Social housing needs to be sold. All social housing, council, housing associations, ALMOs and all the other variants and constructs needs to be sold. Social housing is the housing of last resort; it is where the plebs live and where all the ne’er do wells and feckless scroungers reside; it is Benefits Street personified; it is a dinosaur relic of some post-war Utopian vision of towering concrete monoliths that encourage and abet miscreants of every sort – the breeding ground for Wayne and Waynettas …..at least in the public psyche.
What isn’t anywhere near the public psyche is that social housing:
- is an economic model that saves every taxpayer money – about £170 per year
- is a hugely cost-effective way of providing low cost housing
- is a model that allows the uptake of employment far better than private renting
Social housing needs to be sold for what it is – a huge economic success and huge economic necessity for the good of the country – and not for its common general public view as a political failure.
All of the above virtuous economic points of social housing I have discussed at length before yet I revive them now because a few individuals within the social housing ‘sector’ are attempting to sell social housing with the Shout campaign and councilhomechat, and perhaps I am being too cynical here to say this is a knee jerk reaction and response to the likes of Benefit Street and How to get a Council House and other crass and sensationalist TV programmes.
I use the term sector very loosely above as there is not a coherent representative social housing body that exists to sell this claimed ‘sector’ of about 1200 or so social landlords. The ‘sector’ couldn’t sell a free lunch and that is why over the last 30 years and more social housing has been perceived as the lowest of the low and the housing of last choice.
Time to step outside of my passion for social housing and look objectively and dispassionately at it and what do we find?
- A product that 1 million plus families want but cant get - It is in huge demand
- A product that is so much better in terms of quality that its competitor private renting – A much better product
- A service with much better contract terms that private renting in terms of greater security and rights to repairs and involvement and other rights much better than its insecure alternative in private renting
- A combined product and service that costs half as much as private renting (EHS 2012 figures at £83pw compared to £163pw national averages)
I could go on but social housing in comparison to privately renting is significantly better in all areas and it is so much cheaper. Ask yourself in what other sector would the best product at the best price be so denigrated? Yet social housing is denigrated and regularly and repeatedly denigrated as being the housing of last resort in the minds of the general public.
Excuse the language but social housing has severely fucked up in not being able to sell social housing as a product and service hasn’t it reader?
Just why this has happened and who is to blame could spawn 50 PhD theses as it is such a monumental cock-up and Gerald Ratner is a marketing guru by comparison, yet we can’t go back and change the many repeated mistakes of the past 30 years or more.
All we can hopefully do is learn from them yet even that assumes there is a willingness and an ability within the ‘sector’ and an organisation that is willing to take on board that selling job which current bodies clearly have not done.
Yet within social housing we find numerous claimed representative bodies who have sold just their part of the social housing – NHF battling on generally terms for housing associations. the CIH battling to sell their inclusion at the government table and its training services and little else; Shelter, Crisis, SITRA and various tenant groups and others in niche areas such as homelessness etc – yet no organisation selling the social housing model in its entirety. More worrying is that when embryonic groups emerge such as Shout and councilhomechat they preach to the converted and sell social housing to yes you’ve guessed it social housing!
What the general public need to know and especially now when home ownership is out of the reach of so many and the term ‘generation rent’ has become commonplace is that social housing is a huge economic good for them and for the country. It is an economic model not a political relic of the post war period.
The English Housing Survey figures from 2012 that say the average social housing rent is £83 per week and the average private equivalent is £163 per week is a killer statistic for its economic consequence and for the welfare dependency argument which bizarrely goes hand in hand with social housing.
Firstly it means a social tenant can take up employment in a job that pays £80 per week less in net terms than his private tenant neighbour. Secondly, that means a social tenant can afford to take a job for about £6k per year less than his private neighbour.
The consequence and REAL simple story is that it is private renting that encourages welfare dependency not social housing.
Ah but social housing is only cheaper than private housing as it is subsidised will be and is the general public view. That is a huge myth and easily disproved. Social housing which has 4 million properties receives £1.2 billion per year in subsidy. That sounds a huge amount yet it works out at £300 per social housing property per year and under £6 per week.
Those EHS figures again reader? Social housing £83 per week and privately rented £163 per week. So a £6 per week ‘subsidy’ returns a better product and service than its only competitor who charges £80 per week more! Yes let’s avoid telling the general public of that simple but stark economic benefit and of course there is no need to tell employers that as they can create more jobs in area which have higher levels of social housing. Inward investment in a geographic area has much to do with the proportion and availability of low-cost social housing as potential and existing employers know full well.
Government, in all political persuasions, do not. It is easy to lambast the current coalitions anti social housing policies and forget about the lack of opposition alternatives now and their failures in the past. Yet in current figures the £1.2bn social housing subsidy means that social housing has lower rent levels which save social landlords charging the public purse the same levels of housing benefit the private landlord does. The private landlord gets on average £30 or so per week more in HB than the social landlord or about £1500 per year more in taxpayers money. Take away the £1.2bn social housing subsidy and social landlords would need to receive £30 per week more in HB for its 3.5m or so HB claimants.
Sorry reader that’s maths and it means take away the £1.2bn subsidy and 3,500,000 social housing properties would need to receive £30pw or £1500 per year or so more. Ok I will keep this simple – take away the £1.2bn per year subsidy and the HB and taxpayer bill goes up by £5.5bn per year.
Social housing being subsidised is a fantastic invest to save policy that sees £1.2bn invested and achieves £5.5bn of savings. And that is also why it saves every taxpayer about £170 per year in tax.
Sorry reader, sorry social housing dimwits who couldn’t sell a free lunch I know numbers are difficult but 2 plus 2 always equals 4 (unless your initials are IDS) and numbers create pesky facts and not many understand them and would rather not bother with them. I agree it is far easier to think social housing costs the taxpayer and far easier to say it is the housing of last resort and far easier to sell social housing internally than externally and far easier to not bother selling social housing for what it is!
All of that scorn of mine is encapsulated in one simple point in another excellent blog from Jules Birch on the value of social housing which was the subject of (yet another!) housing conference which opened with: -
Ruth Davison of the National Housing Federation was in no doubt speaking to the annual conference of the Housing Studies Association in York last week. ‘It’s time to stop researching and start broadcasting,’ she told the assembled academics.
I’m not sure anyone in the audience was ready to go quite that far, but her underlying point was well made. The evidence about the beneficial impact that housing can have across a vast range of fields is out there and the political parties seem at least for the moment prepared to listen. So why not shout about it?
I’m not sure anyone in the (housing) audience was ready to go that far!!!! That far!!!! That message has been needed for over 30 years to sell social housing and to sell the huge ECONOMIC benefits that genuine social housing has for the country but still social housing professionals view it in a political dimension and are still reticent about shouting it from the rooftops!
- Social housing couldn’t sell a free lunch.
- Social housing couldn’t fight its way out of a wet paper bag.
- Social housing can’t see the wood for the trees ….
- Please feel free to add your own pithy but accurate saying dear reader and by all means use Panglossian to describe the sectors view of its own performance in this area…well if you can find anyone in the sector who admits selling social housing is part of their remit that is! (in fact don’t even ask that question as you will be directed to a right to buy officer!)
The scale of the incompetence and neglect that social housing has had in terms of selling social housing to anyone who is not a housing ‘professional’ is immense. In fact the term housing ‘professional’ is and has to be a misnomer as part of being a professional is to sell your profession to those outside of your (alleged) profession. Yet in that social housing has failed spectacularly and failed spectacularly for 30 years