Sunday, 19 July 2009

Blurred Vision?

We promised that we would provide a summary of the policy paper co-authored by the Council Leader, Stephen Greenhalgh: 'Principles for Social Housing Reform'. The paper proposes draconian changes to housing law and to the future of social housing.

It makes highly contentious blanket statements about social housing, when it must be clear to any right minded observer that there is no one 'truth' about such a broad topic. It declares social housing, and estates in particular, to be a blight on local neighbourhoods and a drain on taxpayers' resources. This is at a time when the biggest blight on all of us has been the greed of wealthy bankers and their associates!

The paper is based on two major assumptions:

1. That social housing is a problem.

2. That tenants, i.e. those who rent, contribute less to an area than homeowners:

"Residents with a stake in the place where they live, however small, will care more about what happens to their homes and in their neighbourhoods."

What?? Where is the justification for such an outrageous statement? A credible policy proposal should present sound evidence for such prejudicial assertions but we see none. It illustrates, yet again, the blinkered views of the man leading a Council that is meant to serve us. It is, yet again, deeply insulting to the thousands of council tenants who take pride in their homes and their neighbourhoods. Who could possibly think that a mortgage is the only thing that gives people a stake in their homes and communities?

It is impossible for us to know whether Cllr Greenhalgh really believes in his distorted view of social housing tenants or whether this is simply a cynical exercise to discredit and disenfranchise us. And it's hard to say which would be worse - a misguided, incompetent Council with unintentionally warped views of a large sector of its residents or a Council intent on carrying out policies deliberately designed to exclude this same sector of the population. In many ways, though, this is irrelevant as the outcome will be the same for us no matter what the intent.

To the non council tenants reading this I would ask you this: please use your intelligence to discriminate between unsubstantiated opinion and well evidenced fact. Don't just believe what you are told, you are better than that. A lot of you will have parents or grandparents who have lived in Council housing. Did they not look after their homes and their neighbourhoods? Were they work-shy burdens on society or people of integrity, doing the best they could for their families and their communities?

This Council is using the language of empowerment whilst plotting to dispossess people of their homes and their communities. If they succeed it will herald an era of social division that we have not seen since before the Second World War.

Of course there are council estates around the country that need radical rebuilding and a complex array of interventions. But not ours. Undoubtedly there will be some people on our local estates (much as anywhere else) who need focused support and encouragement to enter the job market. So provide it. Provide adequate child care and training opportunities. In what way does kicking people out of their homes and depriving them of their rights empower them or help them into work?

The only thing wrong with Queen Caroline Estate is the Council's neglect. They have been sitting on the Decent Homes money (already provided by central Government) for years now - and incidentally have made a tidy profit. They have left half of us with leaking, draughty windows and astronomical fuel bills as a result. Many residents view this as a cynical exercise to run down the estate and demoralise us. Not to mention the carbon footprint! Come on Councillors, it's happening on your watch. Do your job properly - it's what you are paid for.

The Greenhalgh paper argues that in the long term the Government should:

1. Restrict the number of social homes that are built and reject a duty to house anyone but the most vulnerable.

2. Abolish secure tenancies in social housing.

3. Allow councils to move to market rents.

4. Abolish the right to buy and hand power back to local Councils to decide who is given permission to buy their own home. (Well hello Big Brother!)

5. Change the law so that Councils can discharge their duty to the homeless by housing them on short term contracts in the private rented sector.

These solutions to the perceived 'problem' of social housing would ensure that ultimately social housing would all but cease to exist, in order that:

"ultimately, Council and RSLs (registered social landlords) should be able to repay any Government debt and move to a situation where they operate their housing portfolio at a reasonable profit."

There we have it. Profit. Knew we'd get there in the end.

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