System Failure

For all the pain, the anguish and upset so visible in No Place to Call a Home the end result is crushingly predictable. Not just because we haven’t been building enough of the right type of housing in the right areas for years, but because it highlights how much central Government has pulled back the safety net that is meant to help those who need it.

I feel like writing to every paper and saying do something!

The Twitter outrage will die out shortly, Mrs May’s Government may ride some tough questioning in the short-term. But for someone who has studied and worked in social policy and social housing for the best part of 10 years the stories being told in No Place to Call a Home are all too familiar. They are a reminder that ordinary people are having to ever more rely on friends and family as the state is unable, and at national level, unwilling to help. That for many simply having a job is not enough to keep a roof over one’s head, and that being at crisis point isn’t enough to get the help you need.

What I found most striking was the thoughts of those covered by No Place to Call a Home. The shock at their predicament, the re-assessing of how they view others in the same place.  They’re probably mirroring the thoughts of most of us watching. And as someone who has been through in work poverty (albeit only temporary) it is a reminder that in another life that could have been me. It still can be.

I used to judge people…but now I’m in that situation I’m more understanding…it’s probably going to get harder.

These are Fucking People, Not just Figures

Another thing successfully highlighted by the show is the detrimental impact of having no secure shelter. That regardless of whether you are young, old, black or white, you can have your sense of safeness yanked away at any time. You don’t need to be unemployed, you don’t need to be a drug addict, you don’t need to be a delinquent.

We’ve become so good at dehumanising the effects of policy and/or policy failure that you forget the people behind the numbers. We’ve been so quick to blame individual pathology, to blame the other, to blame immigrants, to blame anyone and anything but the monumental failure of housing and welfare policy in this country. That we’re failing to do what any civilised country should. Help those in need. It’s as if we have cultivated this collective blind-spot. Because nearly all of us are a couple of missed pay-cheques from being homeless, it’s about time we remembered that.

We’re Almost Back Where we Started

50 years ago the release of Cathy Come Home caused such an uproar that two major charities (Crisis and Shelter) were formed, Government policy altered significantly and many of the Housing Associations in operation today were formed. However, thanks to 30 years of hostile policy, of bad policy and of neglect we are almost back where we started. Right to Buy has stripped back social housing stock, as has more recent under-funding of new construction of social stock. Years of hostile press has seen the reputation of social housing and those unfortunate enough to need state help is in tatters.

We don’t need to keep failing, we choose to.

In 21st Century Britain it is a fucking travesty that we still have issues of homelessness and housing insecurity. I’m writing this on a laptop that has more processing power in its little finger than the Apollo Space shuttles had. Mobile phones are now so juiced up you can practically run a whole business from them. We have Hoovers that don’t need you to control them to clean your house (mind = blown). We can fund a massive white elephant in Hinckley, we can fund nuclear weapons. Yet we still can’t ensure everyone has a roof over their head and that we have a properly funded capital investment programme to build social housing for those in dire need. That’s not unfortunate, it’s utter incompetence.

Opportunity Knocks

For the first time in what seems like an eternity (OK, 6 years or so) we have a pragmatic (on paper at least) Chancellor willing to invest instead of simply prioritising deficit reduction and bullshit dogma. We also have a housing minister, who whilst unable to mention the s-word (social) rent, has indicated more of a willingness to fund sub-market rent. I wholeheartedly agree with a number of chaps and chapesses in the sector who have been calling to work with the current incumbents in power. It is time to make the most of the hand that has been dealt, because the status quo is not an option.

Leaving on a Positive Note

One of my all time favourite quotes is from Mr Kennedy (not him, the other one, who could more often than not keep his dick in his trousers). It’s a reminder that each of us can change history, that together we can be greater than the sum of our parts. After spending most of this blog bitching it’s probably best to have some positive messages. Enjoy.

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance

Fetch me a shovel. Let’s do this.

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Moses I amn’t

I agree Gavin Barwell, relying on a rich, dead, relative should not be the way to buy a home. The housing market should be able to facilitate affordable home ownership without someone being 6 Feet under or living in a hamster cage. So let’s build more social housing.

It is seldom that I write directly about home ownership, this blog is typically a mish-mash of things related to social housing, internal processes thereof or me being annoyed at Central Government that negatively affects social housing. But, as is now, I occasionally will stray. In this particularly instance it is some recent comments from our new Housing Minister that have piqued my interest.

Fetch the shovel

The first comment of note is Mr Barwell’s quite honest (and accurate) response to a question around home ownership and how first time buyers can get on that mythical housing ladder. By stating that Grandparents should by-pass their children for the sake of their Grandchildren’s ability to buy a home he has presented a quite reasonable approach tackling diminishing home ownership. This is fairly appropriate and reasonable, the issue is two-fold.

1) The most obvious – It’s bollocks. I, as a qualified, reasonably well paid, worker should not have to rely on a rich relative dropping dead to buy a bloody house. The fact that people are having to do so in order to afford the deposit for a mortgage is a sure-fire sign that years of crap housing policy (from all political parties) is coming home to roost. I agree with Mr Barwell that this shouldn’t be the case.  The problem is his party have been making the situation a lot worse for the past 6 years. Going, yeah it’s a bit shit, right now isn’t helpful. Though it is a start.

2) Housing supply is the key concern in terms of driving up the cost of housing, not necessarily the ability to buy (in many instances credit has never been cheaper to access). Social mobility will stagnate until housing supply increases because it is this (and not scrapping right to buy in social housing) that is causing stock blocking and wealth inequality to sky-rocket. Renewed Government interest in funding housing projects might help, but much more is needed. Especially in terms of more social housing. Which pays for itself and even works post Brexit. Just saying.

I am not a Hamster

Sadly Mr Barwell’s other interjection has actually annoyed me (the other is a bit of a misquote). Call me picky, but I don’t want to live in a house that doesn’t meet current building regulations, because they’re actually pretty shit. Britain already has the smallest sized houses in Europe (the continent, not the EU, shut up Brexiters). Making them smaller isn’t going to help. Whilst it’s happened to a number of day-to-day products like Cadbury Chocolate bars. Yes you cheeky sods, I’ve noticed they’re smaller, and you’ve put your prices up. Bastards. Doing the same for properties just builds up issues down the line.

Whilst some might think that my age cohort splash out cash on overly pricey crap and skiing holidays, we’re mostly just getting by. You’ve had your cake, and eaten it, kindly don’t lecture me. I don’t want to live in a tiny house. I don’t want to live in a converted shipping container. What I want is for my reasonable pay to be able to afford a reasonably sized house, preferably within a 1 hour commute from my job. That is not an outlandish wish, but as prices (both rental and ownership) continue to outstrip wage growth, it might as well be.

Wrapping it up

I am willing to give Mr Barwell some leeway. His predecessors have said/done much dumber things. As Housing Minister Grant Shapps championed a policy that increased social rents (i.e. Affordable Rents) to those likely to receive housing benefit (i.e. those living in housing provided by Social Landlords) whilst the Government he worked for was trying to reduce that very same bill. Barwell’s statement on inheritance is quite sensible, but for many it is simply not an option. And at least with his idea for smaller homes he’s trying to think outside the box. But with a Government that is at least wanting to sound like it will make Britain work for all (as long as you’re British…) something other than ‘hope you have rich relatives’ is needed.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

*Updated to emphasise misquote of Barwell in the Independent.