To Boldy Go Where No-one Has Gone Before

The pragmatist in me knows why voluntary Right to Buy has a significant amount of attraction. If I were in charge of a housing association I would probably have ticked yes myself. But that doesn’t mean a debate shouldn’t have been had. It doesn’t mean that we all have to like it. Being given a week to look over this is frankly unforgivable, it is a grade ‘A’ balls-up however you look at it. But before we all get busy patting ourselves on the back it may be worth reminding ourselves of some uncomfortable facts.

In 1981 England had 7 million units owned by either Local Authorities or Registered Providers, by 2014 this had dropped to 4 million.

In 1981 England had 7 million units owned by either Local Authorities or Registered Providers, by 2014 this had dropped to 4 million. The population in 1981 was just under 46 million, by 2014 it was 54.3 million. I.e we have less social stock for a larger population. Over the past 4 years those accepted as unintentionally homeless has increased from 42,390 in 2010 to 53,410 in 2014. Those living in temporary accommodation has increased from 48,240 (2010/11) to 64,710 (2014/15). Those found to be unintentionally homeless as a result of their assured shorthold tenancy ending has risen from 15% (6,150) of decisions in 2010 to 29% (15,420) in 2014. Those in work, yet claiming housing benefit, surpassed 1 million in 2014 (in 2008 it was just 430,000). In one of the most advanced countries in the world that is outrageous. It also highlights why social housing is needed.

You will no doubt have seen I’ve been vehemently opposed to both Right to Buy (RTB) and ‘Voluntary’ Right to Buy (VRTB). It’s clear that my personal beliefs are quite opposed to a number of those in the sector. I am grateful for the open and frank debates that have been had. It is one of the things I admire about social housing. Difference of opinion is accepted, even encouraged (just don’t expect for your view not to be challenged). Though I must admit talk of a ‘re-set’ in our relationship with Government does nark. Had the sector been better at lobbying, at influencing i.e. had a better relationship with Government in the first place this wouldn’t need to be the case. I don’t work in PR but I doth my cap at those putting a positive spin on one of our greatest failures.

I am 1 of 4 brothers, but I’m the only one who has a permanent contract…

A significant part of my anger, of my unwillingness to accept the extension of Right to Buy in any guise is quite a simple one. Many of you will be talking from position of secure housing. Many of you will be talking from a position of home ownership. I am not. I have family who live in social housing, friends currently wholly or partially reliant on benefits to, you know, live. I am 1 of 4 brothers, but I’m the only one who has a permanent contract (and I was 27 before that beauty came along). Alongside my travails my ladyfriend was made redundant twice in a 6 month period last year. In total we’ve moved 5 times in the last 4 years (all were work and/or affordability related). My family has seen depression, cancer, job losses and death in an uncomfortably short period of time. But the backdrop to all of that was a secure family home. One I ended up living back at for most of 2014.

Out of all my friends (a disparate group of around 20 chaps and chapesses) a grand total of 2 own the property they live in. As such policy developments matter deeply to me. When life is as precarious as outlined above the potential removal of an invaluable safety net is highly alarming. Housing Association properties might be saved by VRTB, but truly social rent via LAs, I’m not so sure. I have been challenged to provide another way. I would politely throw the challenge back.

Whilst I support a true variety of housing; social rent, market rent, home ownership, shared ownership, and all the betwixt and between, from all types of providers. For many just a roof over their head is a priority, yes develop other things but we still need social housing, we still need that base. Because it is often the one secure/reliable facet in the lives of so many vulnerable households. When the dust settles, when we are all back being busily ‘inefficient’ and not building things that may be worth remembering.

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3 thoughts on “To Boldy Go Where No-one Has Gone Before

  1. Great blog Neil. I have a very similar background having grown up in social rented housing until I bought my first home through shared ownership in 2001.

    Like you I still have lots of family and friends who are reliant on social housing and benefits to survive.

    This is a large part of what drives me and keeps me in this sector because I have seen first hand how big a role social housing has on people’s lives.

    To pick up one point, I haven’t met anyone yet who are (admitting to be) in approval for the voluntary deal. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said its better than having it done to us but remain very anti RTB in principle.

    But as a key manifesto promise the government are going to try to implement it. Based upon the details (admittedly not enough yet) I have seen the voluntary deal does offer a far better chance of genuine replacements than a legislated forced version of RTB would.

    The debates from both sides have been fascinating to follow and I have swung backwards and forwards with my thoughts as person after person make very valid points.

    Time and again though I come back to ‘supporting’ the voluntary deal as it gives us SOME control over the process but this really is a case of only time will tell who is right on this which is not a great position to be in at all!


  2. Spot on. When everything is going along swimmingly we tend to forget the importance of a stable place to call home. Having kids has underlined this point for me.

    As an observer peering over the other side of the border, I’m watching all this unfold with Interest. Following the Welsh Assembly elections we’ll no doubt face some stiff challenges too.

    The thing that I find concerning about the voluntary RTB deal is that if it involved anyone other than the government you’d never agree to the terms. The fine points seem fuzzy, the deadline seems rushed and there’s absolutely no certainty that further amendments wont be made at a later date. I worry that this decision has bypassed the political process and given the Conservatives additional ammunition for stating that the housing sector approves of Right To Buy. I’ve read a number of very reasonable statements from HA execs begrudgingly backing the deal – but I do wonder if this is just temporarily dodging the inevitable fight.

    A bully doesn’t give up when you give them your lunch money, they come back the next day asking for more. At some point you need to make a stand.


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