Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked

Talk is cheap, building housing isn’t. The warm and conciliatory tone struck by Sajid Javid needs to be backed up by cold hard cash. Otherwise it is meaningless.

An honest mistake

I must say that I have been taken somewhat by surprise by the first day of the NHF conference in Birmingham. Not by Sajid Javid announcing another Green Paper on Housing. We’ve had so many pieces of legislation on housing another one isn’t going to hurt. But a Conservative Secretary of State for the DCLG talking about housing beyond pure numbers and bricks and mortar was not on the cards. 

I do not share his ‘pride’ on the Conservative Party’s record on council/social housing. It is abysmal, particularly in recent years. To call it anything else would be a dishonesty of the highest order. Nor do I easily swallow the fact that his speech ignored the complicit role the Tories have played in pushing policies that have marginalised, stigmatised and residualised social housing and the people who live in it. But the fact that he’s talking about such issues is a step change in and of itself.

It is one of the genuinely positive impacts of the Brexit vote that Messrs Cameron and Osborne are out of the picture. Because, for all their talk of being in the Centre ground, they were Neo-Liberal ideologues through and through on housing. Ownership was king, social housing bred Labour supporters. It was the role of the state to get out of the way and let the market provide. Policies and funding streams were designed accordingly. Consequently, we’re currently spending 79% of the total housing budget on higher cost homes for sale, and we’ve stopped funding social rent builds. At a time when rough sleeping is up 134%, when housing homeless people in temporary accommodation is costing £845 million a year and it costs 23% more in housing benefit payments to house someone in the PRS than if they were in a social housing. That is insane.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked, money don’t grow on trees

Whilst the prospect of yet another Green Paper on housing hasn’t exactly warmed the cockles of my heart, it is an opportunity to push the case for properly funding social rent. It could also provide a break from some of the barmy policy decisions highlighted above. But just as the Housing White Paper studiously avoided an open debate about the Private Sector, its standards and greater regulation. The ‘broad’ and ‘wide ranging’ remit of the Green Paper will just focus on one element of the rented housing in this country. That is a deliberate omission, and a big mistake.

Just as policy focus  purely on building for home ownership was wrong. There is no point zeroing in on one element of policy interventions in rented housing. It is utter folly to ignore the broader policy context and market idiosyncrasies that impact on the need for more social housing. We need to provide more, better, secure housing. Regardless of whether it’s rented private housing, rented social housing or home ownership.

History Repeating

In his speech Mr Javid mentions learning from the past. I truly hope that he heeds his own words, otherwise we’ll be exactly where we started. Which is in a pretty darn big mess.

Photo Credit – Matt Biddulph – Council Estate (2008)

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Advertisements

Float On

As a child my ladyfriend was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied matter of factly that she was going to be a lipstick. A response that wins hands down in terms of blue sky thinking. Alas my aspirations were a bit more mundane. If I remember correctly the two main ones were to become a Firefighter or a mechanic. Turns out I’m afraid of heights and crap with tools, so it’s probably a good thing I got into housing.

Who’d have thought that after all, Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all

I’ve never particularly had a plan. Other than I knew I wanted to work in social housing, and even that came quite late, it’s all been a bit fuzzy. As a teenager and in my early 20s I did my fair share of crap jobs. Ones that suck the life out of you. Subsequently my only real guide has been to find jobs that are of interest to me, that challenge me, and hopefully ones that can leave behind some kind of meaningful change. Other than that I’m pretty open to the options out there.

Perhaps that lack of a plan probably wasn’t a bad thing, Chairman Mao-esk 5 yr plans have historically left a lot of people dead, but more importantly priorities change and as Colin Powell noted ‘No plan survives the battlefield’, so why have one? More’s the point, despite what those earnest posts on LinkedIn will have you believe, very few people have set out plans for their career development, let alone a point by point explanation of their daily routine. Weirdos.

If you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?

However, not having a plan is not the same as not having an end goal. So if you had asked me 5 years ago where I wanted to end up I’d have probably said as a Chief Executive of a Housing Association. The pay is pretty good (or bad, depending on your point of view) and in being white, middle class and male I figured I was near enough half way there. However, if you asked me now, I’m not sure if I’d still agree with my younger self.

I’ve witnessed one parent suffer a nervous breakdown and battle depression, and saw the other drop dead as their semi-retirement approached. Such events tend to give one pause for thought. Particularly when it comes to how one’s work/life balance is set up. As you get further up the greasy pole that balancing act becomes harder to manage. These days I’m unsure if I’m willing to pay the price to maintain it.

I’ve got mates with kids who hate their jobs, but feel the need to stay in the role because they need the money. For them coming home to their family makes it worthwhile. Whilst I can see that point of view, I don’t think I could stand being in a job that I hated. But who am I to judge? 

I guess that’s the point though, isn’t it? We all make different life choices for different reasons*. A point we’re sometimes too quick to forget, and should try harder to remember. One person’s success is another’s mediocrity. In the end it’s all relative, we’re all just floating along trying to work out what it all means. If you ever find the answer (I hear it’s 42) do let me know.

*For a case and point see this handy guide on how not to be a complete dick when someone tells you they don’t have/aren’t planning on having any kids. 

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Ian Hasley (2012) Tower Block_Jardine Crescent_Coventry_Feb12