“Never bring a problem to me unless you have solutions for it.”
That was the memorable advice my Housing Director said to me many years ago: The Housing Directors of today are, unfortunately, merely content to moan about problems and not seek viable solutions to them.
Social housing like any business is dependent upon its bottom lines and funding true social rent housing is THE biggest problem for social housing. Yet simply moaning about the reduction in grant or the growing commercialisation within social housing such as the affordable housing model is not good enough. Solutions need to be found and quickly yet are not forthcoming from the ‘great and the good’ of social housing, just moans and inept ideas.
I do not welcome SHOUT, #4socialhousing, #HousingDay or any of the admittedly well-intentioned solutions because they are not solutions. They are akin to the man hunting down Jaws and being given a coracle and fishing net; they are nowhere near enough.
The social housing model, the old council house model, is dependent on grant as all accept is needed and all accept is in ever-reducing funding from governments of the day regardless of who governs. Yet ‘grant’ is perceived as ‘subsidy’ in its pejorative sense and that is used by all governments as excuse not to fund social rented housing and also, perhaps more importantly, to deflect away the major invest to save cost efficiencies for the public good it gives.
The ever-reducing nature of funding by way of grant – 60% in this parliament – has led to the crisis of supply in social housing and now it has become critical and universally recognised, yet still social housing is not an election issue because the social housing model is denigrated and has no public or governmental support. Social housing is perceived as the housing of last choice despite millions demanding on it as the waiting lists reveal.
Politics is short-termism writ large and no government is going to increase grant or embark on a major Keynesian social housebuilding programme we saw in the 1950s and 1960s as their priorities are the short-term economy not the long-term greater good of the country. That is especially the case when social housing itself does nothing to promote the social housing model with the huge economic benefits it brings.
Therein lies the problem….and the solution.
Since RTB began in 1980 nobody in social housing has promoted social housing and its many benefits, social as well as economic. That is a whole generation of moans about RTB sales and lack of replacements and legitimate though these moans are that is all they are and have been.
Social housing has not promoted itself either on a reactive or proactive basis in a generation, it has simply moaned. It has not offered or even appeared to seek any solutions to this problem, just simply moaned about them. Yet every industry or sector has to promote itself and raise awareness of the good it does but social housing stands out like a sore thumb compared to any other industry in that it hasn’t promoted itself, it hasn’t sold to anyone but itself the good that it does.
This lack of promotion has allowed its reputation to be in the toilet. From ignoring the cultural dynamic of RTB that renting is second class to the property owning democracy thesis inherent in RTB right through to Benefit Street and poverty porn, social housing has allowed the negative and stereotypical perception of it to become endemic in the minds of the public and government.
If you tell a lie often enough people believe it to be true in lay terms or as Thomas Paine said in the aptly named Common Sense: -
“…a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”
The great and the good of social housing in not promoting the social housing model to either the public or to government for a generation have allowed the public and government to see the social housing model in the negative light they now perceive it.
Social housing in the SHOUT / #HousingDay campaigns have slowly woken up to the fact that the policies of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and shortly the twin evils of Universal Credit in direct and monthly payments, all attack the revenue funding of the social housing model in Housing Benefit. This adds to the attacks on capital funding over the past generation with ever-reducing grant and gives the social housing model a double whammy to which the response has been frankly too little too late.
Social housing is fobbed off with the Affordable (sic) Rent model which saw their income increase from this additional rent by £200m in the first two years and mitigated the higher arrears of the bedroom tax. Yet that AR model is not sustainable and becomes less sustainable if proposals to reduce the benefit cap from £500 per week down to £440 per week in the latest proposals.
While it can be said today that the £23k benefit cap is just a proposal should the government not change after the next General Election that policy WILL come in, and will do so because it has yet to be challenged by social housing despite meaning no social landlord can afford to accommodate a couple with 3 children anywhere in the UK because of that cap.
44% of those affected by the benefit cap live in social housing according to the DWP impact assessment yet it is perceived even by social housing to be a high private rent only issue. The lack of realisation has meant that no challenge to it has been made – a case of allow a lie to go unchallenged and people believe it to be true, or Thomas Paine’s famous quote from Common Sense and no different to the lack of challenge to social housing is only cheaper because it is subsidised or the epitome of the social tenant is White Dee from Benefit Street.
Firstly, social housing’s great and good need to acknowledge their failure in not challenging social housing policy over the last 30 years or more and the role that has played in allowing the radical nature and speed of change that the welfare reform policies now impose on them.
Second, the ‘sector’ needs to become a true sector and have a one voice one lobby organisation to campaign for the whole of the social housing model. The NHF campaigning for HAs, ARCH campaigning for council landlords is simply not enough and the ‘sector’ can only be a true sector IF they find a way to create a campaign lobby that is 100 times as strong as SHOUT and #HousingDay combined.
Third, this new and true sector needs to realise what the problems are and the benefit cap discussion above highlights that dramatically. Many of the current great and good do not even realise the dangers this policy will obviate for social housing.
Fourth, egos and empire builders and the usual suspects have to be set aside in urgently creating this new social housing model lobby. It needs a professional lobby much like the career lobbyists found in the USA to governments there. It needs lobbying experts, professional lobbyists not well intentioned but regrettably amateurish lobbies that it currently has.
Fifth, find a way to fund this professional lobbying organisation. Given its universality the incredibly simple idea of a precept of £1 per year per social rented property would fund a £4 million per year organisation to lobby for the whole of social housing. That is simple, fair, yet not naive but a viable solution.
Finally, and critically, this professional lobby needs to give equal weight to the 84% of social housing not located in London with its perverse housing conditions and which previously has taken 80% of the grant yet only has 16% of the social housing stock – a bizarre apathy from Northern landlords in allowing this too. It also needs to give equal weight to customer issues and input, as with direct payment the social tenant becomes a customer after many years of being mislabelled that way. Much as social housing’s great and good may not like that, it reflects the reality and context of social housing today and not the social housing of 30 years ago and the time warp that the great and the good of social housing still wish to inhabit.
Yet of course and in summary, such a simple idea will appear far too radical for the uber conservative great and good of social housing and nothing will be done…oh apart from a few further moans and perhaps an all-ticket seminar..oops sorry rally!