The neglect of housing here is a national scandal. A new anthology lifts the lid on a decade of policy failure.
Not many blogs have dedicated a decade to shining a light onto the root causes of one of society’s deepest socio-economic clefts: housing. But one that has stood the test of time is the Red Brick blog, co-founded by Steve Hilditch and Tony Clements in 2010.
Last month it celebrated ten years of publication. To celebrate this achievement, Steve has released an anthology of the most pertinent blogposts from the past decade in a book called ‘The Return of Squalor’.
Replete with many excellent contributors over the years, the anthology covers many topical issues such as the ongoing shame of the Grenfell disaster. It touches on planning, land, tax, and even the desperate need for leasehold reform, all issues playing out all too acutely under this Tory government. The need for a stronger voice for tenants is a major theme.
In 2012, Richard Crossley OBE released a report, covered on the blog, about a short-lived organisation, the National Tenant Voice (NTV). The NTV aimed to create a new type of organisation that would bring tenants’ and residents’ views to the table in Whitehall, facilitating scrutiny of landlords’ performance at all levels and promoting tenant and resident self-organisation around the country.
Richard had been appointed Chief Executive of the NTV, and had done most of the work to set it up in 2010 under Gordon Brown. Yet the £1m earmarked for the NTV was considered a waste of money by incoming Tory housing minister Grant Shapps and subsequently binned.
While tenant representation has clearly not been Tory or Lib Dem mantra it is certainly that of the left. Steve Hilditch’s blog post in 2012 had excitingly mooted a revival of NTV.
I can categorically say had this NTV been set up my life would be different today. I say this as someone who has become an accidental Chair of a residents’ association. My involvement in local politics had been largely absent until the shortcomings of my housing association landlord had become such a detriment to mine and others lives.
The social housing sector does not have a tenant representative body in Whitehall providing tenant representation and scrutiny, although A Voice for Tenants (AV4T) has been set up with the aim of establishing a national body for tenants.
Since the abolition of the NTV we have witnessed significant increases in referrals to the Housing Ombudsman. Many of these have not made it to the Regulator for Social Housing, which remains moribund, politically absent, and provides political cover for the failures of Tory housing policy.
Spotlight on housing
The book’s title is ‘The Return of Squalor’. This is an apt title considering social tenants on the estate I represent have had to repeatedly request urine stains and excrement in stairwells to be removed, albeit without much success.
The exhaustive reporting and razor-sharp writing by Steve Hilditch, Tony Clement, the pseudonymous Monimbo, plus many other contributors, highlighted in layman’s terms the devastating impact of coalition-inspired austerity. Steve and co would put the heat on Coalition and Tory housing policy makers, pointing us to noteworthy reports, and then provide sobering reminders of the stark injustices faced by those impacted by the failures of such policies. And most critically reminding us of why we should care.
Through the decade covered by the anthology, government has seen no fewer than ten housing ministers come and go. Meanwhile, Red Brick has stood the test of time, continuing to carefully consider the slow-burning housing crisis and its accelerants.
Under new management, and with oversight from the Labour Housing Group (LHG), the Red Brick blog will continue to bring original ideas and perceptive insights to light. Despite his recent retirement, the blog will not be completely without Steve Hilditch’s ferocious intellect and measured input. He will continue as chair of the editorial panel scrutinising each piece, and he has devised the blog’s editorial policy.
The anthology is a must read for anyone who cares about housing and understanding the politics of housing from a Labour perspective, with many lessons to be learnt.
The book ‘The Return of Squalor: An anthology from the first ten years of Red Brick Blog’ is available to buy here on Amazon. Any royalties from sales will be donated to the Labour Housing Group.
Chris Worrall works in land acquisition for a housing-with-care developer and is current Editor of the Red Brick blog.
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