How the Tories are deliberately ignoring social housing

Nearly ten years of Conservative government has meant a spiralling crisis in social housing. But not accidentally so, Kevin Gulliver writes.

Writing in the Guardian over the weekend, Baroness Doreen Lawrence underscored how social tenants are experiencing “institutional indifference”, including from government.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy being the perfect example of the discriminatory and complacent treatment where “race and class play an undeniable part”. Such indifference mirrors the institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police unearthed by the 1999 MacPherson Inquiry into the death of Baroness Lawrence’s son, Stephen.

Of course, social tenants have long felt stigmatised as ‘scroungers’ or ‘skivers’ by the government and the right wing media. But stigma turned to attack when many welfare ‘reforms’ targeted social tenants specifically, and austerity cuts were proportionately greatest for social housing expenditure.

Government indifference to social housing is further revealed by a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Inside Housing, the trade magazine of the Chartered Institute of Housing.

Data obtained through the FoI showed that just 47% of the £4.8 billion raised through then prime minister David Cameron’s ‘rejuvenated’ Right-to-Buy scheme has been allocated to building replacement housing. The programme, however, encompassed the sale of almost 64,000 council homes in the past six years.

Cameron promised all council homes sold would be replaced on a like-for-like basis and within three years. But just 16,000 sold council homes, or one in four, have been replaced since 2012.

Also according to Inside Housing, 53%, or £2.6 billion, has gone to HM Treasury, to the repayment of historic council debts, and to cover the administrative costs of the scheme, rather than in providing new social housing.

This comes hot on the heels of one-time housing and communities minister turned Home Secretary, Sajid Javid,  returning £817 million to the Treasury back in March. The money had been earmarked for social and affordable house-building. It remained unspent.

Council waiting lists remain high. Homelessness and rough sleeping have seen steep rises since 2010. Overcrowding and poor housing blight lives and life chances.

Desperately needed investment in the dwindling social housing stock should not be discarded in this way.

An inability, or unwillingness, to invest even existing resources in social housing does not bode well for the government’s promise to boost social house-building through the remainder of its term. Nor will it lead to meeting its own target of 300,000 new homes of all kinds annually.

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues, the failure of properly rehousing the majority of former residents places the government’s complacency to people in need, and its prioritising to upscaling social housing investment, in sharp relief.

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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