can already afford to own, and leave standing empty whilst paying council tax on them. How much difference will an extra £500 per year make? This would not have anywhere near enough of an impact. (Rating – not effective)
  • Incentivise building of 2.5million houses on Brownfield sites at a cost of £1.75billion over 5 years. Really, looking at this, I initially believed this to be reasonable. However, the devil is in the detail. To build 2.5million houses would require all of the sites to be redeveloped. Even UKIP have admitted their incentives would only cover 30% of sites – so a basic assumption would be an extra 750,000 houses built over the 5 year period on top of where we are now. So that would still make it a win – if the technology genuinely exists to achieve this. (Rating – appears possible)
  • Releasing long held dormant land from local and central government.There are no costings for this, or how much impact there will be from this – it is a completely uncosted, result free fudge (Rating – space filler)
  • Reduce the pressure on housing waiting lists by not allowing foreign nationals to access social housing until they have been here for 5 years, working and paying tax. This is the biggest plank of their proposal, and seen as the biggest issue, so I want to consider this in more detail.I think here we see the real thrust of UKIP and what they want to achieve. 

                So let’s agree some basic facts. Using the latest data I can find, around 8 million foreign nationals abide in the UK at the present time. If we assume they are in family groups of 4, that means they require about 2 million houses. Of those 43% own their own home and 39% rent privately . That leaves approx 18% in social housing – that would mean a reduction in the social housing stock of 360,000 houses. There are 4 million social houses in Britain out of a total of 23 million.
So, as a very rough estimate, that means that migrants (of all types) take up 8.7% of housing, and 9% of social housing. I don’t have any better figures, but let’s assume 50% of migrants have been here less than 5 years. That means actually, this would free up about 4.5% of social housing – but push this into private rented. This would simply mean higher private rents (more people after fewer tenancies). What are social housing rents now set with regards to? Private rents. So rent will go up for everyone, and the only people who will benefit are PRIVATE LANDLORDS. 
Alternatively, this approach could mean we have fewer migrants at all. This would seem to follow the general thrust of the UKIP arguments in other areas – where they wish to reduce immigration.  Many might think this is a benefit to us. Of course, it would mean the end of the NHS, as 11% of all NHS staff are foreign nationals - rising to 26% of doctors. So, yes, cheaper housing, but an NHS that can not cope – without enough doctors. So irrespective of any question of morality, that would be a massive loss to the country.
(Rating – higher rents paid by EVERYONE in the private sector OR no NHS – you decide).
So, there you have it, the UKIP housing policy laid bare for all to see. One potentially good idea, two soundbites and one policy so monumentally dangerous we could never enact it (that is even if it was compatible with the law, which I am not sure it would be). My worry is that like a lot of their other policies, what initially sounds straightforward is really an absolute disaster waiting to happen. This is why we need to fight UKIP – and this is how we need to fight them. By challenging their catchphrases and soundbites and making them admit the dangerous policies that follow behind. 

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