Slow, shambolic and inadequate: is it prejudice or indifference at the heart of government policy on social housing?

Published on August 5, 2020

Published on August 5, 2020

It’s been a month since Boris Johnson sort of promised an end to the austerity of ten years ago, which blamed immigrants and benefit claimants for all our woes. Many of whom, we should now know (if we didn’t before) are in fact essential workers. 

A month later, and any relief that it’s newts rather than immigrants and the poor who are the current bug bear is vastly overshadowed by the government’s slow, shambolic and inadequate statements around housing. 

Private and social renters behind on rent have heard nothing recently from the government but an anonymous statement to the Times: “We are working to provide appropriate support to those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus when proceedings start again.” 

We’re left wondering if it’s stonewalling or complete indifference that’s causing inaction in the face of the ‘tsunami’ set to arrive on 24th August; a tsunami which the government have had plenty of time and warning to see coming. 

When an apparent cut to the Affordable Homes Programme was dressed up as good news, sparking outrage, a rushed clarification was made that the £12.2billion for ‘Affordable Homes’ would be ‘spent’ within five years, rather than eight. But subsequent ‘clarifications’, helpfully translated by John Perry, a policy advisor for Chartered Institute of Housing, effectively mean that, “the £12.2 billion to be “spent” will in reality be allocated by 2025/26, with some of the spending stretching beyond that”. Yes, Minister.

In any case, 180,000 homes (only a fraction of which would be for social rent), whether over five years or eight, is so far short of what is needed that we might as well be counting newts.

It’s not that the money isn’t there. The big picture is that, at least prior to the March budget, 75 per cent of all planned government housing subsidy was to go not towards council or other forms of social housing, not even towards new shared ownership properties. 75 per cent of planned government housing subsidy would be for private market housing and associated infrastructure, including Help to Buy. 

Even that remaining 25% allocated for delivery of new ‘affordable homes’, will be split between social rent and other less affordable tenures, including ‘affordable’ rent, shared ownership and a pilot of the First Homes scheme. 

The government may have tinkered with those sums since March, but that doesn’t change the overall impression that those who have suffered through a pandemic in bad housing that they can’t afford, or that’s uninhabitable, or overcrowded, or dangerous, remain firmly at the back of the queue for help.

It’s a testament to the sticking power of labels that even now the only housing regularly referred to as ‘subsidised’ is social rented housing. 

Do we still imagine that there is a pampered class of couch potatoes scandalously luxuriating in an expansive safety net? 

And do we really need one more crisis to find out that was always a myth?