It’s never been more fashionable to demonise social housing tenants

If there is a ‘dependency culture’ it exists in the banking and privatised utility sectors.

Yesterday was Housing Day when, through events across the country and a ‘tweetathon’, social housing workers showcased the achievements of their occupation while highlighting the effects of a growing housing crisis.

Against this backdrop, one housing association chief executive, £191,000 per year Michael Kent of the 27,000 home Bromford Group, chose to accuse his fellow social landlords of ‘laziness and complacency, concentrating on helping their tenants maximise benefit claims instead of encouraging them get a job or develop self-reliance’.

Alongside this unsubstantiated claim, Mr Kent went on in an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, work and pensions and social security ministers respectively, to support the general thrust of welfare reform, claiming that the UK’s social security system is unsustainable, outdated and social corrosive, without offering any evidence to support the claim.

It is increasingly fashionable, and part of Cameron advisor Lynton Crosby’s dog whistle strategy for winning the 2015 general election, for ministers and their media friends to criticise housing associations and their tenants.

Yet such adverse comments from within the housing association ‘movement’ are unusual: especially from an association where 69 per cent of rental income comes from housing benefit and two thirds of tenants are economically inactive.

There is a growing trend for housing associations to be unfairly portrayed by politicians as playing a pivotal role in concentrating unemployment and benefit dependency and fostering a ‘something for nothing’ society. Mr Kent unfortunately echoes these uncorroborated claims, saying that housing association attitudes and practices have ‘led to a dependency culture and caused deep and untold damage to society’.

Social tenants are the bête noire of this government. Continual cuts to welfare benefits – the bedroom tax and benefit cap being most corrosive and aimed at social tenants – and to services on which they rely are dressed-up as being fair since they ‘make work pay’ behind the ‘all in this together’ mantra.

Social tenants are, in fact, bearing the brunt of public sector cuts to repay the national debt while being blamed for a range of societal problems, such as anti-social behaviour and 2011’s riots; again with precious little evidence.

The charge that housing associations inculcate a ‘dependency culture’ is often based on crude comparisons of the economic status of today’s social tenants with those of the past. The social housing sector does include proportionately more economically inactive tenants than thirty years ago; but this trend can be traced back to the impact of wider economic and housing policies and has little to do with tenants’ lack of self-reliance.

Unemployment has been high since the late 1970s, despite ebbs and flows in the intervening period, and, coupled with the demise of manufacturing, has fuelled growth in worklessness in the social housing sector. Right to Buy social housing, introduced by the Thatcher government in 1980, has also attracted more affluent – usually working tenants – leaving behind those with fewer resources and the unemployed.

These two trends are responsible for higher proportionate benefit reliance in social housing, not some mythical ‘dependency culture’.

If there is a ‘dependency culture’ it exists in the banking and privatised utility sectors where power and privilege are progressively paid for by hard-up workers and people on benefits.

Combined with punitive welfare cuts, and escalating costs of living, the results are the unsustainability of many social tenancies, rising fuel poverty, ballooning use of food banks and tenants as easy prey of loan sharks.

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6 Responses to “It’s never been more fashionable to demonise social housing tenants”

  1. James Richards

    Good article. One of the Tory mantras that grates most with me is the idea that treating social tenants the same as private tenants (around things like the bedroom tax) constitutes ‘fairness’. Labour needs to make the point that they are not the same bunch of people and that those in social housing are frequently disadvantaged, with more complex needs than most private tenants.

  2. Sparky

    Kevin Gulliver should spend a month living on the Winstanley Estate in Clapham, then write his article.

  3. GO

    “Unemployment has been high since the late 1970s… Right to Buy social housing… has also attracted more affluent – usually working tenants… These two trends are responsible for higher proportionate benefit reliance in social housing…”

    Isn’t it also the case that the way social housing is allocated has changed since the late 70s, with higher priority being given to ‘needier’ tenants? I thought that shift from social housing as universal resource to social housing as targeted safety net was the fundamental reason for the change in the profile of social housing tenants.

  4. TM

    Greedy rich people who cause most of the problems by having too much and getting more, just love to point the finger of blame at someone else! It is the Tory mantra and the mantra of the very wealthy and often the mantra of the self centred smug affluent Middle classes as well. Cause the problem: shift the blame! And then get rags like the Daily Mail to promote their vile propaganda that would have made Josef Goebbels proud. They should rename that rag Der Angriff.

  5. treborc

    Unemployed council and housing association tenants
    should seek work or face losing their homes, housing minister Caroline
    Flint has suggested.

    She said new applicants for social housing might sign “commitment contracts” pledging to seek employment.

    In a speech, Ms Flint said: “Social housing should be based around the principle of something for something.”

    Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said the idea was “meaningless” as it could not be legally enforced.

    In her first speech as housing minister Ms Flint told the Fabian Society
    that she wanted to “begin a debate” about how to best serve the needs
    of people who live in social housing.

    Labour sacked Byrne, he was getting slack and feeling sorry for the unemployed sick disabled so they got rid of him and put in an ex Banker with Ms Reeves who after all is a building specialist as well because she is going to hammer down on the feckless.

    labour Tory. Tory labour you takes your pick

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