Peter Hoskin

Bring on the debate about social housing

Bring on the debate about social housing
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David Cameron did say that his proposal to end council houses for life would trigger "quite a big argument" – and that is exactly what he has got today. The Lib Dems' Simon Hughes has offered the most vociferous dissent so far, stressing that this "in no way represent the policy of the coalition and certainly do not represent the policy of the Liberal Democrats." And, to be fair, he has a point: the idea had not gone through coalition channels before Cameron mooted it yesterday, and neither was it contained in the Tory manifesto – so there still needs to be a lot of conversation and consideration before anything like it can be put into action.

It would be a shame if this reduced to a Tory-Lib Dem split story, though. Cameron may have surprised some of his coalition colleagues with his words yesterday, but he is right to be thinking radically about a policy area which doesn't get nearly enough attention. Simple fact is, the current set-up isn't working. The 5 million people stuck on waiting lists for social housing are testament to that. And, with the pace of new building stuttering along at an uninspiring rate, that number is only going to rise unless the government does something.

The difficulty is that all of the answers come with problems attached. The Cameron idea of reviewing tenants' circumstances every five or ten years is intuitively attractive, but it could create disincentives against working. Whereas the idea of simply building more housing to meet demand requires a lot of cash. These points need hammering out – and, thankfully, it looks as though this government is prepared to do just that. Ok, the internal debate may have got off to a angry start. But at least that debate is now afoot.