In October 2010, Inside Housing published an iconic front page – The End of Social Housing 1945 – 2010. It’s taken three and a half years but a group of housing people has finally responded to that message and decided that enough is enough. SHOUT – Social Housing Under Threat – aka The Campaign for Social Housing has now been formed.
SHOUT was established in response to the challenge laid down by John Healey in this article. He wrote, ‘The government displays a deep hostility towards social housing and its defenders are nowhere to be found’. Since then, a small group of ‘defenders’ has met with John and his advisers, and a formal launch of the campaign is due to take place soon.
Those of us who responded to John’s challenge believe that social rented hous
ing is worth defending. Over the past 40 years it has been attacked, denigrated and dismantled by a succession of governments, relegated to a tenure of last resort, its occupants stigmatised by parts of the media and some politicians as scroungers and workshy layabouts. Instead of investing in bricks and mortar, governments have increasingly subsidised rising rents rather than affordable homes. Meanwhile, home ownership has been promoted as the “natural” tenure of choice. We believe that social rented housing has a proud and noble history and that it deserves to play an important role in any sensible housing policy.
A re-invigorated right to buy,“voluntary sales” in accordance with the HCA prospectus and conversions to affordable rents are all adding to the decline of the social rented sector. The “Affordable Rent” programme is not the answer to the country’s housing needs. The housing benefit bill is £24 billion and rising. We say it makes no economic, social or moral sense to trap pooor people in poverty, forcing them into so-called “affordable” properties where they are forced to rely upon benefits.
I never tire of using this graph from Shelter because it tells the story of post-war housing policy in a single image and proves the point that the private sector and housing associations have never been able to plug the gap left by the demise of local authority house-building. It was local authorities, building social rented housing, that made the difference.
So what does SHOUT stand for? You can read our key demands here, but they include a call for an adequate level of investment in new social rented homes, (with rents that are truly affordable), an end to sales under the right to buy unless there is like for like replacement, and an end to the affordable rent programme, including conversions, in those areas of the country where out-turn rents are unaffordable. We are deluding ourselves if we think that truly affordable homes can be built without adequate levels of subsidy.
Social rented housing is not the sole answer to the country’s housing plight, but it should be a significant element of a balanced housing policy. The campaign is cross party – we want to see a return to the political consensus that existed in the 30 years after 1945 when Conservatives and Labour competed with each other to to build as many homes as possible. We have made a submission to the Lyons Review and argue that half of Ed Miliband’s target of 200,000 new homes a year should be social rented homes. You can read it here.
Our twitter feed is active and we have almost 650 followers. A Facebook page is up and a website is coming soon. We urge you to follow and support the campaign and to watch out for further details. We need suporters and funds but most of all we need people to spread the message.
As John Healey said, “it will be a wider swell of pressure from those who believe in the economic and social case for public housing that really matters.” I urge you to follow and support the campaign, contact your councillor, your MP and anyone else who will listen and tell them that social rented housing housing is a public good that deserves to be at the core of a sane and decent housing policy. It’s time to say enough is enough.
First published at Inside Housing 5th March 2014)