“Last time I went Intercity there were a couple across the aisle having sex. Of course, this being a British train, nobody said anything. Then they finished, they both lit up a cigarette and this woman stood up and said, Excuse me, I think you’ll find this is a non-smoking compartment.”
— Victoria Wood
Whether this is hot air or kite flying or genuine policy proposal there needs to be a huge rebuttal of this proposal by all in social housing and like nothing seen before. It is time for ‘housing people’ to lay down a marker, time to say to this and all future governments, mess with us and we will kick your ass…big time!
That’s not sentiment, it is good practice and good business sense. If ‘housing people’ had made the tiniest bit of fuss over the last 30 years instead of doing nothing then this hot air / kite flying / genuine proposal would never have been raised as it is now. Yet because social housing has never made a fuss let alone go ten times further they have become the easy complaint target – social housing is the proverbial seven stone weakling having yet more sand kicked in its face.
Despite my personal view this is more hot air than substance, the professional response from the ‘sector’ has to be not only a reactive one in defending the status quo, it needs to go much further with a proactive strategy of promoting the many economic, cultural, social and political benefits that the social housing model gives. In simple terms and blunt language social housing needs to stop pissing around and tell government – as one – that you don’t mess with us because you are incredibly stupid to do so. It needs a mass positive campaign that finally sells the social housing model.
A few days ago I posited that all housing campaigns would fail because housing people do not know how to campaign and restated the simple but factual position that social housing is not a cost factor to the taxpayer – the ubiquitous subsidy position – and in fact SAVES every taxpayer about £170 per year in tax. So take it away or sell it off and the taxpayer ends up having to pay more.
The £45 per year investment each individual taxpayer puts in as investment returns a saving of £215 per year – Thats like asking the taxpayer to pay £1 and you will save them £5 and any taxpayer will see that is a no-brainer. However, that would mean a proactive campaign and housing people struggle and fail with reactive campaigns as they are so used to settling for whatever crumbs each successive government throws at them and even then tugging their forelocks and saying Thankee Sir at that!
Yet social housing still has the best product and service at the best price that is hugely in demand compared to all other (private) renting options. It still is the ONLY place where the sick, the old, the disabled and the supported can live as the private sector does not accommodate the SODS and in doing so provides a huge public service that should its stock be decimated as happened to council housing will not be able to do. Where will the SODS live if RTB for HAs goes ahead?
The HA landlords have power, huge negotiating power as they have what the Government is desperate for – the houses – and it is long overdue they realised just how much leverage and negotiating advantage they have, and long overdue to use it too. The sector should not be asking itself how do we defend against the RTBHA attack, they should be going on the offensive themselves as attack is the best form of defence here.
The sector also needs to recognise the bloody obvious about RTB and not just bemoan the selling off and no replacements issue; RTB is popular with tenants because, firstly, it is, superficially, nothing more than a bung and the individual tenant would be stupid not to take up what amounts to a brown paper bag full of cash. Secondly, the original RTB saw the sector miss the huge implied cultural dynamic that RTb brought – If you want to stay ‘merely’ renting you must be a second class citizen with a second-class mentality as surely everyone wants to be part of the great property owning democracy!
Or in other words social rented housing is the housing of last choice. The reputational risk RTB gave to social housing has never been addressed by the sector and of course a further large dose of that in this proposal condemns the social housing model for good in terms of reputation.
Anyone who CHOOSES merely to rent must be mad is the inherent rationale of RTB but is that the case? Is there a greater financial gain to be made from continuing to rent and paying so much less in monthly housing costs than a mortgage? Crunch the numbers especially in London with its perverse housing costs and there is a strong financial argument to be made for tenants continuing to rent a 3 bed property from their HA at £7000 per year rather than pay out £30,000 per year in a mortgage even after the RTB bung and of course be responsible for all repairs and their costs too.
A perverse argument on first reading reader? Or does it have merit? Crunch the numbers and it does yet seems just not ‘right’ somehow? That is due to the mindset of the apathetic and lazy thinking which dominates social housing and has done for decades as they too have swallowed hook line and sinker that the property owning democracy is the be all and end all without ever considering scratching under the surface of that political rhetoric.
Yet have ‘housing people’ ever promoted that financial case to ‘merely’ rent which is a strong one? No they haven’t. In today’s ever increasing uncertainty over employment and the rise in zero hour contracts the security of a home that is rented that argument is much, much stronger too. However, given the prevailing notion that the property owning democracy is a universal panacea to all ills we see the lack of addressing the cultural dynamic of the original RTB all too readily.
It is time for housing to man up and also realise that they hold the aces. Housing has got what this and every future government wants and needs – housing stock – and it is time that housing used that negotiating advantage by acting collectively rather than allow themselves to be the seven stone weakling and the government play divide and conquer games because of the absence of any unifying cohesive sector. Yes that all sounds a bit socialistic doesn’t it, united we stand divided we fall and collectivism (cue ‘housing people munching garlic just reading that!) yet that is what is desperately needed.
Strange how when the banks do precisely that in fixing LIBOR rates for example it is seen as good business practice by the arch capitalists yet should social landlords do that it is perceived as blatant politicking!! It is time for those in social housing to tear up the mores that have guided them down the cul de sac of oblivion and start to act as they should have done for the past 30 years or more. Making a fuss is nowhere near enough if the social housing model is to survive; that same model that even today provides the best product and best service at the best price for the Treasury, employer, individual taxpayer and everyone else. The social housing model is NOT the policy of yesteryear, it is still the best invest to save policy there is for the good of UK plc.
I have been criticised continually by ‘housing people’ for saying housing needs to form a sector, for saying that housing needs to grow a set and to challenge policy and to flex its muscle. David Orr in admitting that housing has not made a fuss and should have done agrees with my view though dos not go anywhere near far enough. Anyhow I will leave it there to go have a well earned cigarette…and I’ll probably get told off for that won’t I reader!!