The ongoing media furore over the government's planned benefit reforms and the creation of the capped universal credit has focused quite rightly on the issue of rents. One of the largest payments to families in receipt of benefits is housing benefit, and much of that goes to private sector landlords. It is worth noting that housing benefit does not currently pass through the pockets of many households, being paid instead direct to the landlord (although along with many other things this is scheduled to change, a matter of great concern for social housing landlords who fear a spike in arrears rates as a result). The very concept of the fabled '£26,000' cap on household benefits income is therefore open to challenge on the basis that these households do not actually see a large proportion of that money - the rent charged is purely a transaction between the government and their landlord.
Private sector rents have been rising strongly in recent years, and are forecast to continue to do so. As the housing benefit bill rises it is therefore unsurprising that the government should wish to limit it. Capping benefit payments is a demand-side action which seeks to deflate the lower end of the rental market. But is capping benefits the most effective way in which to do this?
The legislation already exists to moderate lower-quartile private sector rents in a much less messy, more humane fashion. As Labour MP Dr Eion Clarke points out, the government already possesses the ability to regulate the rents which private landlords charge - and indeed used to do so.
So, if it wishes to moderate its housing benefit bill efficiently (in terms of parliamentary time) and effectively (in terms of producing the desired effect on lower-quartile private sector rents), why does the government not simply amend the relevant existing legislation and re-enact rent controls for the private sector?
Is it, perhaps, insufficiently politically sexy?
During this season of goodwill towards all men, spare a thought for the printing industry. This mournful little ode, which appeared on our doorstep this morning in a Christmas card from Social Housing magazine's printers Hastings Printing Co, explains why:
The Times the are a changing
Things digital abound
But all a poor print rep can do
Is to keep on doing his rounds
As sales are tight the publishers tell me
With paginations falling
I ask to quote their magazine
I get a buyer's mauling
You've been commoditised, they say
Service do not me sell
What we want is money off
Or don't bother ringing my bell
There's several print reps every day
Knocking at my door
All promising to print it
For less money than before
But we don't need more litho printing
We can publish on the net
We've just installed fast broadband
And it's the coolest yet
Day in day out, I stagger on
My samples quick to show
I'll find a buyer somewhere
With artwork ready to go
The weather's cold, the traffic hell
This rep is now in need
Cos back at base what's driving me
Four hungry presses to feed!
Christmas is a coming
The turkey's getting fat
So please put a print job
In this poor old print rep's hat
The moral of my ditty is
We won't throw in the can
Just because we've been surrounded
By networked, digital man
He's gone online. The World Wide Web!
It's really rather sad
Failed to tweak his SEO
The site stats show it's dead
His miracle technology
Often fails to fly
And it's all so complicated
He seldom knoweth why
The internet may be wonderous
Delivering messages in a flash
But when did your printer last tell you
That his Heidelberg had crashed?
Litho print quality can be stunning
With convenience unsurpassed
Its value has never been better
And delivery times are fast
So WOW them with your brochure
And with its look and feel
Page-by-page from cover-to-cover
They'll soon take in your spiel
There's no technology to grapple with
Just turn a simple page
The reader stays quite calm throughout
No storming off in rage
So when it really matters
Your products for to sell
Forget digital and the internet
And just give me a bell.
Don't worry, Hastings - Social Housing magazine has no intention of going digital-only anytime soon. So at least that's one contract you can continue to count on!