Grant Shapps misses the point on social housing

Grant Shapps' plans to give social tenants nationwide mobility are good. But they miss the crucial point - the lack of mobility is a symptom and not a cause.

Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps MP writes today for Conservative Home about the Tories’ new plans to give social tenants nationwide mobility.

On the face of it, there is not a lot to disagree with here. It is indeed the case that mobility within the social housing sector is poor, and this can act to greatly restrict the opportunities of social tenants.

Yet in a broader sense Shapps misses the crucial point. He says that it is this lack of mobility that has been one of the key causes of polarisation in our society, “driving the ‘haves’ and have nots’ further apar.” But the lack of mobility is, in part, a symptom of polarization, and not itself an obvious cause.

The deeper processes that have been at work are the effects of the excessive targeting of social housing, increasingly concentrated only on the most needy, and the cult of ownership. Both of these processes send out a very clear signal – that social housing is the tenure of last resort. When this happens it is all too easy to characterize tenants as the ‘undeserving poor’ – the “second class citizens” that Shapps speaks of.

When this happens the argument for more social housing become ever harder to make, because it is widely seen as being for people that are ‘not like us’. This, in turn, prevents us from halting the slide in supply. Moreover, it is the shameful lack of social housing supply that makes mobility so difficult in the first place – and which is chief among the real causes of the polarization that Shapps professes to deplore.

And here’s the rub. Apart from mobility, the official Conservative line on social housing is the need for a new right to buy that rewards tenants displaying “good behaviour“. Meanwhile behind the scenes, there are increasing calls for even more targeting of social housing on only the neediest. Both of these measures are sure ways to entrench disadvantage in the social housing sector.

Our guest writer is James Gregory, Research Fellow at the Fabian Society and author of ‘In the Mix: Narrowing the gap between public and private’

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