Coalition is difficult when your philosophy on life is so different from your partners. The announcement in George Osborne’s emergency budget that housing benefit is to be slashed (a benefit that goes largely to people who are working but low paid – not simply to Cameron’s “benefit scroungers”) clashes directly with Eric Pickles decision to set council’s free from affordable home building schemes. It creates a perfect property storm which,  as a Liberal Democrat who believes in social justice, I cannot agree with this, however bleak our financial situation.

The result is a trap from which only those who already have their own homes can escape. Cutting house building will keep property prices artificially high – and therefore private sector rents, as well. Cutting housing benefit will make it impossible for many thousands of families to afford adequate accommodation. The long term cost of this is further social disruption, poorly educated young people and increased crime – all of which will cost Britain more in the long run.

In addition, those employed young people who are working to better themselves will be caught in the trap because increased pressure on banks for fiscal responsibility and the lack of affordable housing will mean they cannot get mortgages. These are the people that we older ones will be relying on to run the country when we retire. We are letting them down.

There is an alternative, however; one which would cut benefit bills and help get young people on the housing  ladder – a crash in property prices.  If British housing reverted to the sort of value it had in the 1980s – about three times the average salary, rents could fall, benefits could fall and working young people could buy their own homes.

Having spoken to a developer about this, such a crash will only work if land prices tumble, too but there is another problem blocking this. City companies have spent many years buying up land whenever it comes onto the market. Although land banking in the 19th century started the honourable path to mutual building societies, these days it serves no productive purpose other than to make rich people richer – or to rip off naive investors. It also keeps the price of land artificially high by locking it away until the price is right, much as the De Beers company only lets its vast stocks of diamonds out in a trickle.  At current exhorbitant land prices, developers cannot profit from “affordable” house building unless the government subsidises it, which Pickles refuses to do. This is a vicious circle in which productive business and the most vulnerable of the British public are caught. It has to stop.

There is no doubt that a property crash will be painful for some. Those who have ridden the property gravy train since the eighties will find their portfolios collapsing in value. This is not to be taken lightly as it includes pension funds and many honest individuals. It will doubtless cause problems in the markets, as well. The government will have to protect those whose mortgages suddenly exceed the equity in the houses and the building societies will have to play along. After all, the building societies were the reckless ones offering outrageous loans on limited proof of ability to pay.

It will be painful but these are short term issues and certainly not as damaging as the measures the Government is planning against the poorest of our society. In time, perhaps we’ll get back to remembering that a house is not an investment but a home. Whether you live in it yourself or rent it to someone else, a home for everyone is key to a stable society and a prosperous future for Britain.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

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 We’re all sick of the MPs’ expenses scandal. It’s boring, undermines our beliefs in British fair play and drives people away from politics. The best thing to happen when the MPs open their letters is to accept them, pay up and move on. I understand those MPs who want to stand and fight against being told to pay back thousands of pounds they were originally told were legitimate expenses but that’s the price that must be paid for not fixing the system earlier. It’s nothing compared to the price we’re all going to pay for the collapsed economy, which could also have been sorted years ago.

There is a bigger story, however; the story of the lack of responsibility throughout society. Britain stands or falls on the efforts of all its people. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Whether you are a multi-millionaire or surviving on benefits, you owe it to Britain and generations of its citizens that you’re alive and fed and sheltered and educated. You owe it to Britain to pay back that investment, whether by volunteering for something, working hard, complying with its laws, paying all the taxes you’re supposed to or by voting for something you believe in. There is no excuse, at all for sitting back and saying “it’s got nothing to do with me” or “well, why doesn’t the government do something about it?” Usually, the government is the last lot you want to sort things out.

I’ve been attacked recently for getting involved in exposing shoddy behaviour by local government, as though that’s the way life is and there’s no point trying to stop it. Well, I’m sorry but that kind of defeatism impoverishes us all. We are all flawed and I’m no less likely to fail than the next man, but that doesn’t mean morals don’t matter and that we should just ignore it when people do wrong. We have a collective responsibility to fix things when they need it.

As the MPs’ expenses scandal shows, if you ignore little problems, they soon turn rotten. The purpose of democracy is to give us government that best reflects the dominant view of the people. As long as people don’t vote; don’t stand up for what they believe to be right; don’t hold their chosen leaders to account, we open the doors for incompetence and corruption.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

YOUR VOTE IS YOUR WAY OF SAYING WHO YOU WANT TO WIN.

IT IS NOT A BET ON WHO YOU THINK MIGHT WIN. 

 

THAT IS A WASTED VOTE.

 

MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE VOTING FOR.

YOUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT.

Neville Farmer, Parliamentary Spokesman, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Here’s an interesting chain of events –

In an effort to help the little guy defend himself against the big bullies, Tony Blair brings in California style “no win no fee” legal services which can be advertised on TV…

…Many of us, including me, predict disaster from this but it goes ahead regardless…

…Seeing a good business opportunity large firms employing dozens of hungry young lawyers are established to entice people to sue other people…

…Daytime TV is largely funded by adverts telling you how you’ll win 100 percent of the compensation at no risk to yourself…

…Thousands of people start suing everybody they can, for grazed knees, work stress, overgrown leylandii trees, wet holiday weather…

…legal firms and insurance companies work together to create a business model that allows lawyers to take a piece of the action from grossly overinflated insurance premiums charged against schools, hospitals, councils, restaurants, scout groups, public transport companies and even, now, the armed forces…

…All these bodies cease offering school trips, scout camps, rare-cooked beef, pancake races, soft-boiled eggs, swimming lessons, sports days, old people’s events or kids parties because the extra insurance is too expensive…

…Our great traditions are terminated…

…No-one is able or willing to volunteer for anything…

…Our children become listless, bored, unhealthy and anti-social…

…Our bills with policing, the NHS and schooling increase dramatically…

…We complain about health and safety, the EU, human rights, everything…

…Lawyers and Insurance companies dictate our lifestyles and laugh all the way to the bank…

… There now, Tony, wasn’t that a good idea?

Certainly, this system has allowed some people to get restitution from companies who would previously have beaten them down with legal expenses. But it’s also allowed people to sue other people who still have to pay for a defence lawyer, even in nuisance cases. Most of all, as I and many others predicted at the time, we are now beholden to a bunch of opportunists profiteers who impoverish our lives.

What we need is easy, rapid, low-cost court systems that helps the little guy without encouraging this flood of destructive and unnecessary claims.

 Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats