Home is where the heart is…but only for five years.
Anyone who’s been semi-aware of anything that’s happened in the last 35 years or so will know that Tories don’t like Council Housing. They are the party of the “striver”, and so hate the idea that anyone’s getting anything they haven’t grafted for. The great oracle in the sky to aim for is the blessed state of Home Ownership. Thatcher in the 80’s made this available to your average bod on the street by letting them buy their council property at a fraction of their value, and from then on the holy grail has been to Own Your Own Home.
This week the government announced that lifetime tenancies for council properties would be stopped, and five year tenancies brought in. On first look, this is a difficult policy to manage. There are many people living in council properties who are earning a decent wage and could live in the private sector but who are taking advantage of the reduced rent of a local authority property. And there are plenty of people needing housing who could take up that now-vacated property. But in actual fact I don’t think the thinking behind this policy is as nuanced as that. I think it comes down to a hard and fast line the Tory party are pushing: you don’t want to live in a council property.
When council properties were starting to be built en-masse after the war, they were seen as replacement communities for the slums that had been either bombed or torn down. Everyone knew each other, neighbours were neighbourly and took care of one another. Tory policy has been the reason council estates have turned into places people don’t want to be (I’ll put some books at the end that I think are excellent reading on the specifics of this as I want to mainly focus on the stuff from this week). By creating what is in effect a five year rolling tenancy, Tories have made sure people will never feel totally settled in their homes. Why redecorate if you’re going to be told to move in a few years? Why get attached to a place if you might be told you have to leave it?
And the problem with not becoming attached to a place is that you lose a sense of community. After Right to Buy, there were a lot of council properties that were taken up by buy-to-let landlords once the original buyers sold up. Those in less salubrious areas often ended up being rented back to the council (who would have to pay an exorbitant rent to the private landlord) and used as temporary accommodation – those coming out of rehab, homeless people, people on probation. You end up with a transient population and where there’s a high turnover of tenancies there’s a low feeling of community (for a more in-depth look at this issue I highly recommend the chapter “Damage” from Nick Davies’ book Dark Heart – see end of post). A transient population is fractured. And the introduction of five year tenancies will make it even more so. This will cause a huge amount of damage to areas of social housing which more often than not are also areas of high deprivation and child poverty.
The Tories are pushing even further their housing hierarchy. At the top, home ownership. Underneath, expensive private renting. And at the lower level? Council housing, where only the poorest live. If you live in council housing, then, you must be poor. and we all know the messages the Tories like to push out about the feckless poor. Council housing is now a “last resort”. Which is going to further effect estates and communities. It’s another attack from the government to tell the poorest people “you do not matter”.
Recommended books on the history of council housing:
Estates: An Intimate History – Lynsey Hanley
The People: The rise and fall of the working class – Selina Todd
Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain – Lisa McKenzie
Dark Heart: The shocking truth about hidden Britain – Nick Davies