“I went to bed afraid and woke up to a nightmare” said my son as I spoke to him on the day after the Referendum. Throughout the day many on social media were saying that we had to accept the result and try and make it work. The housing press were issuing statements from our leaders saying that housing associations are ready and able to take on this new challenge. All of the comments were about business survival and risks. I looked in vain for statements on the impact upon those people we used to provide homes for; the marginalised, the excluded, those who feel left behind. I found none.
I recognise the need to make some of these statements but I refuse to put a Panglossian spin on the result. It is a disaster for many people who housing associations were created to help. The political, financial, and social fallout of leaving the European Union will hit poor people and those on low incomes hardest.
Some of them might have voted for Brexit, especially in the North and the East, though interestingly not in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I wonder why? Many have speculated why many living on working class estates in England voted in favour of Brexit. Was it simply a protest vote? Was it because they felt that their voice was not being heard? Was it immigration or fear of immigration? Was it a lack of trust in politicians of all parties? Certainly the right wing media played a role. Age was significant with more older people voting to leave. And interestingly many areas with low levels of immigration were more strongly in favour. My experience of living and working in these areas suggests that immigration sometimes driven by a deep rooted racism was a significant factor. This often occurs where people are experiencing low levels of immigration for the first time Whatever the reasons, some who voted in favour will suffer the worse consequences as the inevitable recession leads to further public spending cuts and the promises made during the Referendum are not delivered.
Housing associations might have a bumpy ride but those that are well led will survive. Recent growth based mainly upon a market bubble will slow down and what little investment there is in low rent homes will cease altogether. It was never viable to suggest that we could build social housing at scale using a financial model based upon profits from market deals. Inevitably, sometimes the market turns against you. It is possible that more existing social rent homes will be sold to overcome financial shortfalls. Unless the government has an epiphany and decides to invest in social housing, the slow death will continue and poverty and homelessness will increase.
Why was my son, who does not work in housing so afraid? Like me, he believes that the campaign has legitimised anti-immigration rhetoric, which is often based upon deeper racist fears. He is afraid because he carries more of my wife’s Asian genes than mine and looks Indian. Already we are hearing about racist incidents. Housing associations must be on their guard against them. We have allowed the campaign to open up a box that many of us have fought for over 40 years to keep shut. Like my son, I fear for community cohesion now that we have done so. I fear even more for the plight of people on low and no incomes, immigrants included, in need of a decent home at a price that they can really afford. I fear most for our children
This blog was first published by Inside Housing on 29th June 2016