Time to make a noise?
Published by Colin Wiles on Thursday, June 21st, 2012 at 15:44 pm
I was at Manchester last week for the annual CIH conference. The new venue works well and most of the feedback was positive. It is a far grittier and more serious venue than genteel Harrogate, so a good move overall.
Many important issues were discussed at the conference. The latest housebuilding figures showed that we could be heading for some of the worst housing figures for over a century in peacetime. There was a general consensus that the housing crisis is deepening and that housing investment is the key to economic stimulus and recovery. So far so good.
But scouring the national press at the end of the week I found almost no mention of these weighty issues that have so much bearing on the health and wellbeing of the nation. So where are we going wrong? To start with, I don’t think our media operations are particularly effective. But I think it may also be time for a change of approach. Perhaps we have been too quiet and too polite for too long.
Let’s do a quick State of our Housing Nation:
- Housebuilding is at its lowest peacetime level for a century.
- Social housing is shrinking and dying as a result of the right to buy and affordable rent conversions, with little chance of a return to old levels of social housing grant and social rents.
- Social housing is no longer seen as a stable tenure, but as a “stepping stone” to something better.
- The Affordable Rents’ programme is likely to trap thousands of households in poverty.
- A largely unregulated and unaffordable private rented sector is growing (and housing some people in unsafe and un-decent conditions at its lower end.)
- The few new homes we are building are some of the smallest in Europe.
- Under 35s on benefit are now required to live in potentially unsafe shared housing.
- Homelessness and the use of bed and breakfast are rising.
- Universal Credit is likely to cause financial distress for thousands of people.
- The universal availability of lifetime tenancies is at an end.
- Benefit caps are forcing people to move to cheaper areas.
- The bedroom tax will force people to move, to take in lodgers or pay more in rent.
I could go on. But the simple question I ask is this. Would a more robust, campaigning approach towards the government possibly have led to an even worse outcome? Could things be any worse?
Do you remember a year ago when David Or was criticised for attacking the government? He warned of an “impending catastrophe” and some people advised him to pipe down. A more conciliatory and friendly approach towards the coalition government would bear fruit, they told us. Well it didn’t. I don’t like the National Trust, but their campaign over the new planning framework was very effective. They mobilised their 4 million members and rattled the government. Well we don’t have 4 million members but we have 4 million tenants and perhaps we could be doing more to seek their support for housing investment. Do we need a little more anger and some old-style activism? Those with long memories may remember events like the Camden Rent strike or the Clay Cross councillors. Perhaps it’s now time to look backwards in order to move forwards?
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