The Queen’s Speech said nothing about the future of social housing post-Grenfell

The government is offering no action on inequality

Image: Natalie Wood

To say that the Queen’s Speech was underwhelming is to state the obvious. Lots on Brexit of course, but precious little about the main concerns of the British people; never-ending austerity, the future of social housing post-Grenfell Tower fire, and dark clouds on the horizon for the economy.

That austerity has, and will continue, to impact the bottom third of earners, and is rapidly denuding the ability of local authorities, the NHS and the police to do their job, did not warrant a mention.

Neither was the plight of those on low incomes, social tenants and disabled people to live affordable lives. Indeed, it seems that unaffordable housing, household budgets at breaking point, and mounting personal debt are not concerns of this government.

Where were references to the ‘just about managing’? To a ‘shared society’? To building a ‘new generation of social housing’?   

The decline of social housing — both in the long-term and since the Tories came to power in 2010 — was confirmed by official statistics yesterday. The chart confirms the dramatic fall in social housing completions since 2010 — down from around 38,000 in 2010/11 to under 2,000 in 2016/17.

These are just the sort of homes that are needed when a tragedy like Grenfell Tower occurs and, more widely, as a sustainable, value for money way of confronting the housing crisis that has seen house prices rocket, a generation of young people locked out of home ownership, and homelessness, rough sleeping, overcrowding and poor housing conditions all rise.

One of the few references to housing, besides a dodgy pledge about the fees of lettings agents, was to say that housing would become more affordable as earnings growth outstripped house price rises over time. This is pie in the sky stuff. For the average house price to return to affordability levels last seen in 1997, average earnings would need to grow by 2.5 per cent every year for the next two decades while house prices stayed at today’s levels. Not going to happen.  

Some action in the Queen’s Speech to address growing inequality, to reduce the effects of austerity of those who can least afford to carry the burden of deficit reduction, and moving towards and investment culture that sees social housing as a national asset would have been so easy to do; much of the opposition benches in Parliament would have welcomed such moves and May could have drawn a line under the Cameron-Osborne ‘strivers vs. skivers’ era.

But she doesn’t seem to have the power or authority to advocate on behalf of a more progressive policy platform. Worse, she hasn’t the imagination to see such possibilities. As Lord Lamont said in his resignation speech of Prime Minister John Major, she is ‘in office but not in power’.

So, almost a decade of wasted opportunities, bile against the poor, so-called welfare reforms, and a move from well-paid jobs to low paid self-employment, part-time work and zero hours is set to continue.

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, is former Chair of the Centre for Community Research, and part of the SHOUT save social housing campaign, but writes in a personal capacity.

4 Responses to “The Queen’s Speech said nothing about the future of social housing post-Grenfell”

  1. Michael

    apart from the fact that Lamont did not say that, and he was not talking about Major. It was Geoffrey Howe, of Thatcher.

  2. Craig Mackay

    It is traditional for every government to announce a major new programme of housebuilding. This leads to zero activity because it is actually quite a big problem. You can read more about why it is such a big problem here: //outsidethebubble.net/2017/06/22/solving-the-housing-crisis-a-fairer-deal-for-all/ . However the problems are not insuperable and it is critical that it is faced up to as a matter of urgency.

    It is almost routine now for developers to renegotiate the fraction of social houses/affordable houses they have agreed to build once the development has started. They always have good excuses and much of the problem is that the developers have access to first-rate lawyers and experts whereas the planning people are often greatly overloaded and simply cannot stand up to them. Changing the planning procedures so that the agreed ratio must be stuck to would make a big difference. It would ensure the developers really took the responsibility seriously.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald

    Craig Mackay’s reference link in this post and in his post to another LFF article are very interesting and provide in-depth and nuanced analyses of the issues and propose solutions.

    It is to be hoped that Labour, with the support of SNP, LibDems, PC, Greens and, perhaps, even DUP could force some of these ideas on to the agenda, particularly in relation to housing. At the same time, they must also embark on a major programme of land reform, including land tax (of some form) to prise the huge amounts of land banked by a few major owners into more wider ownership. This can be done by imposing a continuously rising rate of tax on unused land.

    Such plans might well attract a number of moderate Conservative MPs. The big threat is from the Blairite Labour MPs who mounted the various coups against Mr Corbyn.

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