Hope Note Hate

As the dust starts to settle on what quite frankly has been one the of the ugliest political campaigns (Zac I’m Not saying Kahn is a terrorist sympathiser but…Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign aside) I can’t remember one quite as openly ugly, earnest reflections on who we are as a nation are needed.

Lies, Damned Lies and Vote Leave

Perhaps I was a bit naive but at the start of the EU Referendum campaign I had hoped that although tightly fought both sides would bringing meaningful arguments to the debate. That facts and figures would be used to back arguments instead of being bent to breaking point in order to fit the narrative being spun. That quite simply hasn’t happened, and instead false claims and counter claims have been thrown about by both sides. And little by little the arguments used have become uglier and uglier.

As someone who works in housing, who has a degree in Sociology & Social Policy and a Masters in Housing Policy and Practice it particularly pisses me off when rumour, misinformation, gossip and outright lies around access to social housing, and housing more generally and the EU are bandied about. I don’t blame the Poles for a lack of social housing in this country. I blame the Coalition Government for reducing the capital funding for social housing by 60% and the subsequent Tory Government for ignoring it in its entirety.

homer-simpson-quote-oh-people-can-come-up-with-statistics-to-prove

The consistent lying has been quite breathtaking, God bless FullFact, they have been working overtime trying to provide insight and context behind some of the ‘facts’ that been flying around. I will be very glad when its over just so I don’t have to put up with seeing Vote Leave politicians in a live public debate knowingly lie and misrepresent figures because their basic argument is a essentially of mixture of nostalgia and mild xenophobia. With a position that goes against the advice of the IMF, IFS, various Central Banks across the world, not to mention the overwhelming majority of economists. But don’t worry Andrea Leadsom and Gielsa Stuart are mothers and therefore knows best.

Blame the foreigner

Realistically Ms Leadsom/Stuart aren’t the worst, not by a long shot. The fact that someone like Nigel Farage gets air time is appalling. His latest stunt, from the Joseph Goebbels school of propaganda, is case and point. To his defenders he is one of the bastions against ‘PC going mad’, a chap who says it how it is. He isn’t, he’s just an opportunistic muppet, happy to rail against the EU whilst securing a great big pay cheque from it. There are chocolate teapots in this world that contribute more to this country than that oxygen thief. And for the record political correctness isn’t going mad it’s just society has decided to move on from some of the racist, homophobic and misogynistic traits it used to have. Whilst we still have a long way to go you’re just a little bit behind the curve, try to keep up.

As ugly as it is, the frenzied xenophobia masquerading as concern over the state of our country that has been plastered all over our papers is symptomatic of underlying tensions in our nation’s psyche.  Regardless of the result there are some clear issues that need addressing. There are elements of society, particularly (but not exclusively) those in the working class, who feel let down, marginalised and threatened. They have legitimate concerns over immigration (yes it’s an issue, no not in the way portrayed by a lot of our press), pay, working conditions, state support and a perceived encroachment on their lives by the state (ironically enough). Whether a Tory Government will give a damn, or a Labour Party desperate to get back in power (with or without its current leader) will dare to be seen as being too pro-working class (you do have to go back to the 80s for that mind) remains to be seen. Either way their concerns need to be heeded.

In Summary

What I am hoping for tomorrow is quite simply that, Hope. That optimism about the benefits of the EU wins out over blind nostalgia and cynical manipulation of legitimate concerns. That we opt, at least in terms of the EU, for a more progressive and inclusive approach to politics. Because bugger me it’s been severely lacking over the past few years.

What we don’t need is rhetoric that is essentially – blame the foreigner, blame the foreigner, blame the foreigner. How about blame the austerity cuts to Housing, blame the cuts to Local Authority budgets. Blame neoliberalism’s failed experiment with our economy. Leaving Europe solves none of the actual issues facing the UK. Fuelling hatred based on nationality merely deepens divisions. That helps no one.

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

*Updated to expand on social housing points

 

 

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Nunquam Securus Via (Never the Easy Way)

I’ve always joked that as a sector that if there was an easy and a hard way of doing things to get the same result, that we pick the harder option every-time. Like someone with an unhealthy set of masochistic tendencies we tend to choose self-flagellation. Though I guess sometimes it’s because we don’t know what we don’t know and find comfort in doing things the way we’ve always done them. It’s time we broke that cycle.

As you’ve probably guessed from previous posts I have no love for the vast majority of what this Government (or its immediate predecessor) has done Housing Policy, or Welfare Policy-wise. Though in the interest of balance, the Blair/Brown Governments were pretty crap as well, they tolerated social housing, but Policy was just as fragmented back then as it is now.  Of particular concern, more recent initiatives/areas of Policy that aren’t utterly counterproductive (e.g. the principle of Universal Credit), have been swamped by an utter shite-storm of ideologically driven reforms (e.g. the reality of Universal Credit). Belief has repeatedly trumped evidence and as a man of science, not faith, I can only feel concern when that occurs. But this be the land, time and space we currently occupy. Howling to the wind won’t make a damned bit of difference. Don’t get me wrong, I have howled to the moon and back, anyone who has read even a couple of my blogs will know I don’t tend to hold back on passion, or swearing. But ultimately I’m not looking to change policy (not through this blog at any rate), just highlight to people what the sector does, where it is heading and the current policy climate.

However, as a sector, we need to do more and whilst some are attempting to do just that (Homes for Britain and SHOUT come to mind) we need to be a bit smarter in how we go about things. This Government does not care about how much we invest in communities, it doesn’t care that we are acting as a welfare state within a welfare state for many of our customers. It’s not getting politically battered for that. Where it is getting hurt is in the number of homes being built and the affordability of them. It’s why they are so pissed at our surpluses not (in their opinion) getting put to good use (i.e. being used to build homes). It doesn’t help that our go-to line is “give us money and we will build homes for poor people who can’t afford it and/or aren’t economically active”. That may play well with progressives, but to the conservative with both a small and big ‘C’ it’s like mocking their favourite brand of humus. They take personal offense to the very idea. If you haven’t already I would strongly recommend reading the Policy Exchange‘s various attempts at writing about housing. Whilst a similar experience to eating quinoa (i.e. utterly unfulfilling, and slightly perplexing) it will give you an insight into how this Government is thinking. It is no good brushing up on your French when the other person speaks Russian.

Ultimately, we still haven’t mastered the art of influencing the opinion of the public, or for that of Government (at least no consistently). Unless you state your argument repeatedly, simply and in as many places as possible you are not going to get anywhere. I am as guilty as the next chap in terms of entering into overly technical arguments, it muddies the water. Whilst this may result in a moral victory, it won’t stick in the minds of the general population. What David Cameron is a master at is sound bites, take his”bunch of migrants” statement for example. Stink caused, fuss created, message received and understood. As a sector we need to have just as clear (if less repugnant) message, and stick to it. You might look a bit like Ed Miliband but the message will get through. Just got to herd the bunch of cats that this sector is and we’ll be tout sweet.

Problem solved, well probably not as shown today by Jeremy Hunt, just because you have public opinion, evidence and a professional body on your side, it doesn’t prevent the Government from just going ahead and doing what it wants regardless. Still, no harm in trying.

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

Let’s face the music and dance

Homes for Britain Rally an important step in PR battle but a pro-housing stance amongst the general public is more nuanced than a simple nod to more social housing.

So the day is about to/has arrived (depending on when you read this) when all and sundry in housing pop down to London town in order to support the call for more housing in Britain.  I must admit I have had my doubts about the campaign.  Whilst the pressure group SHOUT has been very explicit in its calls for more social housing, Homes for Britain has tread a more fleet-footed approach.   No direct mention of social housing, just the line that we have a housing crisis.  I would like to see a more out and out support for social housing than has been the case.  I get the need for an approach that appeals to more than just the housing sector.  But on occasion it feels a little false.  That being said (for the record mostly) I support both Homes for Britain and SHOUT (I’m an inclusive kinda gal).

Despite my ever present doom and gloom recent weeks have been encouraging.  Housing has got into the mainstream press with the NHF in particular getting a large amount of air time.  Ramming the message home that not enough homes are being built.  That all the political parties have a golden opportunity to address a chronic problem.  That inaction is not an option.  And the public appears to be listening.  Shelter even won a highly important victory today over revenge evictions.  No Chope or Davies to filibuster the legislation this time.  Democracy works after all.  Positives aside, the ever reliable guys and gals over at Ipsos Mori have been producing some interesting survey results on housing for a while, not all of them good news.

A remarkable 75% of those surveyed believed there is a housing crisis, but only 5% indicated it would change the way they would vote.  It is also a bit removed, with only 40% saying there was a housing crisis in their local area.  This is a little troublesome.  Unless you can resonate the issue with people positive sentiment will not translate into action. Stuff that appears to sod off other people doesn’t quite cut it.  The Housing Day Survey did indicate a largely positive support for more social housing, but home ownership was still the preferred choice.  And housing is still down the pecking order in more recent pulse checks of the voting pulic perhaps a bit more passion might help our cause?

If you ever needed a bit of a pick me up I suggest you take a look at either this video from Michael Sheen or this one from Harry Smith.  Both provide what our side of the debate often lacks, visible passion, pride.  And a warning not to walk quietly into the night. Raw, un-distilled and in your face.  At a time when more and more it is only sanitized opinions (or needlessly controversial, looking at you Katie Hopkins) that are in the public space, showing some chanelled emotion may prove worthwhile.  As Mr Sheen himself states on the general apathy in British politics “by God believe in something“.  Tomorrow is our opportunity to show we do just that, I hope we grab it.

If you are at the rally I will be in and around and mostly on my best behaviour.  See you there, feel free to pop up and chat.  If you are inclined you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the Twitter handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

New Year, Same Issues

A new year has arrived but the omens already look bleak.  It is time the housing sector made a few changes before we really are up the proverbial creek with no wooden implement.

It’s a new year but it is not a new dawn and I am definitely not feeling good. Though in fairness that might be the post Christmas come-down.  Those of you who keep an eye on such things will have noticed the pre-election bollocks is in full swing. As predicted by none other than yours truly (and pretty much every political commentator in existence) the rise of UKIP has seen Mr Cameron and co shift to the right.  Talk of a coalition with the ‘live off EU brigade’ has been left in the air, further budget cuts are looming large and there may even be a referendum on membership of the EU earlier than planned. Goodie, haven’t had a proper white elephant in politics for a while.

On the subject of white elephants, the notion of rent controls appears to have gathered momentum again.  I have blogged on this before and without wanting to sound too Milton Friedman-esk, as that guy is a monumental bell-end, this sort of state intervention is not the answer, at least not on its own.  I have sympathy with Civitas, the think tank whose report  promotes rent controls (as well as Generation Rent) and certainly there appears to be public support for such measures (see Mr Birch’s excellent article on the subject).  However as Civitas notes, ultimately it is more housing that is needed. On its own rent controls will merely act as a mild dampener on a housing market that is only working for those already in an advantageous position.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to be bit more helpful in my criticisms, so after slagging off housing policy for the umpteenth time here are a few of my suggestions for a glorious new world.  You can thank me later, or even better pay me.  Some of these are for the housing sector as a whole, others for the incumbents in power, enjoy.

  • Stop with the brooding introspective bollocks.  The social housing sector is not Ryan from the O.C #mancrush, whilst I have also been guilty of bemoaning the fact we aren’t the most popular kid in school it is time to stop looking moodily in the distance and go talk to somebody, anybody.
  • Find a friend.  Campaign under one unified banner (Homes for Britain is the closest to doing this) a splintered set of competing pressures groups is about useful as a chocolate teapot (at least I could eat the teapot…).  Though whoever thought of the Ho Ho Homes for Britain bit please don’t do that again, ever.
  • Grow a pair (of balls or boobs, I’m an equal opportunity muse so take your pick) and get over providing properties for private rent and sale.  I’ve lived in private accommodation, I’m about to go back into the sector.  The majority of the muppets currently pretending to be landlords know as much about renting as they do astrophysics.  Get into the sector, outperform the rest of the competition and reap the benefits for all your customers.
  • Scrap Right to Buy. Because this policy provides about as much value for money to the tax payer as throwing fifties off a tour bus in central London.
  • Scrap the bedroom tax and the benefit cap.  Neither would pass the so called ‘family test‘ supposedly being carried out against new Government Policy and because fundamentally they don’t do what they are meant to do.
  • Pay a living wage.  Whether you are a social landlord, investment bank, social enterprise or a high street store pay your staff a living wage.  Aside from the fact to not do so is a total d**k move.  The number of working households in receipt of housing benefit is sky-rocketing because the cost of pretty much everything is outstripping wages.  In addition cycles of low pay, no pay are key part of poverty and failure to act will mean further reliance on the state to make up the shortfall.  Make profit through good products and efficiency savings, not through underpaying your staff you cheap son of a rabid water vole.  Invest in the people who work for you and reap the benefits.
  • Scrap affordable housing (the type of rent not social housing in general!).  Or at the very least call it Intermediate Market Rent and let those properties out to people who don’t qualify for social housing.  Because it damn well isn’t affordable for the people who need it the most.  And for the love of Michael Flatley don’t complain that the housing benefit bill is going up when a policy as stupid as this is in place.
  • Invest in social housing, whether the economy is in good nick or going the way of Old Yeller there will always be a need for social housing.  Invest in it, it is a cost we can all share.

Positive rant over, I feel like a new me already…

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter, simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Cause and Effect

It’s pretty hard to escape the fact that the current incumbents at Westminster don’t particularly like social housing.  It is even harder to avoid needless introspective bouts of Balotelli-esk ‘why always me’.  Sadly this week has rather kicked home the point that, like a wronged (and incredibly persistent/vindictive) ex, we are persona non grata with the boys in blue.

A while back I was moved to write to my local MP, it was a moment of weakness/dizzying optimism and one that is likely not to be repeated.  The response was reasonably well thought-out, albeit strewn with the toeing the line malark you would expect.  It was an insightful experience as it showed just how deliberately singular government thinking has become on social housing.  The ‘S’ word wasn’t used (no Social Housing here please, we’re British), everything was affordable housing, definitely not social.  As John Bibby notes in his blog for Shelter (an excellent, if depressing read) this is a rather broad term.  More to the point it gives the boys in blue a lot of room for manoeuvre when talking figures.

So far, so already known, but the key thing to note is just how effective the Coalition Government has been at reining back the building of of truly social housing.  It really is quite shocking, when housing need is at its highest for decades.  When low pay is becoming a real issue for millions in the UK, the very housing that can help ease some of the crisis is at its lowest level for years.  The last time new social housing building was this low we were still mopping up after a short, angry Austrian decided to go smashy-smashy across Europe.  However, it is not just the low level of Social Housing being built, but the type of housing being built in its place that is of interest here.  Affordable is not so much the new black, but the new social.  When the Coalition is talking about Affordable Housing it means Affordable, not Social.  It also means stuff like help to buy, sneaky sods!

Borrowed Graph 1 – Breakdown of Affordable/Social Housing builds

Shelter Graph2 When you look at graph numero dos from Shelter it is even more depressing and for all the sector’s guff around developing and building (borrowing a lot of money in the process) we are still building nowhere near enough homes as we should be/need to be.  Yes there are a plethora of mitigating factors, reduced grant, an economy that would embarrass even Soviet era Russia in terms of performance, the culling of badgers Section106 agreements, Right to Buy’s re-birth, the desolation of Smaug Council house building.  Regardless, we need to do more in order to ensure that we can build more.

Borrowed Graph 2 – Social Housing Built Since WW2

Shelter Graph

Whilst I have previously stressed the need for financial prudence we must still develop as a sector.  Remember JC and his parable of the talents?  That story stands as true here as it does in Sunday School rooms up and down our increasingly secular land, even for an atheist like myself.  Use what you have got to the best of your ability.  No-one likes a landlord who buries his/her kitty in the middle of a middle-eastern desert and leaves it there.  It is for the large part why I question the long term viability of smaller organisations.  If you are small and grant is scarce you can only borrow so much against the value of your assets in order to grow.  Otherwise you will be trying to squeeze more and more from the same resource.  Ever tried squeezing an orange?  Only so much will come from it…

So what can we do?  As a sector we often talk about the need for innovation and creativity but very rarely act on it.  Now more than ever is the time to think outside of the box because, as both the graphs show, the funding game is changing and we need to change with it.  That being said some green shoots are appearing.  Pre-fab houses are back en-vogue, albeit in a more sophisticated form.  Borrowing a feck-tonne of private finance in order to fill the grant void is also being trialled.  Rent to buy, deposit free mortgages, wage linked tenancies/rents are all in place or being mooted.  So despite the doom and gloom there is a healthy air of ‘fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen’ in the sector.  More of this is needed otherwise the graphs above will continue to look as grim as the Labour Party’s PR team when they heard Ed beat his brother to become leader.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable

After the relative damp squib that was the Labour Party conference the ‘All in it together (but not quite) brigade’ have laid out their version of what post 2015 election landscape will look like.  David Cameron and Gideon ‘Call me George’ Osborne have given the housing sector not even a whiff of comfort.  Sadly ladies and gentleman a shit-storm is coming our way.  Better get the bleach.

I have blogged previously about worrying noises coming from both Conservative HQ and their Think Tank (because politicians have very little capacity for thinking these days) The Policy Exchange.  The first is a lowering of the already draconian Benefit Cap.  The £26,000 threshold was already too low, especially in London and the South East.  It now looks likely to fall further to around £23,000.  Obviously those households who insist on being poor and out of work need more punishment to inspire them into employment.  The second is restricting access to housing benefit for those under the age of 21. This move is particularly disturbing as you don’t develop housing needs only over the age of 21.  You need housing support when you need it, not when the clock hits midnight on your 20th birthday.  To say I’m livid about this move is an understatement.

These arbitrary, callous and utterly short-sighted moves are vote winning at its finest.  Unlike the much maligned bedroom tax, a restriction on the cash people can receive in benefits has proved consistently popular with the electorate.  Acknowledging it is behind Labour on the cost of living crisis this is a smart political gambit, a refresher for the public that ‘tough’, ‘hard’ decisions i.e. one’s that fuck over the poor, the vulnerable (and those unlikely to vote) will be made by the Tories for ‘the greater good’.  Alongside tax cuts (that only really help those at the top of the ladder) it is a solid vote winner.

Alongside the two aforementioned policies a freeze on working age benefits post April 2016, on top of a restricted 1% from 2012 (again not biting the hand that feeds) has been announced.  It would be laughable how blatantly unfair these policy announcements are, if their affects weren’t so potentially horrific.  These changes would be bad enough on their own however more than 50% of Gideon Osborne et al’s cuts to local and central governments budgets are yet to take effect.  This will be catastrophic, not just for those at the bottom of the pile but the services, benefits and organisations that they rely on.  This my friends at the Million Homes, Million Lives Think Tank is why we in the social housing sector are stocking surpluses like a squirrel in late Summer/Autumn.  We know, as Martin Lawrence so eloquently put it in Bad Boys 2 [that] “Sh@# just got real”.

Universal Credit looks set to be rolled out further and more extensively than previously seen.  Iain Duncan Smith taking Queen’s statement that the show must go on to very extreme lengths.  Yet another senior figure in the project team has decided enough is enough.  The Universal Credit Project delivery team is the only part of the civil service going through more staff than the Housing Minister position.  For all of IDS’s bluster I smell bullshit in his claims of progress.

It has been a very grim week for housing, enough to dampen even my normally chirpy spirits.  The thing that has struck home more than anything is how woeful an opposition the lot in Labour have been.  The Tories have honed, vote winning policies set out.  Ed ‘sorry my face is forgettable’ Miliband can’t even remember his own speech.  The counter-points to the Tory proposals have been weaker than a comeback from your average high school kid.  It’s all a bit pathetic.  These policies are scary, detrimental in the long run and grossly unfair.  But they will probably win the Tories the next election.  Heaven help us all.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Every little helps…

Being the low level minion that I am I don’t tend to do much of the meet and greet malark. Most of my days involve spreadsheets, pivot tables and reams of data, so much so that the team I work in occasionally has the moniker “the Geek Squad”. We take it on the chin as the good banter it is.  Personally I largely attribute this nickname to the fact that we can competently use Microsoft Excel, or as others in the organisation seem to think of it, “black magic”. I’m not sure how I feel about the nickname because (A) I can talk to women without wetting myself and (B) I don’t know computer coding, I don’t play Dungeon & Dragons and I have certainly never messed around with Linux* so I don’t see myself as much of a geek.  I guess it is all a matter of perception.

This weekend saw me get away from my beloved Excel documents and brave the bright lights of outdoors. My ever patient and long suffering girlfriend dragged me out to help her and her netball team, Scarletts Netball Worcester, complete a Cyclothon for Asha Women’s Centre. I have to admit, my burning quads aside, that it was a lot of fun and helped to raise money for an organisation that can always use a bob or two.  As councils across the country continue to slash spending organisations like Asha, who deal with the vulnerable and those on the margins, are likely to feel the squeeze even more.  Fortunately it appears that Asha at least has a diverse set of funders and will carry on doing the good work that it has always done.

CyclothonSomeone else who appears to need some spare change is Iain ‘why always me’ Duncan Smith.  After claiming everything is tout sweet (again) the treasury seems a little jittery at signing off further funding for the beleaguered project.  I could make a joke about state dependency and government funding here but that would be too easy.  Cheap shots aside it is deeply worrying how much of train wreck Universal Credit has become.  And although the DWP expects its business case to be signed off soon it is all a bit of a mess.  Frankly I am bored with writing about the subject.  Reform of the welfare state is needed, and I do support Universal Credit in principle.  However many of the reforms are crude short-termist cost cutting measures that penalise the poor and vulnerable.  They are also highly unlikely to save the money they were projected to and place ever more burden on charities, local authorities and social landlords.  It is a Grade A balls up and those in power need to recognise it as such.

The gift that keeps on giving aside another interesting development was the announcement of infrastructure funding, largely scheduled for post 2015, for ‘the regions’.  Based on recommendations from Lord ‘right to buy’ Heseltine it is probably the closest we will come (i.e. not very) to an announcement of government funding for new housing before the next general election.  It is a welcome departure from a heavily London focused approach to sorting out our economy.  Though it remains to be seen what impact the funding will have and dollar for housing is (again) heavily focused on getting largely private developments up and running.  That being said the deals do appear to provide for a number of mixed tenure developments and frankly as long as more housing gets built I can’t complain too much.  A point I would make is that if you can fund projects to facilitate private housing developments, you can fund public housing.

A final point.  Some lovely chaps and chapesses at  are holding a day on the 15th July.   The idea is to get sponsored to fast & raise money for a related good cause.  You can follow their blog at ukhousingfast.wordpress.com to find out more, I would suggest looking at Michala Rudman and Rob Gurshon’s guest blogs they are as insightful as they are excellent.  

*For the uninitiated this is not some form of recreational substance but a free/open source operating system that requires a fair amount of technical skill and knowledge to use.