How the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do more for the poor

The houses at Derwenthorpe, York
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The houses at Derwenthorpe, York

The houses at Derwenthorpe, York

The JRF is asking for feedback. Geoff Beacon has a few questions and suggestions


Recently I was asked my opinions on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust for a review of the directions both organisations should take. York council leader, James Alexander, recommended me.

I have since been unsuccessful in having more input – hence this attempt to gatecrash.

Housing wealth: excluding the young

The FT reported recently Young People Lose Out As UK’s Housing Wealth Gap Widens, saying

As a result, nearly £1tn of housing equity is now concentrated in the hands of people aged over 65, Savills found; by contrast the under-35s own just a tenth of that sum.

and

Roger Harding, of housing charity Shelter, said young people and families were being priced out of home.

Housing wealth: excluding the poor

To give the JRF some credit they did commission Home ownership and the distribution of personal wealth in 2010.

The report has 32 pages of content and a list of 75 references. Its conclusion starts

Inheritance is fairly widespread, with almost half the population having received something at some point in their lives. But receipt of inheritances of substantial value is fairly unusual and is heavily skewed by socio-economic characteristics. It is predicted that any increases in the number, and value of, inheritances will be due to a combination of cohort, ageing and social factors…

…continued on page 104 as Private Eye might say.

The problem with this report is that it is written in an academic style. Often this is designed to show the credentials of the authors, not to get the message across.

My response to the Green Paper On Planning in 2002, Planning, Wealth Transfer And Environment is clearer:

For the past four decades at least, the planning system in the UK has been responsible for massive transfers of wealth. This is directly attributable to the manipulation of the market in planning permission…

By and large, these processes represent an enormous transfer of wealth from poor to rich and from young to old.

JRF should have been spreading the message that our housing and planning policy gives to the affluent and takes from the poor, avoiding such phrases as “heavily skewed by socio-economic characteristics”. I have more recently addressed this issue in YorkMix:

The JRF do read YorkMix but if they are determined to absorb only material written by academics they should read the nicely written Park Home Living in England (pdf) by Mark Bevan of York University’s Centre for Housing Policy.

Then they might acknowledge that the cheap option of park homes (aka caravan parks) are a welcome option for housing policy.

Unfair transfer of wealth

They should also help the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust stop this unfair transfer of wealth. But the housing development the JRHT have built at Derwenthorpe has houses for sale in the region of 250,000 to £300,000.

As a leading charitable organisation, which we assume to care about the poor, the JRHT is participating in a system that is taking from the poor and the young to give to the wealthy and the old.

The poor, the young and the old without property or fat pensions should be able to be housed for £20,000 to £30,000 – not ten times as much.

In February 2005, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launched the “21st Century Suburban Homes” design and build competition for a small housing development … The design competition was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the 1905 Letchworth “Cheap Cottages” exhibition.

Elm Tree Mews Field Trial – Leeds Metropolitan University (pdf)

Suburban homes priced at £200,000 to £300,000 are not “Cheap Cottages”.

Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust do have less expensive properties in their historic stock like housing found in New Earswick. Here property is significantly less expensive compared to more upmarket areas such as Osbaldwick, where Derwenthorpe is located.

The Our History section on the JRHT website says

Joseph Rowntree Village Trust established December 1904. Object: to alleviate the condition of the working classes by provision of improved dwellings and organisation of village communities.

That village, New Earswick, can still be broadly classed as working class but such as Derwenthorpe is more easily identified as middle class. Derwenthorpe is more expensive – too expensive even for the younger middle class.

Are the JRF out of touch with the poor?

At the top levels of the JRF (and JRHT), I wonder how much they are in touch with the difficulties of the poor. From their Annual Report and financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2012, section 12 (b) Higher Paid Employees we have

The number of employees whose emoluments, excluding pension contributions but including benefits in kind, in the following ranges were:
 20122011
£50,001 - £60,00031
£60,001 - £70,000-2
£70,001 - £80,00055
£80,001 - £90,000-1
£90,001 - £100,00011
£100,001 - £110,0001-
£150,001 - £160,00011
All of the higher paid employees are entitled to be members of the pension scheme on the same terms as all staff.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation: “Registered Charity: 210169”.

How much does the Prime Minister get paid?

The combined ministerial and parliamentary salary of the Prime Minister is £142,500 at April 2013. This figure includes the parliamentary salary of £66,396.

Frequently asked questions, House of Commons

Some think us think he is out of touch with the poor.

Comments I have heard

Recently I have spoken to a few people about the JRF. Two comments I particularly remember:

  • ‘JRF are in an ivory tower’
  • ‘They commission academics to write reports to fill university libraries.’

Perhaps this is being too harsh but I would like to know if their anonymised review uncovers similar attitudes.

One practical suggestion

New student accommodation? Photograph © Simon Carey on geograph.org.uk

New student accommodation? Photograph © Simon Carey on geograph.org.uk

Looking at the rents for students in York on RightMove.com, a typical rent per person per week is a bit over £70 or £300 per person per month.

To cool the housing market in York the JRHT should look into organising park homes for students.

No need for expensive and polluting roads and other site works: let them ride bikes or let them catch buses. This accommodation could be at a fraction of the cost of current rents.

Let these parks be well landscaped and let them have good security – one good report I have had of Derwenthorpe is about the security on the children’s playground, which I am told is handled well and sensitively.

Perhaps students do not need as much policing as teenage boys but it is well known that where there are students there is more petty crime because the students are easy pickings.

Taking the pressure off the housing market in York would certainly help York’s poor.

Stealing to survive

In this context it is worth noting Mike Laycock’s report in The Press, Hundreds stealing to survive in York. Once again that nice Father Tim Jones has a say:

Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda, who hit the headlines around the world in 2009 when he advised society’s most vulnerable and needy people to shoplift, said yesterday: “We all need to be careful not to judge too quickly, and to help each other where we can. Many people believe a myth that the welfare state is watertight, providing a constant supply of generous benefits to everyone in need.”

“That has never been true, and things are getting much harder, even for people who never imagined that things would become so desperate for themselves.”

I hope Father Jones would not advocate stealing from students. Not all of them are destined to inherit their parents’ housing wealth.

I doubt if any Joseph Rowntree staff are stealing to survive.