There’s an old saying “You cant solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it”.
This phrase sprang immediately to mind this morning, reading the new government green paper “A new deal for social housing”.
How often do you read that phrase ‘New Deal’ and roll your eyes, whichever government is in charge?
If it wasn’t for Brexit the eyes of the country’s media would be firmly focussed on this government’s complete failure to understand or get a grip on the housing crisis. It gets noticed but only in second or third place.
By housing crisis, I mean all of it, housing shortage, homelessness, rents, security of tenure, landlord taxation, housing ministers with no background experience who stay in post for a few months, the whole nexus.
A Headless Chicken Announcement
This new green paper is the latest in a long line of headless chicken announcements.
Apparently, government sought the views of 7,000 people before setting out 5 core themes of the paper:-
1. Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities
2. Expanding supply and supporting home ownership
3. Effective resolution of complaints
4. Empowering residents and strengthening the regulator
5. Ensuring homes are safe and decent
I see that despite this New Deal the government still cannot step away from its obsession with homeownership in number 2 there, despite a quote from one social tenant just a few lines below it that says:-
“I am made to feel less of a person than the person that has bought their house.”
Yes love, because the government hates social housing and only wants a home-owning populace who will vote for them.
An obsession with home ownership
Which points us straight to core theme 1, the stigma of social housing, a stigma further advanced with this passage:-
“We are looking at reforms to help people using affordable home ownership schemes – like shared ownership”.
So if I’m reading this right, the 300,000 homes also being promised by 2020 is to increase stock for social tenants to become homeowners, again driving the notion that homeownership is all and that the person quoted as feeling ‘Less of a person’ is made to feel even less of a person by the same green paper.
Is this not missing the point of social housing? Is it’s only role to get councils and housing associations to build more homes so they can sell them at a discount? A cheap route to the same destination, home-ownership.
A laugh out loud moment
And I had to laugh out loud at this quote about tackling the stigma of social housing:-
“Rewarding the best neighbourhoods, for example, by funding events like street parties could ensure community pride is both encouraged and celebrated.”
Could you imagine some pinstriped, civil servant numb-nuts from Surrey, driving into Whitehall past increasingly blighted estates and saying to themselves,
“I know how to sort this out……street parties”.
A notion of some black and white Pathe newsreel version of a social housing estate where matronly women in housecoats and round Arthur Askey spectacles hang out the washing while the kids play on a rope swing attached to a lamp-post. Perleeeeeeaaaze!
You don’t create community pride by a government edict, community pride grows organically through the people who live there but you can destroy community pride with a government edict and that is what has been happening for years.
Karen Buck – from Nut-bag to highly commended
Core themes 4 and 5 are the obligatory and expected genuflection to the Grenfell tragedy, proposing a new regulator to replace the current one and as for ensuring homes are safe. Well, that’s already on the way through the Karen Buck initiative. Let’s not forget, an initiative that Conservative MPs talked out and voted against, until Grenfell.
After which Karen Buck was suddenly elevated from her previous status as raving socialist nut-bag to “My honourable friend is to be commended”.
As someone who works in the worst housing conditions I am always going to have an opinion on the matter and I don’t mind disagreeing when government announce something I think won’t work.
If they have at least considered the complexity of the subject – but the depressing thing about this green paper is it reads like someone babbling away to themselves in the day room of a home for the terminally bewildered.
Half cooked ideas thrown out in the hope that some of it might be well received while they turn their attention back to Brexit.
I mean, we’ve listened to 7,000 of you for Chrissakes, what more do we have to do? And we’ll even take onboard your ideas, just as long as we can still keep home ownership at the heart of it all.
Not in isolation
Trying to deal with the problems with social housing can’t be addressed in isolation from issues like “Affordable rents”, the right to buy, PRS rents, benefit caps.
No more than rough sleeping can be tackled with the promised £100m without looking at invisible homelessness, rent levels, universal credit etc.
In the press blurb for the green paper, the hilarious and inappropriately named James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Communities, says in a distinctly Pathe newsreel kind of tone:-
“Regardless of whether you own your home or rent in the social sector, residents deserve security, dignity and the opportunities to build a better life.”
You’ve lost me there a bit mate. Why don’t PRS tenants deserve security? Oh silly me, that’s a Labour policy, isn’t it?
Also would their dignity and security not be better served by not selling off their communities to foreign property investors to build rabbit hutches at higher rents?
Here’s an idea for you
Here’s a thought and it’s not a particularly radical one. Why not turn the running of social housing estates over to the people who live there, with the social landlord acting in an administrative function?
It’s how housing cooperatives have run for well over 100 years and there are tenant led social housing landlords as well.
In 1976 Colin Ward wrote the excellent book “Housing – an anarchist approach” where he pointed directly at the heart of my thoughts on this green paper when he says:-
“The missing component in public housing policies: dweller involvement; anticipates today’s anxieties about the social effects of imposing official policies on people whose own perception of their housing needs has been systematically ignored.”
“The only future for the public housing, whether in our decaying cities or on new estates, is the tenant take-over”.
He isn’t talking about revolution there. Colin Ward was a reformist anarchist in the style of Peter Kropotkin, not a revolutionary one. He was famous for describing anarchism as a “Seed in the snow”. In other words, it isn’t a Utopian ideal, it’s going on all around us all the time, in credit unions, Pardoners, allotments, the Lake District Pound, local exchange trading systems, self-build.
Contrary to popular belief, Anarchism isn’t about bombs or starting riots, it’s a 2,000-year-old political theory of social organisation that holds that people’s needs are best met when the state butts out.
The ‘New Deal’ green paper is as good an argument for anarchy as I’ve ever read.