Peter King follows in the footsteps of a number of Institute of Economic Affairs who have written on the subject of the housing market in Britain. While most of his predecessors have written primarily on the subject of choice of tenure, King opts to look at the issue of social housing in the context of the policies of the Labour government which claims to be concerned with the ability of customers to choose.
Given the nature of social housing, which not only includes the provision of housing for those in need, King also examines the system of financial support for residents.
Recently there was a highly publicised plan involving the demolition of empty, aging houses in Liverpool which provoked popular unrest. What made this plan so noteworthy in Britain and elsewhere in the world, was that it included the home where Ringo Starr, the Beatles' drummer was born. That, combined with howls of protest by Conservative MPs objecting to plans to build thousands of new homes in their constituencies near to London, has brought housing policy in Britain sharply into focus.
King begins by examining the case of the housing market and assessing to what extent that market is different from that of other goods and services. From there he provides a brief history of social housing in Britain from the Victorian era to the 1970s. He goes on to consider the policies of the Thatcher administration toward housing and, in particular, the "Right to Buy" policy which allowed sitting tenants to purchase their local authority home at a discount, the rate of which depended on their length of tenure.
In the latter half of the book, King puts the policies of the Blair administrations under the microscope. He finds that the ending of the right to buy policy has placed social housing more than ever under central control. While New Labour is not opposed to owner occupation and actively encourages it, it's policies towards social housing are not a return to the policies of prior Labour administrations. What emerges from his analysis is that in many ways current policy on social housing is a continuation of those of the previous Conservative governments which in many ways are linked more to Treasury control of finances and centralisation of housing policy rather than empowering the citizen and giving people the choice of self determination. Peter King finds too, that the current policies of financing social tenants which involves the making of payments direct to the landlord deprives the customer of the personal and social skill of paying rent and managing their own finances whilst at the same time forcing them into a state of dependency upon the state.
King argues that the continuance of current policies will have a detrimental effect in general and offers an alternative which will remove the srtructural rigidities inherent in the system and allow for greater freedom for landlords and tennants alike from state control and direction.
He contends that what is needed is a reform of tenancy laws to make all landlords private and to finance tenants directly. He advocates the reestablishment of choice in the market and sees the end of social housing as a consequence.
Peter King's timely book, is well researched and argued. It offers clear policy proposals for the future. It also highlights the continued trend to centralisation which has been taking place for almost thirty years where choice has become a word which means to place at arms reach rather than a word which stands for competition and liberalisation. The book also points to the growing dangers inherent within the regulatory sytems which oversee so much of our life. It is easier to change a regulation than it is to make wholsale changes in the law which requires public scrutiny. Look at what happens in Brussels.