Branch Secretary :

Dispatches on the #GreatHousingScandal

Familiar issues to Unite members


Publicly owned land sold off with minimal affordable housing built on the development – and the so called affordable housing that is built is unaffordable for local people;  Poor maintenance and shoddy construction standards; Minimal regulation and the regulators underfunded with leaders credibility deeply compromised by conflicts of interest.  These were the aspects of the ‘Great Housing Scandal’ highlighted in Monday’s Channel Four Dispatches programme.  All of these are familiar issues to Unite members in the social housing sector and all are issues that we have raised in the past.


In our branch we have workers in the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), members living on the Lancaster West estate whose lives have been turned upside down by the Grenfell fire, and front line housing managers battling with the direct impact of austerity.  We have only too much direct experience of the issues raised by Channel Four!


Regulator was 'toast'


When the Tories came in to office they announced that the social housing regulator was ‘toast’ – to be placed on the ‘bonfire of red tape.’  This plan met with considerable opposition from banks who rely on the staff of the regulator for assurance that their money is safe.  The government partially backed down and allowed the regulator to continue in a much reduced form with far less resources for ‘consumer regulation’.  Tenants and residents were not important to the Tories (and the LibDems at that stage) but the banks were!   In the wake of Grenfell it is clear that regulation must be properly resourced.


The regulator had its Tenant Empowerment and Engagement team cut, shifting the balance of the regulator's focus more exclusively on HA financial viability. This move speaks strongly of an underlying government ideology which sees no further than the commercialsation and commodification of social housing.


The new slimmed down regulator created by the Tories has a far lower profile than its processors.  As Dispatches reminded us, it does have a legal responsibility to make its presence known.  But it now has minimal resources for this and has been subject to political pressure. 


Grenfell Tower residents warned


Tellingly, surviving residents of Grenfell Tower who had warned so publicly of the fire risk that their landlords poor management had created before the fire said that they did not know of the HCA’s existence so did not alert the regulator.  What makes this worse is that the HCA might still have found out about the serious concerns about Grenfell; one of the landlord's board members is also a board member of the HCA.  There has been widespread concern at this within the agency but from what the programme reported he sees no problem.  Certainly he has not seen fit to resign following the fire. But the chair of the agency is Boris Johnson’s former deputy mayor with responsibility for planning and now acts as consultant for property developers adept at reducing the proportion of affordable housing in their developments and maximising profitable luxury developments; apparent conflicts abound.


The programme also featured well known cases of substandard new developments by housing associations which do raise deep questions about the commercialised model they now operate.  On this website we have charted the progressive deregulation of housing associations and surveys do suggest that housing association staff increasingly feel that their employers have lost sight of their social purpose. But the decline in truly affordable house building is an inevitable result of government policy favouring commercial development: they favour their friends the property developers not the millions in need of social housing.


Unite has consistently called for a massive programme of council house building, for rent control and security in the private rented sector and for improved and properly resourced regulation.   Now Jeremy Corbyn's Labour have committed to support social housing.


Paul Kershaw (Branch Chair Unite LE1111)


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