It isn’t often I get to doth my cap (figuratively speaking, hats don’t suit me) but I shall do so towards the BBC’s Panorama programme from this week. Because when the BBC isn’t ‘accidentally’ ballsing up footage of the miner’s strikes or ignoring 50,000 people protesting against austerity measures (outside fucking Parliament, I mean how do you miss that?) they make very good TV documentaries. In this instance the excellently put together BBC Panorama programme Britain’s Homeless Families (for a thoughtful blog on the subject matter see Jules Birch’s blog in Inside Housing). The show adeptly highlighted the true cost of implementing policies that have served to marginalise social housing and tenancy insecurity within the private sector in this country. People suffering through no fault of their own. What’s more the programme had the common decency to show people in work trying to get social housing and not just a bunch of Jeremy Kyle rejects living it large for the cameras.
This week also saw an opinion dividing piece from nouveau agent provocateur Peter Hall. In a series of punchy blogs, and an article or two in 24housing, Peter has raised some interesting points. If you are of a slightly squeamish disposition I would go and see a doctor. But seriously, old school thinkers on social housing would do better to look away. Social rent is dying a slow death, all hail affordable rent is essentially the lad’s tag line. On first glance I was tempted to politely show this train of thought the front door, but once you look at the nuts and bolts it does have legs.
For Mr Hall public opinion has long been negative of social housing because of its reinvented purpose in the late 70s and 80s (cheers Iron ‘Lady’). Artificially mixed communities have been promoted and implemented for a number of years but the jury is still out. A large amount of resentment stems from the public purse paying for nice housing for poor people. I can’t argue with much of what is being said here. Peter’s proposal, a genuinely flexible and affordable rent model could well provide a workable model for social housing. If it can provide a decent yield for investors and housing associations alike, and counter negative perceptions of social housing then sign me up sweetheart I’m sold. Flexibility for Peter is the key, work with investors on a viable development mix and match the level of rent customers pay with their earnings.
A key thing for this policy would be that it would be able take into account localised housing markets. Something many Londoncentric policies do not (bedroom tax anyone?). By tying into the local market level then drilling down (or up) rents as appropriate, social landlords will have the ability to adapt business plans and operate free from a restrictive rent formula. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but as shown in Britain’s Homeless Families the lack of social housing and the insecurity of the private sector means more homes from social landlords are needed, period. If this is flexible rent mechanism is a means by which to provide them, then so be it.
As with any idea there are questions to be asked. What could landlords do to ensure that those paying extra, for what is essentially the same product, feel they aren’t paying over the odds? After all it would be those paying the higher rents who are effectively subsidising the lower rents in the scheme. Would it be a two track repairs system? That would be a very quick way to piss off a lot of people. But whatever the pros and cons it is clear that the current state of play needs to change. New ideas like those put forward by Peter need to be given thought and piloted. No point in completely replicating that past. And as figures released by the Department for Misappropriated Statistics, known to you and me as the DWP, suggest, many people are still struggling. In January 2009 there were 446,809 housing benefit claimants who were in work. By December 2013 there were 1,038,008 housing benefit claimants who had a job. That is a more than doubling of the number of housing benefit claimants who in work in just 4 years.
Pretty Graph (1) Number of Housing Benefit Claimants in Work
Ultimately it will take some innovative thinking to change the current malaise we find ourselves in. We need more housing from all sectors, personally I feel the government should get off its ass and provide more funding. But hey that’s just me (one of the joys of being young is you are allowed to be idealistic, oh and you have hair on your head, lots of it…jealous?).
I would say this, unlike Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in Wolf of Wallstreet I haven’t been both a rich and a poor man so I can’t say I would take being rich “every f@*king time”. But I have been a poor and un/non-poor bloke, and being poor definitely sucked. A little state support now and then goes a long way. Another thing I would add to Mr Hall is that, as a person of #generationrent I champion public funded housing for the less fortunate for the same reason why I pay my taxes, national insurance contributions and support the NHS. One day I might need the bloody thing. But I do like your thinking. I will ask you not to write us off just yet.