Social housing – Groucho, Harpo or both?

What’s the point in discovering the cure for the common cold if you don’t tell anyone?

That used to be and probably still is a dictum used to show the importance of marketing to any business large or small and in any sector.

Yet this has never reached the mythical social housing sector – 1500+ individual businesses with 1500+ different agendas working in 1500+ markets and having 1500+ diverse leaders – yet who regularly sees itself as being some form of ethereal unified sector and writes about the ‘sector’ as if it had commonality.

Housing commentators talk of ‘social purpose’  – a collective imperative if ever there was one -as if it was an inherent common factor among the 1500+ landlords when any measurement of it would see some landlords having 0% and some others 100%.  The only commonality is the social housing model which underpins these divergent businesses of council and housing association landlords, although that invest to save model is rapidly being eradicated as government choose not to invest yet still want the saving.

How the rapidly accelerating death of social housing has come to pass is mostly due to social landlords not marketing what they do.

Yes it is YOUR fault housing people!

Instead of saying we provide the best goods and services at the best price and save the taxpayer a fortune, social landlords have been Trappist monks for at least 35 years – the Thatcher RTB is a seminal moment as well as a catalyst in policy – and so it is no wonder that the best product and best service at the best price is dying if not dead.

Nobody knows about the huge economic and social benefits social housing brings to all and whose fault is that?


Housing has only ever talked to housing.  It has never been public facing and never told the public about the many significant benefits it brings including the taxpayer who save a few billion per year and that includes the home owner as all taxpayers would pay £170 or so more in income tax per year if the social housing model was not there.

Instead of social landlords highlighting and promoting what the country got back in return for the ‘subsidy’, the saving from this invest to save programme, social landlords and the ethereal sector allowed 100% of the debate to focus upon the ‘subsidy’ leading to Joe Public believing their taxes subsidised it rather than reduced their yearly tax bill with the savings it produced for them.

Yet there is not one representative body for the social housing model, which is the basis of its existence, and even when the odd voice pops up it has a cockney accent and only discusses London housing issues and only today’s London housing issues and always in a reactive and never proactive way.

Thatcher’s Right to Buy was a catalyst and not just for selling off around two million of the best council properties.  It had a far greater cultural impact of saying if you chose to merely rent you had no aspiration and you were a second class citizen who was stupid not to join the property owning democracy.

Today’s ethereal housing leaders just simply accept the political rhetoric of the current social housing hating government and agree that tenants are not aspirant enough in the ultimate complicit climbdown and housings own agreement with the ideological myth that the social housing model creates dependency is embedded in its psyche!

The full impacts of the ethereal social housing sector being mute for decades now has its ‘leaders’ full of indignant righteous anger saying why does nobody like social housing yet at the same time refusing to believe it could not possibly be their fault that Joe Public thinks social housing is the housing of last resort and full of White Dee Benefit Street scrounging stereotypes – which the ethereal sector also let happen and did not oppose.


The ethereal social housing sector does share one other commonality in the ability to deny that any housing ill could possibly be their fault.  It is always someone else’s fault and while local housing professionals may well go the extra mile locally, on a national collective scale they have been walking backwards for the last 35 years with blinkers on and a ball gag attached.

Individual housing professionals going this extra mile locally sees any criticism of the ethereal social housing sector cause outrage and a how dare you say that instant reaction.  Any criticism of the collective social purpose is taken as an affront and elicits individual housing professionals and individual landlord reactions of, again, the how dare you variety.

Any discursive discussion of what imposed policy may mean for social housing operations in the future is quickly dismissed as scaremongering, of which I have been regularly accused and my comments 4 years ago that the shared accommodation rate would, inevitably, apply and be imposed on social housing is just one case in point and regrettably one of many that were not listened to.

Admittedly the time lag between initial scaremongering labels and the adoption of the oh shit he was right realisation has reduced considerably yet I still see regular don’t tar us all with the same brush comments when some landlords begin to act wholly asocially – the Severn Vale banning of all under 36 year olds for example – and comments that WE would never do this!

The fact that Severn Vale is permitted to do this and with no condemnation from within housing or even from government only means the road to hell is paved with bad intentions and the rest will follow in terms of ever tighter allocation policies that began with the bedroom tax.

These ‘one bad apple’ comments are mythical and excuse and also stem from the naive view that there is a commonality of the ethereal social purpose among the ethereal social housing sector, its commentariat and its ethereal leaders.  The apathy that springs from its government not us and the government have a majority there is nothing we can do is yet another aspect of commonality in the ethereal sector. Apathetic moans.

Do the private housebuilders, the brick industry, the private landlord simply tug their forelocks in the same apathetic way as the ethereal social housing landlord?  Does any other industry or sector adopt the same apathetic resignation?

No of course they don’t yet in social housing they do.  It’s so-called leaders are much more concerned with their personal issues, such as how big will my pay off be when (and not if) we are taken over in the next few years that we can euphemistically call a merger?

Oh there I go again being harsh and being cynical you say?  Is that last paragraph enough for you to dismiss all of the points that have gone before dear housing professional in yet another excuse to sit back and moan and take no action whatsoever?  Will it take the UK population to be living in adobe mud huts before you finally get off your backsides?

The time for excuses has to stop now.

The ethereal social housing sector is far too fond of finding excuse, of blaming someone else and of doing nothing except moan.  It is way past time to ignore your own (and my own) failings in not promoting the social housing model, in not getting the message across, in not challenging enough and above all else tell the general public what social housing is and is meant to be about.

Stop talking to yourselves alone.

You call your tenants customers (another delusion) so ask them, engage them, listen to them but make sure you are well prepared for a reality that you refuse to recognise!

Landlords are in critically danger of losing any semblance of trust social tenants have in them, if they have not lost all trust already and because tenants cannot AFFORD to trust so-called social landlords. It’s not that the social tenant does not want to trust the landlord, its they cannot afford to trust them!

The country will always have a very high percentage of people who cannot afford to buy and the lowest that percentage has ever been was 29% of the country back in 2008 when we had 71% home ownership.  Home ownership now stands at around 64% and so 36% of the country cannot afford to own and 36% (and rising) will always need a rented alternative.

Isn’t it about time you got off your mute apathetic backsides and informed all 100% of the population of the great job you CAN do and the social housing model does?

Is that white handkerchief you hold because you have a common cold or are you just waving it in surrender?


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