Thursday 18 April 2019 8:11 am

From housing to recycling, fuzzy tokenism is no substitute for action

The brakes are temporarily on the Brexit saga for Easter, giving the government an opportunity to address some of the major public policy issues that have been all but sucked up by the EU vacuum.

Putting aside this administration’s inability to actually pass any legislation (Brexit or otherwise), one at least hopes for the promise of meaningful change during this much-needed hiatus.

Sadly, none has come. Instead of confronting the difficult questions that will make or break the party in the next election (whenever that may be), this is a government that is set on tokenistic gestures that do little to solve the underlying issues.

Take the housing crisis. On Monday, plans were announced to ban no-fault evictions in a bid to give renters more security. On the face of it, this seems a positive move. But in practice, it is bound to do more harm than good.

The increased risks which landlords would take on, combined with the prospect of future legal battles with disgruntled tenants, is likely to be reflected in higher rents, as they try to mitigate their new vulnerabilities. Landlords may even pull their properties off the market, reducing the number of places to rent, limiting the housing supply further and pushing costs up.

This is a headline-grabbing gesture that could exacerbate the housing crisis. And even if it wasn’t likely to be downright damaging, it is no replacement for the root-and-branch change needed to address the current plight of those facing sky-high rents and home insecurity.

The government should instead embrace bold policy and reform our arcane planning system to make way for more housebuilding. We need a million new homes yesterday – increasing supply will bring down prices, both for renters and buyers.

We see a similar preference for meaningless tinkering and feel-good initiatives that deliver limited benefits in other policy areas.

For example, look at Defra’s proposed deposit return scheme for plastic bottles. While well-intentioned, research from the IEA highlights that to justify the exorbitant set-up cost (£1bn at the outset, and then £814m per year ), officials have played fast and loose with the figures, claiming it will deliver almost £1bn in “psychological benefits” from reduced litter on the streets.

This figure is highly questionable, and conveniently pushes the cost-benefit analysis narrowly into the black. But even if accurate, this is a scheme that, by the government’s own admission, does not reduce ocean pollution – the premise upon which the scheme was proposed and sold in the first place.

Increasing recycling rates is a noble aim, but this initiative just puts additional costs onto consumers while failing to solve the problem. The only benefit it will have is in generating positive headlines for Defra.

Tolerance for this kind of platitudinous politics is wearing thin. Small-ball, ineffective policies are being prioritised while the issues that people really care about – having a secure home and feeling safe when walking the streets – are ignored because they are just too difficult.

Politicians across the spectrum need to address the big domestic issues head-on, with bold ideas that champion enterprise and increase prosperity. Less fuzzy feel-good tokenism, please – more action.


City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.