Now's Not the Time for David Cameron to Shuffle Housing to the Bottom of the Pack

14/10/2013 11:12 BST | Updated 11/12/2013 10:12 GMT

After a week of reshuffles - both for David Cameron's cabinet and Ed Miliband's shadow cabinet - it appears the coalition haven't just changed personnel, they've relegated housing on the political agenda.

Mark Prisk was sacked as housing minister, explaining in a tweet he'd been "been asked to step aside from housing for a younger generation". Prisk is 51 and was replaced by Kris Hopkins, a whole year younger at 50. Age clearly isn't the issue.

It's widely believed Prisk was sacked because, despite considerable experience of housing gained as a Chartered Surveyor, he wasn't media friendly enough. Hopkins, coincidentally, has a degree in media studies and lectured in media theory.

What's more telling is the fact that Prisk was Minister of State, whereas Hopkins is Under Secretary - meaning housing minister has effectively been demoted to a junior position.

This change left the housing community confused and, for several hours, Twitter was awash with questions about who the new Housing Minister actually was. To demote the importance of housing at a time when it's never been higher on the agenda for most people in the UK - 'hardworking', 'squeezed' or otherwise - seems unthinkable.

At the same time Ed Miliband announced his own reshuffle, with Jack Dromey stepping down as Shadow Housing Minister to be replaced by Emma Reynolds. The key difference is Reynolds will now be attending shadow cabinet meetings. That's a clear indicator Labour are serious about housing or, at the very least, keen to appear serious about housing. Either way it's a positive signal.

This leads to the inevitable question of why Housing Minister isn't a cabinet position to begin with. Of all the issues affecting people in the UK today housing is one everyone feels strongly about. Yet have a quick scan of the list of the twenty-one ministers and one peer in the cabinet and what do you see?

At the top is David Cameron, Prime Minister but also Minister for the Civil Service. Keep reading and you'll find MPs responsible for:

Foreign Affairs

The economy (Chancellor George Osborne)

Home Department



Work and Pensions



Communities and Local Government



Food and Rural Affairs

International Development


Energy and Climate Change


Culture, Media, Sport, Women and Equalities (yes, that's all one job)

Northern Ireland


Plus the Leader of the House of Lords.

All important roles of course, but did you spot housing in there?

OK, don't worry, there are still nine more MPs (and one Baroness) attending cabinet. Let's look at their responsibilities.

Leader of the House of Commons

Chief Whip and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury

Ministers for:

The Cabinet Office

Government Policy


Faith and Communities

Universities and Science

Also two ministers without portfolio and one who attends cabinet when 'ministerial responsibilities are on the agenda'.

So, that's thirty-two people looking after top level decision making in the UK and not one has explicit responsibility for housing. The government would argue that Eric Pickles, Minister for Communities and Local Government, has housing under his remit. True, but it's a far more important issue than that and one deserving of its own champion within cabinet.

The problem with housing is it's not the same as, say, health or education, where we expect the state to provide services and a wealthy minority turn to private sector alternatives. Housing is a delicate, complex dance between public and private sectors; government and local authorities; planning, conservation, economics and our national sense of ourselves as homeowners.

It's a tough job, it's an important job and it's a job it would appear the coalition isn't taking seriously enough.