It’s time to defend social housing against negative media stereotypes

A new campaign is asking politicians to take the lead in affirming the positive value of social housing.

A new campaign is asking politicians to take the lead in affirming the positive value of social housing

The portrayal of social housing as a tenure of last resort and social tenants as ‘skivers’ has prompted the creation of grassroots campaigns to counter damaging policies and stereotypes. The first – SHOUT – the campaign to save social housing – and the second – Council Homes Chat – a social media initiative highlighting social housing success stories – are leading the fight back.

SHOUT is publishing its manifesto, ‘Affordable, Flourishing, Fair’, to save and extend social housing, in Westminster today. The manifesto proposes a 12 point programme to build 100,000 new social homes yearly and to combat how social tenants are depicted in the media.

SHOUT concludes that the public sector will need to play a greater role in meeting the UK’s housing needs. A public house-building programme could be funded by removing or easing the current restrictions on council borrowing for housing,

As the graph shows, the UK’s house-building peak was back in 1968, when more than 400,000 homes were provided. The 200,000 homes a year bare minimum requirement has rarely been met since 1979 and only half that number are being built today.

Future governments should set a target of surplus public land to be made available for social housing at low cost, releasing land and assembling sites for social house – building. Any new town or garden city development should contain a significant proportion of social homes too.

Housing graphj

SHOUT also recommends that lost social homes through the Right to Buy and designated as ‘affordable rent’ should be replaced on a like for like basis in areas of high housing need.

SHOUT is campaigning for social renting to be viewed as a tenure of equal status to others since it meets needs that other tenures cannot and is a tenure of choice for millions of people. Alongside this, SHOUT is asking politicians to take the lead in affirming the positive value and purpose of social housing, and to challenge the negative stereotyping of social tenants.

In reality of course, social tenants are far from the economically inactive group portrayed in the media. In fact, there are more social tenants in work today than in 1990.

Today, setting aside the one third of social tenants who are fully retired, reveals that 55 per cent of tenants are economically active with 36 per cent working full-time, 15 per cent working part-time, 3 per cent self-employed and 1 per cent in full-time education or training. Fifteen per cent are unemployed and 18 per cent are not working for domestic reasons, usually related to child rearing and supporting ‘hardworking families’. A further 15 per cent are permanently sick or disabled.

Despite these levels of economic activity, the majority of social tenants have to survive on low wages and have few assets to fall back on in times of financial crisis. Over 50 per cent have incomes below £10,400 per annum. Just 6 per cent have incomes above the £26,000 benefits cap. Two thirds have no savings and, of the other third that do, 49 per cent have savings below £1,000 and 73 per cent below £3,000.

Finally, SHOUT is campaigning for future governments to set out long-term strategies for housing supply to bring stability and certainty to UK housing markets with the aim of improving affordability in all tenures.

SHOUT concludes that this long-term approach is crucial to tackle growing housing needs, to underpin a dynamic economy and to create the good society.

Kevin Gulliver is the director of the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research but writes in a personal capacity

6 Responses to “It’s time to defend social housing against negative media stereotypes”

  1. Frank

    We have a responsibility to ensure people do not end up homeless and to help those vulnerable in society.

    However the social housing debate has been muddied by London. There should be no social housing in London. People who support this are absurd and shift the thrust of the welfare state from supporting those in need, to one which supports favoured groups. This in turn sullies the concept of the welfare state.

    So this is the current system:

    1.) National tax receipts pay for favoured individuals to be subsidised to live in one of the most expensive areas of the world.

    2.) This is largely done through the government privately renting in the market, and placing council tenants in private property. This pushes up rent for everyone. Working people now have to live further away from London & commute in, so that they can pay taxes to support social housing in London.

    3.) This system also subsidises business that employ low-skilled labour e.g. your local fried chicken shop. These businesses can pay their workers below their true wage because the government is picking up the cost of their rent. Without social housing there would be a true market wage for employees of such businesses.

    4.) I do not have the ‘right’ to live in Belgravia or wherever. The long term unemployed do not have the right to be supported by the working tax payer to live in London. Yes we have a responsbility to provide a roof over their head, but certaintly not in London whilst working people have to commute in from further afield. It is absurd

  2. APBrown17

    Without affordable social housing, I could not afford to work for what the NHS pays, even though I receive Working Tax Credits and a tiny amount of Housing Benefit!

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah, the old lies that social housing is “subsidised” start up again, demanding that poor people be purged from anywhere with jobs, etc, that communities be smashed and people thrown into utter dependency on the state when anything goes wrong for them because they no longer have a community.

    Keep ignoring 34 years of insufficient house building as you try and demand that the poor all commute for hours (which is often unaffordable, in any case, or people end up for 3 hours each way on the bus because the train’s too expensive) to clean your toilets. Then you ignore the lack of a living wage, which is the real subsidy…

    No, the result of your policy would be massive job losses and a massive increase in poor people having to spend hours travelling for work, no more.

  4. Frank

    Did you read anything I wrote? Or do you just spew your nonsense at any available comment.

    a.) Social housing is subsidised in London. It is written into the rent contracts. You are a fool if you believe otherwise, and a further fool because it means you do not understand the concept of council housing.

    b) Remove social housing in London and allow the market to work. I would prefer toilet cleaners to get paid their true market salary, rather than a lower salary which the current system perpetuates and allows employers to get away with.

    c) Lots of people have to commute from far away to work in London. It is no-ones ‘right’ to live next to their work place. Social housing pushes the rent market up for all. This means more working people have to live further out of London and so have a longer commute to get to work, in order to generate the taxes to subsidise your favoured group to live in London.

    d) Again read what I wrote. No-one will starve on the streets. I am against social housing in London, not social housing in principle. The choice is not: social housing in one of the most expensive & densely populated places in the world Or no social housing.

    The third option is you provide social housing in cheaper, less populated areas outside of London.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, I did. You seem to have a problem with that.

    1) Same old lies again I see. Keep pounding out that lie, which shows you’re after ALL social housing, not just London’s. I understand the fact of revenue-making assets just fine thanks, and why you’re opposed to the Government having them!

    2) Right, evict every social tenant, and sell it all off to rich people to let. There isn’t an actual market in housing, of course, because of 34 years of under-building houses, it does not respond to market changes.

    You would “prefer” people to be paid even less, check, because they’d now have to commute INTO London, and hence would not get London living weighting to their salaries.

    c) Keep talking about your “right” to purge the poor from London, as you spew nonsense hate about social housing. YOU are demanding that far more working-class people live outside London and longer commutes.

    d) Ah, you’re going to actively murder people you force out, nice. Quite apart from the fact you are against all social housing per your statement of principles, you are ignoring the effects of what you call for.

    And you want to compensate by building slums in jobless areas. Wow. Such an option! Gotta make sure there’s a perpetual underclass to justify those benefit cuts, after all eh?

    Your self-admittedly irresponsible course of job destruction, homelessness and attacking the vulnerable…

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