I am delighted that social housing featured so prominently in the #BBCDebate last night. Even more delighted that there was universal acceptance that we do have a housing crisis and universal condemnation of the absent Tory plan to extend right to buy (votes!?)
I’ll take luck over design any day of the week and let’s not kid ourselves the fact housing was debated was anything at all to do with the Homes for Britain campaign. The only reason housing was debated was because the Tories have proposed the exact opposite of what Homes for Britain is about – the further depletion of social housing.
That is not sour grapes in any way as I am delighted that the fifth pillar of the welfare state we all rightly venerate has at last seen some national exposure and discussion as to its dangerous demise. Social housing professionals are rightly delighted and euphoric over the coverage as social media is ablaze BUT, and it is a huge BUT, the door has been opened a fraction of an inch and we need to kick it off its bloody hinges.
After the HfB rally the fire in the belly of housing people was palpable and hyperbolic only for it to be deluged with water within 24 hours as Osborne’s budget had no mention of housing which led to anger and puzzlement from the sector, or ‘housing people’ as David Orr aptly called it as there is no unified sector at all. Telling that David Orr used the phrase ‘housing people’ and not sector in his article in Inside Housing on the day of the HfB rally.
Yet as I said at the time David Orr was incredibly brave to admit that ‘housing people’ have been at fault for social housings demise by being mute for decades – that is what ‘ housing has found its voice’ necessarily means although far too many housing people are loathe to admit any culpability for being mute in any shape or form, and far too many still believe that an unified sector exists. It doesn’t.
David Orr is regarded and regularly voted as the most influential figure in social housing, and deservedly so yet many believe I am critical of him which is untrue. I have been and still am strongly critical of the HfB approach which needs a hundred times the priority of social housing rather than we simply need more quantity of housing and hundred times more a focus on the public than it has. Yet HfB has had an extremely lucky break with the paper thin veneer of the extension of RTB to HA Tory policy revealing it is vote buying and no more and it is that issue which has put housing on the public agenda not the HfB campaign.
I’ll take that luck over design any day of the week….as long as housing capitalises on that luck which it now needs to do!
The revived fire in the belly and euphoria of ‘housing people’ THIS TIME can not be allowed to fade and this massive and lucky opportunity cannot be missed. What the #BBCDebate showed was that the PUBLIC was against the attack on social housing and that means any housing campaign needs to direct its focus there.
Persuade the public that social housing is NOT the housing of last choice, is not replete with White Dee and other Benefit Street caricatures and the job of persuading the government of the day is a thousand times easier. Yet fail to even attempt to target public opinion and Joe Public will baulk at any government spending more of their taxes subsidising the proverbial White Dees.
The general public is also hugely enamoured with Bennett, Sturgeon and Wood (not necessarily in that order) who all strongly asserted the notion and important role of social housing in the debate; and ‘housing people’ cannot let that opening die a death either as these ‘new’ assertive and electorally appealing women have captured the political zeitgeist and their messages on social housing are the messages that social housing wants and needs the public to hear.
The right to buy extension has also been lucky for social housing too. It has galvanised opposition from right across the potential sector (remembering that HAs make up just 53% of social landlords) that has in part quelled the growing schism within it over privateers and traditionalists – we have the proverbial common enemy and with that finally takes away the waning notion of ‘housing people’ that the Conservatives have not been intentionally attacking the social housing model these past 5 years.
There can be no doubt that the Tories are the enemy of social housing any more and they have an ideological hatred of it as the social housing model at less than £6 per property per week ‘subsidy’ exposes the vaunted market that gets no capital subsidy and charges £85 per week more for a less product and service. Private rented housing is capitalisms market failure and the extremely cost-effective invest to save model that is social housing is significantly highlighted by comparison.
Two weeks before the HfB rally I spoke at the Left Unity housing conference with Ken Loach who went down incredibly well at HfB from all accounts, and unsurprisingly so. I would urge ‘housing people’ to look at Left Unity’s housing policy which is here and you will find that this reflects mainstream social housing policy of ‘housing people’ or the sector.
How perverse is that? Perverse in the sense that Left Unity is perhaps the most left-wing political party in the UK yet its housing policy mirrors what we ‘housing people’ call sensible and know to be right! In other words the mainstream political parties have moved so far to the right of what is sensible social housing policy that it sinks in just how apathetic all mainstream political parties are towards the social housing model which underpins all forms of social housing and is still, by a along way, the most economic way of delivering genuinely affordable housing.
That neatly reveals just how quiet and mute ‘housing people’ have been and the scale of the job ahead. Yes you better put another espresso in the skinny latter this morning housing peeps!
What #HomesforBritain should be saying but isn’t!
Why has nobody pointed out – to the clearly sympathetic general public – in this austerity age just how much Thatcher’s RTB added to the welfare bill with the policy of letting housing benefit takes the strain? Yes that well known housing jargon that the general public knows bugger all about!
Under Thatcher the Housing Benefit bill increased 642% in 11 years and directly related to RTB and to her denial of social housebuilding in that era as the graph below reveals. There is a direct correlation between RTB and hugely increased welfare benefit spend.
It also says that by comparison when the Blair & Brown governments cut the RTB discounts that the HB bill only rose by 78% in 13 years. Again the correlation is there but in reverse as reduced RTB means reduced HB bill for the taxpayer. This is the same Brown / Blair governments that this coalitions constantly say doubled the HB bill so it is clear the Tories are fine with the concept of putting the rising HB bill on the public agenda!!
Look again at the graph below and you can rightly extrapolate that the Major government increased the HB bill (still with the RTB high discounts) and in 6 years that HB bill increased from £5.095 billion to £11.38 billion – Yes it MORE THAN DOUBLED.
So have RTB with large discounts and the taxpayer cost increases massively. Take away the RTB large discounts as the Blair / Brown governments did and the taxpayer cost is so much less.
Yet, and here is the rub, the HomesforBritain campaign and the collective furore of the housing sector after the RTB extension to HA policy was announced concentrated on the cost to…..social landlords!!!
Concentrate on the cost to the taxpayer and the general public will ensure that this Tory vote buying rabbit out of the hat policy will fail. To win the argument and get rid of the policy convince the public who especially right now have all political parties by the short and curlies!! The general public will do your bidding for you housing people.
In doing so and making the social housing cause a general public cause over this RTB to HA folly, the general public will become more interested in the wider housing crisis. The general public WILL be amenable to the arguments that the social housing model SAVES the taxpayer money which it clearly does as the ‘subsidy’ is in reality an invest to save model of £1.125 billion per year that produces savings of close to £5 billion per year due to lower rents it enables.
The Tory RTB to HA pig’s earhole is not just lucky for HfB, it has done the far wider social housing model cause a huge favour in making the general public open to the many arguments that social housing is an ECONOMIC good for the country and the individual taxpayer.
In fact lucky isn’t the word, this is a Godsend as 30 years of the public believing that social housing is a taxpayer cost and the housing of last choice that has been enabled by the silence of ‘housing people’, now presents a gift horse to the ‘sector’ and all through a huge political cock up by the Tories!
Strike while the iron is hot and that iron can become a red hot poker to ALL political parties and ensure social housing is ALWAYS on the political agenda as it deserves to be.
TTFN housing people! I’m off for the weekend with me old china Tommy!