A Catalyst For Social Housing


I have been predicting for some years that eventually the government’s policy on austerity would cause so much damage that people would be forced to fight back. Little did I know that it would take a tragedy in a tower block in one of the richest boroughs in the UK to act as a catalyst for this.

 The tragic fire is a symbol of all that is wrong in Britain today. Growing inequality and poverty have been thrown into sharp relief as some of the poorest in our society have died and suffered because of possible negligence and lack of investment following years of government’s cuts. I’m sure that the Public Enquiry will discuss many reasons for the disaster but there is no doubt that the long term neglect and demonisation of social housing and its tenants is one of them.

 Survivors, relatives and supporters of those involved in the disaster are justifiably angry at the lack of response from local and central government. They are angry that their warnings were ignored by those who managed and owned the tower block. They are angry that promises made since the disaster will not be honored. Mainly because the government’s housing policy, or lack of it, means there is a huge shortage of genuinely affordable social housing in the borough, in London and elsewhere. They are angry because they feel they are being ignored because they are poor and live in social housing. They ask quite rightly, would their rich neighbors be treated in the same way?

 If the authorities continue to ignore their grievances and continue with the inadequate response I am certain that there will be an escalation of the protests. If the local authority and the government continue with the failed policies of the past, those who have suffered for so long will no longer remain silent and now they will have the support of many others. There is no going back. The government must change its approach to social housing. It must deal quickly with the immediate aftermath of the fire and then put into place a long term strategy of investment in real social housing. They must finance the building of desperately needed social rented homes that will ease the housing crisis and reduce the poverty gap. They must fund the improvement of existing homes to ensure that such a tragedy cannot happen in future. The local authority and the government have lost the trust of those who live locally and those who live in similar communities elsewhere. Only by listening and acting swiftly to the justified complaints will they begin to rebuild that trust. It will not happen overnight. It will take time and real investment of money and resources.

 As a longtime supporter of social housing I am concerned that there is a similar lack of trust in housing associations. Many are no longer seen as the supporters of the poor but as bodies who through their policies contribute to social cleansing and the divisions that are so apparent in Kensington and other parts of London and in our major cities. Not only is it time for the government to change its approach, housing associations must change also and return to their original social purpose. Any talk of further gderegulation of housing associations must stop. Surely no government would agree to this anyway in the current circumstances. Many large housing associations are seen to have lost touch with their tenants and local communities. It is time to rebuild these links through action not words.

 There is no way to compensate for the deaths of so many and for the suffering of their relatives, friends and survivors. But if the tragedy could act as a catalyst for real change in our approach to social housing and its tenants, that would be the best memorial we could build for those who have suffered and died.


10 thoughts on “A Catalyst For Social Housing

  1. Great article, Tom. Look at this week’s The Observer (Ed Vulliamay commenting on his youth in Notting Hill) in the light of your comment on social cleansing. Disappointed by the American spelling of neighbours, however. Are you/can you get involved in a direct way with the Grenville (?) tragedy or not? Steve

  2. I appreciate that social housing is what you do Tom, but it can’t exist in isolation. Without a government with a social purpose that is willing to invest properly in public services, all we’ll get is a bit of tar paper to cover up the biggest cracks, then back to “business as usual”.

    • I agree entirely. If you read some of my other blogs you will see that I see social housing as an integral part of a comprehensive welfare state. We need proper investment in all areas to overcome the many problems caused by austerity and lack of investment. I apologise for concentrating on social housing in this one. But there are so few supporters I felt the need to make its case.

      • Having lived in social housing all my life especially for 30 years in a large Housing Assciation It is my own personal experience that it is not just additional money which is needed but a complete review into the illegal practice of overcharging of service charges Allocation of properties in the highest part of buildings to tenants who cannot leave their flats, corrupt practice using cheaper tenders leaving tenants for days with out essential repairs and having the wrong type of damp Making flats and houses unfit for tenants Holding useless meetings in which the Housing Association has already decided upon a project but has to conform to the legal requirement but normally never listens So tenant meetings are a waste of time This happened in a regeneration programme and now has resulted in a form of social cleansing and removal of the most vulnerable sections of the local community Replaced by private houses Can you imagine the impact this has upon the health of the elderly, sick and disable These issues do include health and safety issues

  3. So much of what you say is true and needs to be heard but i am not sure about tying the need to reignite the understanding and development of social housing with the disaster of the Grenfell Tower. It was decentralised government not austerity that allowed the Kensington RB Council to drive through a finance strategy that cut costs on social housing whilst building a £2.7m capital reserve. This disaster does highlight the need to look long and hard at how the social housing is managed…I very much doubt the local authorities actually know who was living i the block, what condition their tenants experienced and what the long term plan for such social accommodation in the area could or should look like. Perhaps switching from local government council anonymity to specifically accountable Housing Association is the way to go.

    • I am not sure I agree to all you say. Obviously there are issues with the local council as there might be issues with the TMO, a type of housing association. However the cuts began with the government and have continued. They slashed spending on social housing and funding for local authorities. And even though there are many good housing associations they are probably less accountable than local authorities and in big conurbations there is little evidence that they are any better at local management.

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