If there were any doubts that the social housing sector has failed to get its message across to those in power they have been cast aside quite definitively. Stuck between a hostile Government and apathetic general public the sector is struggling to align itself to the threats facing it.
Not one but two cabinet ministers have gone after the after housing associations in the last couple of days. In and of itself that is not unusual. But the key difference here is the focus of the criticism. Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and (more worryingly, as he really should know better) the Housing Minister have decided that all the sector does is build homes. Or more precisely not build enough of them. In doing so Mr Osborne also tried to quietly re-write history (cheeky sod). Taking the old adage that it is the victors that write the definitive account of times past a bit too literally for my liking. Shout out to Jules Birch on that one.
Indeed Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee seem intent on taking the general public down the rabbit hole regarding what we actually do. The inability of the sector to get across who we are and what we do is costing us dearly. Just as Zach De La Rocha wrote that “the radio is silent though it fills the air with noises”, so our message is being lost due to white noise and lack of cohesion. This really needs to change, explicitly.
In the face of a an entire sector being measured against a yard stick plucked out of thin air I’m reminded of a wonderful sketch done on school systems around the world (see below). Where the skill to climb a tree is perceived the best measure of an animals worth.This is Osborne & Lewis’s thinking on HAs and building homes. It is a straw man argument that doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny (they never usually do). We are a diverse sector whose focus is providing housing for the poor, the vulnerable, the destitute. We are also increasingly taking on the role of the state as adult social care, money advice services, after school clubs, community centres all shut due to Government orchestrated cuts. It is also deliberate move to shape and define the debate to come. One that favours a Government whose focus is solely on home ownership and pits them against some troublesome social landlords who aren’t too keen on state sponsored asset stripping. Brandon Lewis for his part has managed to highlight (I’m assuming accidentally) the consequence of his own Party’s actions. Bemoaning a 20% rise in social housing rent – sorry fella but what did you expect would happen when pushing Affordable Rent conversions. You know, where you rent the same property at up to 80% of the market rent as opposed to around 55-65% of it? That might have an impact. A 1% on future rents cut isn’t going to reverse that nonsense of a policy, just mess up the business plans of housing associations. The last bit of his pieces also narks – it is the social, with an S, housing sector not affordable. And no your track record shows anything but support. Possibly begrudging acceptance, but definitely not support. I’ve previously joked about how the Conservatives saw low-cost home ownership as the new social housing (with a metamorphosis via affordable rents). Unfortunately they didn’t see the joke and have enacted it as policy…
More in-depth analysis of the last couple of days events have been done by the ever capable Jules Birch and John Land for Inside Housing and 24 Dash respectively. Always worth a read. You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.