The Human Reality of Government Housing Policy
Failure to relate abstract policy to peoples' everyday lives
The growing mess around the Housing and Planning Act partly results from a failure to relate abstract policy to peoples’ everyday lives.
Besides all the administrative and financial issues, it’s clear the government hasn’t thought through the real impact of its proposed reforms.
Here are some examples of how things would have been different on the council estate where I work over the last few years, if the Act had been in force.
On the streets
When Fred died, the empty three-bedroom maisonette he’d lived in would have been sold on the open market because, like most council housing in the borough, it would probably have been defined as ‘high value’. Instead it was made available to Ayesha who was fleeing domestic violence with her two children. The affordable council rent has enabled her to carry on working.
The proceeds from selling Fred’s flat would have gone towards a ‘levy’ to subsidise the cost of discounts for extending Right to Buy to housing association tenants.
But an equivalent home on the Peabody estate next door costs £730,000, so it’s hard to imagine many HA tenants being able to take advantage.
If it was sold, Fred’s flat would probably have been bought by an absentee private landlord who would have let it to 3, 4 or more tenants, some of whom would only be able to afford the rent with Housing Benefit. The estate would see an increased churn of residents, undermining any attempt to build a stable community.
When Tony died, his one-bedroom flat was re-let to Stacey, a 17-year old care leaver with a troubled background. She was offered the kind of secure tenancy the Act threatens to scrap. This enabled her to establish an independent life without the constant threat and trauma of eviction.
When Doris moved out, Connie was able to move in. She had several physical and mental health problems. Being a council tenant helped her get the support of a range of public services that probably saved her life.
She’d have found this much harder in the anonymity of the private rented sector, or on the streets, where more people like her will end up if the Act is enforced.
Pay to stay
Pat and her partner earn little more than the minimum wage, but they would have been hit by ‘Pay to Stay’.
The rent hike would have forced her either to stop work or move out of the home she’s lived in all her life – and the estate would have lost someone who’s deeply connected to and involved in her local community.
Extrapolating the knock-on effects from these brief examples gives an idea of the huge damage the Act will do, both in terms of public finance and human lives.
That’s why the Act is causing such concern from a wide range of opinion, including 23 faith leaders who have put their names to a statement calling on the government to think again, a message that will be repeated at this Saturday’s national ‘Axe the Housing Act’ summit.
Glyn Robbins is a housing worker and a member of the LE1111 housing workers branch. This article also appears on the 24housing website