My Name is Joe is a Ken Loach film about an (ex) alcoholic with the title coming from the recognition of the sins and failures of the past and the will to change for the better in the future.
The social housing model and purported ‘sector’ had that seminal moment yesterday with the #HomesforBritain campaign and rally with the National Housing Federation writing in a timed article in Inside Housing called “Clarion Call” David Orr says this about the ‘campaign’:
“Who would have believed it? A real campaign? By housing people? That’s not what we do. We provide homes and services – but making a fuss? That’s for other people. But of course we have realised that there are no other people making the fuss. If we are not our own advocates, no one else will do it for us. Our public voice has been small and timid. Which has meant that housing has not been heard when the big decisions are made –…”
David Orr admitted that social housing – the purported ‘sector’ as it calls itself – does not and has not lobbied or promoted social housing to Government or to the general public in the past and they were wrong not to do so.
It was a correct admission as ‘housing people’ or the ‘sector’ have never made a fuss.
Yet, just like any ex-alcoholic the admission of past sins is not enough and something now needs to be done, change has to flow and happen and that is the hard part. Social media and some TV News programmes were ablaze with hyperbole over the rally as ‘housing’ suddenly found its passion again; its cause and movement coming to the fore and ‘housing people’ remembering that Cathy Come Home inspired Shelter and also Crisis. Now ‘housing’ needs to see some consequence some result of all that hyperbole and momentum.
Ken Loach clearly made an impression on the thousands of housing people at the rally yesterday as he reminded them of what they already knew and know but had forgotten. Housing is a right and provides the stability any civilised society needs and that social housing is a movement and created from the same welfare state as the much more publicly revered NHS. I doubt his allotted 8 minute slot said anything different to the 14 minute presentation he gave the week before at the Left Unity Housing Conference I attended and spoke at in Liverpool last week and the link to that is here and is worth watching for all housing people.
How are ‘housing people’ – and notably even David Orr can’t call it a sector – going to finally get together and what the hell are they going to do about promoting the social housing model to the twin needed audience of Government and the general public becomes the issue?
I don’t know and I strongly suspect David Orr and all other housing people don’t know either; some serious head scratching needs to go on and the serious work now begins as David Orr has let Pandora out of the box and demonstrated that the only way to get the social housing model onto the political agenda is to campaign.
More importantly, the admission that until now a ‘fuss’ has not been made means that campaigning by housing people is part of their job just as every other sector whether in finance or manufacturing lobbies Government and promotes itself to the widest possible audience including the general public who perceive social housing as the housing of last choice and replete with White Dee’s!
The admission finally sees general needs housing people finally wake up to reputational risk, THE key and well known risk to the 3% of housing people that operate within supported housing that the general needs housing person puts up with as that complex and resource intensive part of social housing.
Yet ‘housing people’ need to really think as I have repeatedly (and patronisingly?) maintained. There is no doubt whatsoever that the ‘sector’ has found its voice directly because of welfare reform; that is the catalyst and the risks the welfare reform policies bring to social housing has caused the growing of a set of balls at long last. Enough is enough and we have to do something is clearly the narrative and rationale. The severity of risk that the welfare reform (sic) policies gives to the social housing model, indeed to its survival not just its sustainability has become manifest.
“What are we going to do now?”
Momentum, fire in the belly, rallying the troops, when the going gets tough the tough get going and no doubt some consultant or spin doctor will coin a new phrase for the position housing is in, yet it is time to put up or shut up for housing people. Momentum is created by unity and housing almost became a sector yesterday and almost took on board that it needs to unite or die. United we stand divided we fall is not a politic term: it is a necessity for any sector and any business and housing needs to abandon its perennial position of we can’t be seen to be politicking which has held sway for decades and find a way to challenge policy and to proactively promote the huge good it does. Like any business it needs to take the first move advantage, control the agenda and not just react to the latest poverty TV porn which brands housing as the housing of last choice. Housing needs to create its own brand and do so proactively.
Yet semantics will again become an issue but there is not time for introspection over ‘branding’ or ‘politicking’ or anything else. The absence of not making a ‘fuss’ for 30 years or more demands quick and swift actions to counter and the momentum gained yesterday that can unify and finally create a sector cannot be consumed by dithering and delay.
That cannot be allowed to happen, yet I suspect it will and because that is what housing has always done and Spike Milligan Q series keeps springing to mind when I try to fathom what yesterday could mean. The sketches often had no finish or punch-line, ending with the cast heading towards the camera intoning, “What are we going to do now?” or simply merging into another completely unrelated skit.
Housing now has that problem and has to ask of itself what are we going to do now?
One of my first bosses in housing said to me “Never bring me a problem unless you have a solution” and they were wise words not just a passing of the buck. Yet, what is housing going to do now? I don’t know apart from strongly suspect it will dither and delay and not seize the momentum as it should. I did mention, more in passing than in seriousness, that social landlords could top slice a penny (£0.02p) per week off all social rents like a precept that would create a £4 million or so yearly fund to pay for the promotion of the social housing model. Very crude and simplistic yet it would create the first step that housing people need to take to become a genuine sector that fights for and promotes ALL of the social housing model rather than the many sub-housing lobbies of sheltered housing, homelessness, etc that we now have.
The first stage of any concerted challenge to or campaign for the social housing model has to see housing people unify into something resembling the fabled ‘sector’ it mistakenly believes it has. Such a body needs to draw on experienced housing professionals, marketing professionals, lobbyists and tenants and however it is funded it needs to be formed and needs to be formed quickly. David Orr in admitting that housing has failed in the past is a brave admission and that same courage needs to continue by NOT making the same mistakes again and pandering to the egos of the empire builders in housing – the same usual suspects whose lead has seen housing fail in the past.
It also needs to be full time and not meeting once a month for the first two months and then quarterly – the usual just one of many things my job entails scenario that is prevalent and common in housing. It needs a bold and radical approach and to have some teeth and not to put too fine a point on it, an organisation that will frighten the life out of Government needs to be created so as to ensure that genuine social housing is most definitely on the general election agenda of May 2020 and high on that agenda.
One of the criticisms I have repeatedly made of #HomesforBritain is the generic and vague commitment it seeks for just housing, that is no mention of social housing, and especially the commitment to end the housing crisis within a generation. 33 years is a generation and the hyperbole today of all-party commitment doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Getting the MP of today to commit to something up to 33 years in advance is the same as getting a commitment from a politician in 1982 and expect those same MPs to deliver it today. Can anybody tell me a MP today in a position of power that was around in 1982? Hmmm!
That correct criticism brings me back to why a body with teeth and courage needs to be set up out of this momentum to ensure social housing, not AR or any other variant or half-hearted or vote-winning bung such as RTB2 etc, is firmly on the next general election agenda. Time for housing people to not just say enough is enough, its long overdue that they lived the life of the ex-alcoholic and found the daily inspiration from that to build social housing as a movement in that political sense but based upon the huge economic benefits that thee social housing model does bring to UK plc and the individual taxpayer.
If no such bold step is taken to create a body that will frighten the living daylights out of the Government of the day then each successive Johnny-come-lately 5-year term Government will continue to ignore the social housing model with their naive and politically self-serving short termism. As I have said repeatedly of social housing – it has the best product and the best service at the best price and millions demand it through waiting lists. In what other industry or sector would that be seen by Government and the general public as the product and service of last choice?
It’s not a bold step, its a bloody obvious one and a bloody necessary one to create a powerful pro social housing lobby that fights for the social housing model. Time we started to frighten the hell out of this and every succeeding government by creating such a body.
Any takers housing people?