The housing crisis – which is a series of crises and not singular – has led to the crisis in thought in all of the three questions below which formed a long-running twitter debate this afternoon.
- Where can I build a Soweto in Surrey?
- Why don’t housing associations tell Government to f**k off?
- When did social landlords take over the basic role of the state to provide shelter?
Three very closely linked questions as it happens and a classic example of the confluence of “housing think” and “government think” or in simple terms, the absence of any thought whatsoever and perhaps tripping would improve the collective incompetence in such thinking.
In reverse order the government has strongly attacked housing associations for not building enough in the Times, Spectator and Channel 4 debacle. Yet instead of the housing sector’s pre-occupation to refute the pitiful factual basis of the factoids presented in a debate that see the horse having well and truly bolted the question social landlords need to ask is this:
When did we become an arm of the state responsible for providing the basic shelter that all democratic governments have a duty to provide?
Why do social landlords simply accept this as their ‘role’ and not challenge this perverse government expectation? Why do social landlords not say fund or f**k off and remind this and any future government that it is THEIR role not the role of private registered providers, the correct terminology of housing associations to provide the populace with the basic need of shelter!
Such a stance may seem confrontational yet it is not at all: It merely seems that way because social housing for the last 40 years has said to government Yes Sir, No Sir, Three bags full Sir. It is the role of government to provide shelter and not the role of housing associations.
A number of today’s HA’s are stock transferred organisations, the former council housing departments and given they all know that while the council may have transferred the physical stock, no council can transfer its mandatory and statutory duties to house and rehouse people in homelessness for example. Transfer the houses but you can’t transfer the duties. So why HA’s seem to think it is their moral or other obligation to build more houses because there is a shortage is truly bizarre.
The role of HA’s like all businesses social or otherwise is to firstly survive. Please note I slap my own wrist there for stating the bleeding obvious! Once survival is assured – which given RTB2, 1% rent cuts, direct payments, monthly payment and worst of all the benefit cap is highly unlikely for all – the role of HA’s is to provide the best service they can to their customers, the tenants.
Yet social landlords have this bizarre fixation that they MUST expand because there is a housing shortage and government EXPECTS them to fulfil that role and housing associations are not subject to the rules of any business and must fall on their sword because a government which despises their model EXPECTS them to do so!
What HA’s and all other social landlords need to say and forcefully say to government is fund it properly if you want us to deliver (in what David Orr says is the most successful public-private partnership) or bugger off and get someone else to do it at a much greater cost!
It is your electoral ass that is in the sling at the end of the day not ours and irrespective of how much and how often you care to blame social landlords for YOUR failure.
Aside from the 60% cut in the extremely cost-efficient invest to save system government (and even more perversely social landlords!!) call ‘subsidy’ with all the pejorative connotations that holds, which business in its right bloody mind would develop a product that the government forces them to sell at way below market value?
Building Soweto in Surrey?
SoWeTo – South West Township is the infamous ghetto where all the ‘other people’ live and government policy is that this is a natural consequence of the benefit cap – a place where the ‘other people’ can live and whom we do not have to care about. A shanty town in which those unable to work and not expected to work will have to live as part of the social cleansing strategy called housing welfare policy.
I was revising my estimate of the number of households hit by the upcoming £20k benefit cap and drafting an update and uplift to that due to two reassessments of that rarity in government led housing and housing related welfare policy called FACT, namely;
- the prevalence of ESA which increases the benefit income of tenants thus reduces the maximum they can receive in HB and increases the chances of eviction; and
- the fact that target rents are higher in many of the Home Counties than they are in Inner London which will have a £23,000 cap
The above table has much significance for the why Soweto in Surrey is needed and for why on earth would any HA in their right mind develop any new builds which are financially toxic products.
A 3 bed social rent level of £153 per week puts this out of reach of the benefit tenant. The lone parent with 2 children which is the smallest household size to qualify for a 3 bed SRS property will get a maximum HB of £130 per week if on ESA which is 3 times more likely than the lower JSA. The 2 parent 2 child household will get just £89 in HB which means a shortfall in a very low rent area such as Crewe and the next household size of the lone parent with 3 children just £63 in HB meaning a £30 per week rent top-up needed in very low rent Crewe.
A HA developing new builds has to say who will occupy these new builds or rather who can afford to occupy these new builds even if we let them at the lowest possible social rent level?
To move back to Surrey, Herts, Kent, Berks, et cetera above – the high social rent level areas – they will still need workers to pour your coffee and serve you with McDonalds and other menial low paid employment yet who cannot afford to live anywhere near their place of work – hence the need and directly from the ill or in fact non-considered benefit cap for a series of English Soweto’s in the Home Counties.
The FACT (yes them pesky blighters that always spoil the best ideologically driven spin and myth) that the only benefit cap variable, i.e. rent, is much more in Guildford and Bracknell than in London yet the overall cap is £57.69 per week lower starkly shows how little consideration has gone into the benefit cap reduction policy by this government!
Further, even if HA’s wanted to take the financial risk of building only to have that asset taken from them by government dictat at way below their market value there is a previous question of just who the hell would we be building for in the first place!
Yet social landlords rather than saying to government stick it where the sun don’t shine and if you want us to develop then come across with a workable offer, are instead, falling over themselves with some perverse and illogical notion that they MUST develop because it is their role and duty!
I always though social landlords had their brains buried in sand rather than up their backsides yet this seemingly innate compulsion to become an arm of the state and a priori become puppets of whatever government is in power and ready to accept whatever crumbs are thrown at them shows that ‘housing think’ means their heads are up their backsides on the second shelf!
Instead of telling government (and the public) that they are not responsible for the housing supply crisis, they collectively need to tell government to sling their hook and remind them it is the role of any developed nation to provide shelter for its citizens and not the role of private registered providers.
Oh so what if government don’t listen? Simple – they will not get re-elected as the general public will know who is to blame – unless of course the idiotic social landlords choose to carry on as they have for 40 years and do not lower themselves to speak to the general public and tell them that the reason their children and grandchildren have nowhere they can afford to live is because the government couldn’t give a toss!
Read the simplest first week political text on “democracy” and they all say the role of any democracy is to provide food and shelter for its citizenry. Then ask why the hell do UK housing associations believe it is THEIR role!!