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.

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