Taciturn housing sector fiddles while social housing burns

Tacitus famously chronicled the Roman empire including the allegory that Nero fiddled while Rome burnt all around him.  He gives his name to be being taciturn or tight-lipped and saying nothing – How apt those are for the ‘sector’ not advancing the social housing model while it is being destroyed around them?

Tomorrow is #HousingDay, the latest inconsequential campaign of many – why celebrate social housing 1 day a year but remain taciturn about it for the other 364? It makes no sense whatsoever.  Even when you add SHOUT, #4socialhousing, #HomesForBritain and all the other inconsequential ‘campaigns’ collectively they are still inconsequential and still reveal a taciturn alleged sector.

I have nothing but support for each one of these campaigns in principle yet they are a drop in the ocean to what is needed, in fact such is their insignificance they collectively are akin only to a speck of gravel dropped in the Mariana Trench.

I am passionate about social housing as it delivers huge economic savings and social benefit to the country and the economy, yet the average reader of that wouldn’t know it as social housing is castigated and deliberately by politicians as a drain on hardworking families and a cost to the taxpayer.  The fact a very strong argument is there to say it saves the taxpayer about £170 per year is by the by, the real issue is why such arguments are never heard.  Yes its the taciturn ‘sector’ once again.

Social housing has about 4.1 million properties with an average rent around £90 per week which makes its a £20 billion per year industry.  Yet is doe not have one voice to lobby or campaign or promote this alleged sector, and because of that it can’t be called a sector; rather it is a rag bag collection of competing interests that never come together – well apart from the hype over #HousingDay.

In an article last week in Inside Housing entitled quite aptly “We all have a part to play” we had the founder of #HousingDay lauded for being able to bring together all these disparate interests together for #HousingDay. Think on that for a second!  Praise for bringing together those organisations for 1 day who should work together 365 days a year and you start to get the point.

Ask yourself would any other £20 billion per year industry not have a sole voice representing their needs and lobbying for and promoting what it does?  That is a rhetorical no-brainer of a question as of course it would: Yet welcome to the taciturn ‘sector’ the one that has been tight-lipped for decades!

It seems churlish of me to say that even when all of these ad hoc campaigns do mobilise they direct their message internally! What the hell is the point of directing messages at the converted within social housing?  The ‘sector’ surely has to externalise its audience and target government and the general public yet outside of the odd article in the Guardian Joe Public still believes that social housing is full of White Dees laying on the settee hoping to get on Jeremy Kyle whom they adore on their 60″ flat screen TVs and get out of bed to watch.

We even have politicians all stating we have a national housing crisis and all stating that we need 250,000 new homes per year. Yet the fact it has come to this merely reveals just how taciturn the ‘sector’ has been and just how little influence it has with governments. Even with this universal political acknowledgement of the national housing shortage last year saw the lowest number of new homes built since WWII.

Social landlords don’t have marketing departments (outside of sales) they have comms teams, individuals who are fixated on how the message gets out there and not what the message is or should be.  And even if not the message can only be the latest fad for a story and not the key message that social housing is extremely economic and cost effective.  that is another by-product of the lack of a ‘sector’ as comms teams compete with one another within the ‘sector’ and don’t promote the sector at large.

The medium is the message strategy comms teams adopt universally is the Genesis version of Marshall McLuhan casual viewing head buried in the sand and not the fabled communications guru himself.  Yet even this is a recent phenomenon and comms teams in the past within social housing focused on how we get Unix and Windows to talk to one another and other such geeky nonsense, yet now they are vaunted and lauded as the right people to market social housing!!

Again further misdirection is these comms teams say digital is everything and they can ONLY target those online yet know the biggest group of people not online are, yes you’ve guessed it, the social tenant – but hey think of the wizardry of the medium!

However, the real underlying issue is who does stand up or shout even for social housing?  Nobody and that’s because there is no one voice for this £20 billion per year industry. That is why it is taciturn and has been that way for decades.  It is far too easy to just moan about RTB and say that is the reason for the chronic and accelerating demise of social housing yet that is all that is ever said and done. Throw in a few moans about Russian Oligarchs making rampant house price inflation in London – as of course social housing begins and ends in the capital dont you know! – and you get the drift.

This is social housing moaning about the problem but doing bugger all about the solution!  Yet even then such an assertion gets challenged by the ‘sector’ with ok then Joe what is the solution – which is merely another denial of the problem itself and reveals the unwillingness to do anything about looking to find a solution.  It’s not my job mate….well actually it is and the IH article referenced above was entitled “We all have a part to play” and that has to be the case.

Social housing has been shafted and ignored by government after government since RTB and the concept of the great property owning democracy took hold, the same superficial principle that sees a hugely increasing amount of people never being able to afford to own and puts more demand on social housing.  It has been ignored because the ‘sector’ is and always has been taciturn and couldn’t lobby its way out of a wet paper bag because it doesn’t have one voice.one lobby and one actor promoting its cause and benefits. Some working within still call social housing a movement!yet the only thing its moves are its forelocks to the latest superficial ill-conceived housing policy emanating from government.

To all housing professionals next time you are at a conference, seminar or other event – perhaps one of the 3 per night award ceremonies? – and you hear someone utter the word ‘sector’ try not to think of the above as that little wry smile on your face is not a good look. Still at least you will have worked in social housing long enough to remain tight lipped!




6 thoughts on “Taciturn housing sector fiddles while social housing burns

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you Joe,my beef has always been how politically apathetic the British are & that we are all so comfortably numb,knackered,underpayed,overworked,overstressed, but I starved for a year to take 3 governmental bodies to court & task. The Courts & Judges ruled in my favour but nothing has changed,this being so, surely the back end of that should have been those with legal power (those same that agreed)to stand up & be counted. Our lives are blighted by civil servants who are anything but civil in their servitude & our Judges & legal powers equally as apathetic in gathering to change that which they agree & practise in.

    I do all I can to engage those I know (well not enough but will be) to use simple tools like change.org & 38degrees etc to use their electoral power in 2 seconds. It doesnt seem enough but it has to be addressed. I will stand by the power of the sword but need,as you do, to have others who are willing to take time,not ause extreemist trouble,just take time to intelligently use their electoral powers & rights through petitioning.

    I, like others,do need to know they are not alone & whether led or part of a team,need to have support in numbers to feel that “it is possible”.

    thats why I said what shall we do,I meant it as a collaboration not…you do it.
    Right is right & truth sings clearly above all crap. I’ll sing with you….tell me the tune!

  2. Some HAs and comms teams in the shambles (better description of social housing that sector) need to master the medium and technology of Johannes Gutenberg before mastering the mediums and technologies of Douglas Engelbart, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee!

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