A new guest poster for Red Brick, Dee St. Holmes, argues below that by tackling the housing crisis, we tackle many more social and economic ills beside. Hearty agreement with that here. She argues that the coalition for fundamental change in our housing system is growing, as housing problems spread – affecting more, richer and more influential parts of society.
Our society is becoming one of ‘haves and have not’s’ at a worryingly fast pace. Public services that were fought for and implemented after the Second World War as a way to ensure everyone’s basic human needs were met, are being ripped up, none more so that housing.
After the war, when this country was on the brink of bankruptcy, the Government committed to a public house-building programme that dwarfed anything before or since. Political will, based on the threat of riots (or indeed a revolution after all, the ‘masses’ had returned from war and knew how to get hold of and use arms) ensured money was committed and used for the common good. People were proud to live in the new houses and a Conservative Government-commissioned report in the 1970s proved that council house tenants had the fastest growing ‘social mobility’ rates out of any other group of people.
Fast forward to today and we have a radically different picture. Social housing (as it’s now commonly known largely due to the large-scale transfer of stock from councils to housing associations) has been residualised to a shadow of its former self. The language of Government when referring to social housing tenants is one of feckless, criminal, anti-social, undeserving, people who should count themselves lucky to be in a tax-payer provided benefit. The recent riots illustrate this to a shameful degree. Housing as a human right seems to be a concept becoming relegated to history. Are we witnessing the final days of any form of publicly subsidised housing? The tide against it seems unrelenting.
However, I’m forever the optimist and one thought has crept into my mind. Everybody needs housing. No two ways about it. When people on £40K, £50K, £60K cannot afford a home in our capital city, the problem of housing starts affecting people who have higher voting levels and hence people who have political power. The housing problem moves beyond the realms of the poor and the homeless, where it stays on the margins, and into the realms of the very middles classes. Now it most certainly should not take this to make housing a national priority, but I think is happening.
Housing is receiving significant media attention and the Housing Minister is increasingly looking shallow and nervous as his headlines are exposed as just that with no substance behind them (house-boats being the latest example). However, make no mistake, the consistently stagnant economy will turn the Government’s eyes to house building as a way to stimulate growth and there will then be of plenty of spin for them to reverse their narrative on housing.
Labour should therefore get on-board now and shape the debate. Housing is an issue that has been relegated to the private realm for decades but it is pushing its way back into the public realm – and Labour should be the party associated with championing people’s housing concerns. Waiting until ‘an election year’ is no good – people need a political party that starts fighting the issues at local and national levels now. Labour can be people’s voice on housing; from the grassroots to the ‘squeezed middle’ it seems slightly fixated on. It is a uniting issue and one that has the power to win or lose the next national election. Labour has a lot to be proud of on housing, but it could have done a great deal more when it was last in power. Now is the time to make-up for that – millions of people are looking for answers and the coalition Government has none, yet, so why waste time? Make housing the priority it needs to be and the public policy that can restore the equal foundations of our society.