(From an article published in June 2014)
The official launch of SHOUT takes place in Westminster later today. Social Housing Under Threat was formed back in January and has been described by Steve Hilditch as the “most important campaigning initiative in this Parliament.”
The keynote speakers will be former housing minister John Healey MP and Councillor Gary Porter, vice-chairman of the Local Government Association. Lord Adebowale, Lib Dem MP John Leech and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, are all scheduled to speak. This cross-party approach is important, because SHOUT aims to appeal across the political spectrum and to show that placing social rented housing at the heart of a sensible housing policy makes political and financial sense.
Political sense because the stability and community created by the best social rented housing should appeal to both “One Nation” Tories and the Labour left. Political sense because the social rented sector has by far the lowest proportion of non-decent homes and is a destination tenure for millions of people, unlike the private rented sector, and happy tenants make happy voters. Political sense because providing homes that are truly affordable allows more people to escape from a life on benefits and will “make work pay”. Financial sense because the housing benefit bill is almost £25 billion and rising, and making a long-term switch of tax pounds from propping up high rents to bricks and mortar will save money in the long run. Financial sense because every affordable home built generates an additional £108,000 in the economy and creates 2.3 jobs. Financial sense because 40 per cent of the Housing Benefit bill now goes to private landlords, and the average PRS tenant claims £23.41 more per week in housing benefit than the average social housing tenant.
The founding members of SHOUT - Alison Inman, Aileen Evans, Tom Murtha, Steve Hilditch, Kate Murray, Andy Rynham, Tony Stacey, Martin Wheatley, Kevin Gulliver, Tim Morton - are respected figures in the sector, and they all share a belief that social housing has a proud track record and that it is being unfairly maligned and eroded. They believe that social rented housing can play a significant role in reducing homelessness and creating a nation that is more at ease with itself. They all believe that social housing is not ours to dispose of, but should be passed on to future generations in a better state than we found it. This is clearly not happening at present, because over a million homes have been lost to right to buy over the past few decades, wthout replacement, and the flow is increasing as a result of the re-invigorated right to buy and the “conversion” of homes to affordable rent. One of the key themes of the manifesto being launched today is that “enough is enough” - it’s time to consider alternative options to present policies.
Private housebuilders are now saying that Ed Miliband’s target of 100,00 homes a year is impossible. This makes the case for an enhanced public role in housing provision even more compelling. By increasing investment, raising borrowing caps, putting in place robust planning agreements, and ensuring that new towns and garden cities contain a high proprtion of social rented homes we could achieve 100,000 social rented homes a year.
SHOUT does not suggest that social rented housing on its own is the answer to the nation’s housing ills, but it should be a significant element in a smart housing policy. Let’s hope that SHOUT’s message makes an impact upon the political classes.
*”Shout, shout, Let it all out” - Tears for Fears 1984.