Nuts & Bolts #10 – Schrödinger’s Travelling Bedroom

N&B#10 - Greg Clarkasaur

“Flaky and confusing” is a description that you might use in the context of a mystery pasty; just what lies within the puffed folds of this crafty Cornish conveyance of crammed caloric consumables?

Well I might, at least…

It is not a description that should be applied to something as impactful as government policy, and yet ‘flaky and confusing’ is what Gill Brown – who manages the Secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsy Roma Travellers – has said of the amended Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPTS), which now means planning authorities must “use a robust evidence base” to make decisions on who is a Traveller, i.e. in order to be classed as Travellers, people have to convince their local authority that they live a ‘nomadic lifestyle’.

Helpfully – which is to say not in the slightest bit helpfully at all – the DCLG has said that each local authority must decide for itself what this means.

It’s a curious thing that you may be classed as a Traveller in one city, but after travelling to a different city may not be considered a Traveller, but this government have already shown a reluctance to commit to clear definitions – (in)famously, social tenants are subject to the bedroom tax without the government defining what a bedroom is, another decision left to each local authority in what, at delusional best, might be seen as light-touch deregulation in practice and, more accurately, described as passing the buck…which is the opposite of giving one.

Incidentally, ‘buck’ is a fascinating word. It is used to describe males of many animal species, from antelope to kangaroos. It can refer to a high-spirited young man, colloquial currency, motion (both arching and jolting), stubborn opposition, a leather-covered frame used for gymnastic vaulting, a poker counter, and the lowest rank of a specified military category (e.g. a buck private). Sadly, thanks to the government’s reluctance to take responsibility, there are probably just as many definitions for what constitutes a bedroom among local authorities.

Of course, there is also a danger of over-defining things. For example, The Times recently reported that newly-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn usually rides a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle”…or as the rest of us would call it: a bicycle.

And then there are those things which exist in a state of definitive uncertainty (which is a gloriously layered and contradictory pairing.) Further to comments from David Cameron that housing associations were “part of the public sector”, the Office of National Statistics has started a review of whether housing associations should be reclassified as public bodies, a definition that could see the £60bn of (currently) private housing association borrowing added to the national balance sheet.

Sixty billion pounds of additional public debt! A small price for the Conservatives to subject housing associations to their planned extension of the right-to-buy, perhaps?

At least the government’s definition of ‘affordable’ housing (up to 80% market rent) wouldn’t be confused with genuinely affordable social housing; after right-to-buy sales – and the forced sale of high-value council homes to fund the policy’s extension – there’ll hardly be any social housing left.

References

Government leaves it to councils to define ‘Traveller’, Inside Housing, Online: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/policy/government-leaves-it-to-councils-to-define-traveller/7011609.article?adfesuccess=1, Available: September 2015

Marr is snubbed for a day at church, The Times, Online: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4556099.ece, Available: September 2015

ONS housing association status review underway, Inside Housing, Online: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/business/finance/funding/ons-housing-association-status-review-underway/7011797.article, Available: September 2015

Art (ahem…) copyright of Neil Jackson, 21/09/2015

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