Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Social Housing: Time For A Discussion

At last a topic I have frontline experience of. Social housing. It's difficult to describe how hard it is for some social housing tenants, who have to put up with cramped and, if in temporary housing because of lack of social housing, AWFUL conditions. It's even more difficult when you are working on that frontline dealing with those people knowing there are plenty of decent homes in your stock... but they are full (or not so full) of well to do people whose lives have already been improved by social housing and now live there because it's cheap. They have the money to do the place up and keep it nice. They aren't living in squalor like others.

Of course one of the most important things that needs to be done to help this is increase our social housing stock. We should not need to be keeping people in private landlord's badly kept houses at extortionate prices whilst we desperately try and find a decent home for a family or individual.

But the other problem is that social housing just isn't geared up to help improve people's lives. We dump people in them and leave them there. The organisation I worked for was championing a "progressive" approach in getting people into social housing, helping them improve (mentally, financially and socially) and then helping them move on to BETTER accommodation where appropriate, even offering a "ladder" to ownership, allowing tenants to purchase 10% of the house, then another, then another. It hoped by doing this it could create more mixed communities and help fund further home building.

So I'm not entirely displeased by David Cameron's latest statement on the future of social housing and a more "means tested" approach. I'm also not won over, at all, by the kneejerk reaction of some on the left who see any attempt at modifying how social housing works as a "Thatcherite attack".

Cameron's approach needs to have a great deal of sensitivity regarding succession and when it's appropriate to move a family on to a different type of housing. And it cannot work with the limited housing stock we have now. But this is a discussion that's long overdue. Social housing isn't working. It's failing the most vulnerable. Investment is lacking too. We need to talk about it. The situation needs to change.

Let's keep our beady eyes on what the Coalition's next step is, and cry havoc if it's not in the interests of the most vulnerable, but let's not decry any attempt at change when we have people living in conditions I wouldn't want my worst enemies to live in.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

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