Hello I am Tom Murtha until recently I was the Chief Executive of Midland Heart one of the Largest Housing Associations in the country which can trace its roots back to another era of Austerity in the 1920s. I am currently Chair of HACT which is the leading Think/Do tank in the housing sector.
I guess I am one of the few people in the room who since the 1970s has worked with every type of funding for social housing both in local authorities and housing associations. So I can say without contradiction that you can’t build social housing at scale without state investment. Many have tried but they have had no real effect upon the shortage of truly affordable homes. I repeat subsidised housing needs subsidy. Get used to it.
Since my birth until the 1970s I have lived in every type of social housing that has been built since 1945 and my family, at least my extended family, still live in social housing. This is partly because my family were once travellers and we tend to move around a bit and because in 1964 we were homeless for 9 months and we slept on the floors and on the sofas of friends and family on every council estate in Leicester. This gives me a unique insight into the quality and diversity of social housing.
I have been asked to speak tonight from a personal point of view as to why social housing is important to me. Quite simply I believe that I owe my very existence to social housing.
I discovered recently from my mam’s diaries that I had an older brother who had died at birth in 1947. He was born in a breeched position and those in attendance could not save him. He is buried in an unmarked grave the location of which was only known to my dad who took the secret to his grave.
I was born in 1952. I was also breeched but I survived. Why? Maybe I was lucky but I believe it was more than luck. I benefited from two major initiatives in our social history. The NHS had been established in 1948 and there was a midwife in attendance at my birth which my parents couldn’t afford in 1947 and unlike my brother I was born in a newly built council house not a slum. Nye Bevan and the post war Labour government were responsible for both. He created the NHS and began the council house building programme which was continued by the Conservative government in 1951. I owe my existence to that post war consensus which provided my home my health and my education. I am a product of the welfare state, which as Alan Bennett said recently is being dismantled by stealth. I sometimes think that it is only when the welfare state has gone completely will people wake up and realise why it was established in the first place. This is also true of social housing
Of course social housing has changed over the years but it is still a force for good in our communities and it provides a home for many. It is also under threat. Funding for new investment has been slashed. The right to buy has dramatically reduced its numbers. Asset sales and conversion of social rent to so called affordable rents have reduced its numbers even further. The number of homes is slowly being eroded and no new homes are being built to replace them. For some years we have witnessed the slow death of social housing and done nothing.
We as a housing sector have fallen asleep on our watch and in our stewardship of social housing. We have forgotten that as stewards we have a duty to nurture and protect it and to seek to continue to develop it not just for today but for those who will need it tomorrow. Politicians have forgotten the value of investment in social housing not just in financial terms but in human terms in the benefits it can bring to millions of individuals who could lead a better life who could be more productive members of society for want of a decent home that is truly affordable.
Now is the time to wake up and say enough is enough. Now is the time to make the case for public investment in social housing. Now is the time to build more homes to give hope and opportunity
And as Eversheds said this morning now is the time to for the government to mobilise the public and private sector as part of a massive house the nation campaign.
For me it was a matter of life and death for many other it still is.