Why social housing campaigns are inept and can’t succeed

There’s a national housing shortage, we want more housing so just give us the money – that crudely sums up the position and strategy of those in social housing – and is ineptitude writ large.

A bold statement but an accurate and valid one as CRITICALLY it does not tell or inform Government as to WHY it is in their interests;

  • politically,
  • economically and,
  • socially.

Whether this is SHOUT of #HousingDay or #HomesforBritain or any other alleged campaign the absolute critical part of any campaign is to say WHY it is in the interests of those to whom you complain to meet your campaign aims.Yet ‘housing people’ just do not do this.  Instead they simply say we need more housing so give us the money.

This is inept and no amount of hyperbole or momentum generated from the biggest rally will see its ends and aims met if you DONT inform Government why it is in their interests – what’s in it for them or cui bono.

None of the above housing ‘campaigns’ say :

  1. Why social housing deserves investment and
  2. What will happen to Government if they do NOT invest

This is basic common sense and is the huge omission in all of the above campaigns, and, yes, it is patronising as hell because those two simple issues are 100% necessary to persuade anyone of the merits of your demands.  We need more housing because there is a shortage so give us the money simply is not enough (bloody woeful in fact) at any time as Government of all persuasions faces many competing demands and especially give this period of ‘austerity’ or more correctly called cuts.

Drill a bit deeper and you see the social housing model blamed by this administration for firstly being a lazy consensus and content to rely on the ‘benefit tenant’ and then those social tenants castigates as shirkers and scroungers in government rhetoric and in TV poverty porn.

In that context campaigns need to tell Government what will happen economically if they do NOT invest – the same sales technique used in insurance and all forms of sales called the ‘back them up to the hearse and let them smell the flowers‘ technique.

Social housing needs to persuade Government to cough up more ‘subsidy’ but what does that mean?  Just that social housing needs to persuade them of the economic case of ‘subsidy’ which is the £1.125 billion per year in capital subsidy that generates a £5.37 billion per year saving in revenue subsidy through lesser HB payments than the private rented sector who do not get this capital subsidy.

In other words tell Government, who in political terms castigates social housing and wants to call it the ‘subsidised sector’ that fine take away ALL of this capital subsidy and don’t give us a penny.  However, we would need to then receive the same rates of HB than private landlords receive in LHA so that will cost you £5.37 billion per year more.

Yet when has the social housing sector ever made the case that the £1.125 billion currently paid in ‘subsidy’ sees Government giving £1.125 billion yet in doing so they save £5.37 billion on the HB bill?  They haven’t and that simple argument shows that social housing ‘subsidy’ is a very cost-effective invest to save programme and that the social housing model has a strong economic rationale.

30 years or so ago 3 in every 4 rented properties were in the social rented sector and only 1 in 4 in the private rented sector.  Yet now we see less than 1 in 2 being in the SRS and more than 50% being in the PRS.  The economic case is (a) the lack of investment has created this huge turnaround, and (b) as the PRS landlord still receives 30% more in housing benefit the overall public purse bill has increased because of this…and will increase even further if nothing is done.

Yet perhaps the easiest way to get those figures across in today’s world of instant digital messages is to say:

Social housing saves every taxpayer £170 in tax per year

Instead of the taxpayer and general public believing their taxes subsidise the social housing model as they have been force fed and had no counter argument from the sector, the sector needs to tell every taxpayer that take away the ‘subsidy’ which ‘costs’ them £45 in tax per year and they will have to pay £215 in tax every year or £170 per year MORE in tax!

Each £1 billion per year approximates to £40 per taxpayer per year so losing this £5.37 billion per year SAVING that social housing gives the taxpayer will mean every taxpayer will have to pay £170 per year more in tax to make up for the added cost to Housing Benefit.

Of course by persuading the general public that ‘subsidy’ in social housing actually SAVES them money the sector also gets public support for social housing – a key factor in persuading any government to part with more investment.

Another economic benefit social housing brings is a socio-economic one and that is our old political friend of welfare dependency which is the biggest fallacy of the lot.  Private rented housing is far more a welfare dependency for its tenants than social housing and yet it is social housing not the PRS who gets hammered with this label, and that argument is very easy to explain.

The English Housing Survey of 2013 had average social rent at £83 per week and average private rent at £163 per week. Take two neighbours both out of work and seeking employment.  The private tenant has to earn £80 per week more in net wages to be able to afford the same job as the social tenant paying £80 per week less in rent – about £6000 per year in yearly gross wage.

Which tenant is more welfare dependent has to be the privately renting tenant ergo the PRS is more welfare dependent!

Simple and obvious and indisputable. Yet when has anyone in social housing promoted that simple example which proves that the lower rents charged in social housing enable the uptake of employment far easier than in private housing.  Social housing enables more jobs to be created in the economy as a whole due to this and enables the economy to grow far more than the PRS allows.

Again we see a huge economic imperative for social housing that social housing simply does NOT promote or use when seeking additional investment from Government.  Oh just give s more money there is a housing shortage is a woefully inept and mindblowingly stupid tactic from all of the campaigns.

Government needs the facts such as the above and need it ramming down their bloody throats quite frankly as to the many huge economic benefits the social housing model brings to the economy, the public purse and the taxpayer.

In summary, the social housing sector needs to be selling the BENEFITS of the social housing model to Government and to the general public.  If it merely says there is a housing shortage give us more money and does not sell the many huge economic, political, social and other benefits of the social housing model it will fail miserably.  David Orr was 100% right when he admitted that ‘housing people’ do not make a fuss but they need to now; yet if making a fuss is simplistic bleating and not telling Government WHY they need to invest then all campaigns are a much ado about nothing.

ALL in social housing need to SHOUT the benefits of social housing and not just shout for more and need to do this as if every day is a Housing Day and not just once a year


The £5.37 billion saving? – There are at the latest official HB figures 3.3 million social housing tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit: Each of these receives on average £1,627 per year LESS than the privately rented tenant receives in housing benefit (LHA).  Multiply the two and this becomes £5.37 billion per year that the social housing model SAVES the taxpayer for the £1.125 billion per year it receives in ‘subsidy.’

Housing ‘subsidy’ has been £4.5 billion over the last 4 years or £1.125 billion per year.


7 thoughts on “Why social housing campaigns are inept and can’t succeed

  1. Joe, I have a lot of sympathy for your points here, but I feel I must speak up in defence of your description of #HousingDay.

    You criticise what you see as the ineptitude of the social housing movement’s political lobbying. The issue I have is that political lobbying shouldn’t be where the sector puts all its efforts. What I want is a kind of political lobbying, but it is the kind that gets people to consider housing issues when they cast their vote, rather than that which tries to influence the politicians they have already elected.

    And I think #HousingDay is part of the latter approach. I didn’t see anybody on #HousingDay shouting about politicians, or demanding more money for the sector. What I saw was lots of dedicated professionals and residents of social housing telling stories about the work they do. By doing this they were shedding light on what they actually do every day, why it is important, and why they do it. This kind of storytelling is essential to counter the Poverty Porn of “Benefits Street” and their ilk. TV companies are unlikely (as yet) to make many programmes telling positive stories about social housing, but the thousands of people who work in it, and the millions who live in it can collectively make the opposite case.

    I think there is also a question as to why sector organisations give platforms to the people who are cheerleading the negativity about social housing, as they have done recently with both the producer of “Benefits Street” and the leader of the political party whose representatives have regularly invited vitriol on people that live in social housing. These people have their own platforms, they don’t need to be given more publicity.

  2. John, I’m not saying that there is no room for story telling as there is a huge part for it. What no blog of an issue this size cannot do is give all the answers. Here I focus on the cost benefit analysis and only briefly at that and the example I give of social housing SAVING every taxpayer money rather than it being perceived as a taxpayer COST exemplifies that.

    Such an argument, which the facts bear out, is far more powerful than #HousingDay could ever be to counter the Benefit Street et al myth.

    It is horses for courses and lately the story telling strategy has been uppermost and used to good effect in the bedroom tax with disability for example. Yet it is one of many strategies and given we have finally seen the ‘sector’ admit they have NOT made a fuss and not promoted the social housing model for decades it needs simple messages to counter the myths that have held sway of welfare dependency for the last 30 years.

    Any and all housing campaigns have to convince two groups – government and the general public – and #HousingDay was internalised and housing preaching to housing. #HomesforBritain was hyperbole writ large with oh housing is now bound to be an election issue…only for the budget the next day to completely ignore.

    SHOUT does go someway towards arguing the benefits of the social housing model, yet in the middle of a lengthy document and does not do as the simple SOCIAL HOUSING SAVES EVERY TAXPAYER £170 PER YEAR message above does. No taxpayer is going to read a tract on why social housing good and they need the immediacy of simple messages in this fast-paced digital society. The SHOUT manifesto is hard to disagree with yet it does NOT have the immediacy of impact of a simple message and neither does or did #HousingDay or #HomesforBritain.

    If housing fails to target Joe Public then they won’t win any campaign as Government takes note of vox populi in making all decisions.

    All the campaigns create momentum and that cannot be lost. Yet making basic mistakes and not promoting WHY social housing is a great investment is insane

  3. Maybe housing should take note of the rise in e-petition campaigns. If it works for Jeremy Clarkson… seriously though, the government need to know that people will vote in or out with issue as something they care about in order to take notice. I do think the #170quid hashtag is good idea too.

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