So social housing finally has a coherent, thought-out statement of intent. Given that it is a week in which David Cameron has been banging on about the need to promote British values and big up our institutions you would be forgiven for thinking he was on about social housing. Alas no. He must mean having a cabinet almost entirely Ox-bridge educated, a lopsided economy and a set of national teams that underachieve to such an extent the opposition must almost take pity on us.
No, the statement of intent has come from within rather than from one of the political parties. Social Housing Under Threat aka SHOUT has published a manifesto it hopes will swing the debate, and more importantly funding, back towards “genuinely affordable housing“. The dirty word – council housing – is expressly promoted, as is the need for politicians of all creeds to publicly back council housing and to reverse the demonisation of a whole section of society based on their tenure of residence. Essentially it is everything our good ‘n’ proper political powerhouses should have been saying and doing, but haven’t.
The manifesto comes at an interesting juncture for social housing. Some in the sector are openly embracing the move towards a more private sector mode of operating, particularly those in the south, where such a move can be particularly profitable. A number of housing leaders have publicly spoken of the need to have a mixed portfolio. If I was to be a mite bitchy I would point out that many organisations already do, but I ain’t that guy. Others are more cautious, arguing that to stray too far from the holy path of social housing provision and bad things will happen (I’m guessing something a la the dwarves in The Hobbit when they did so whilst journeying through Mirkwood?). Certainly there are cautionary tales to be told from home and abroad, Vestia you know what I’m talking about. From my point of view it depends on your operating environment, running costs and legacy debt. We are a very diverse sector and one approach won’t fit all. Plus it would be a bit dull if we all did the same thing. Have some originality chaps and chapesses. Standing still is not an option.
I am intrigued by a return to council led building. Given the enormous strain on local authority finances currently in effect it will be interesting to see how councils would handle the new freedom. And, more importantly, how it would impact on social landlord’s – how will they step up to the new competition? As someone who is a bit of a housing history geek it does strike me a little as a bit of history repeating. Not helped by the fact the manifesto makes explicit reference to previous Government support for council builds (back in the 60s/70s). But for once I am not entirely against it. We need more housing, we need better management of the housing stock we have. We definitely need policies that are a little less Londoncentric. We need a political establishment that gives a rat’s arse. This is a very good starting point to get those things.
It is of course not the first such statement. Shelter produced something similar just last month. Whether it will be heard is another matter. After a small splash not much has happened since Shelter’s report. But the fact that it has come from within our mighty sector is encouraging. It is not the usual suspects, the NHF or the CIH, it is a new group (albeit a group made up of a number old hands in the sector). Similar to Council Homes Chat, this new group is rising to counter the unanswered blows that our sector has taken for a sustained period of time. I hope this is the start of a prolonged period of pro-social housing campaigning. I hope this is not a repeat of the shambles of left-wing politics in this country, where academic arguments take precedent over actually getting something done. I once attended a function where a self-proclaimed Neo-Marxist declared he would rather be date-raped than be a Trot (pro-Trotsky). Stupidity sometimes knows no bounds.
All I would ask is for Shelter, Crisis, the NHF, the CIH the LGA, Council Homes Chat and SHOUT to come under one banner to make a joint statement that enough is enough. We have less than a year to make an impact. Sadly as the British attitude survey shows today, we have a long way to go.
Nice ‘borrowed’ infograph – British Social Attitudes 31 (2014)
Although positive attitudes towards some benefits are relatively high, unemployment benefit still takes a whack. Of note is the increase in support for benefits if the public are given more information i.e. we need to start winning the PR battle. The more people know, the less of a d#@k they seem to be in terms of their attitudes towards benefits. So get SHOUTing people (see what I did there..?).
If you feel so inclined you can support SHOUT’s campaign by ‘Liking’ their facebook page or follow them on twitter using the Twitter Handle @4socialhousing and the #SHOUT hashtag. I would strongly recommend reading the manifesto and sending it to your local MP. It is available here. Remember, it’s about housing, stupid.