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Time for housing to get higher up the political ladder

Posted on 11 November 2010 | 8:11am

To the Chartered Institute of Housing’s conference yesterday. Nice bunch, not very keen on my fellow Keighley man Eric Pickles I sensed, and feeling a bit battered after the spending review.

But I felt they were adopting the right tone in seeking to engage with government, rather than just becoming a shrill voice of protest.

They have set up a joint commission with the National Housing Federation and Shelter, to track the impact of the changes, which I think will make an important contribution to this debate as the government cuts and reforms go through.

I was there essentially to give my view on how best to engage with government, how to get your voice heard and how to deal with a constant surrounding chorus of negativity.

I expressed the surprise I have often felt that housing, despite its centrality to our lives, is not right up there with health, education and crime as a big dominant domestic policy issue.

A member of the audience from the National Housing Federation gave a possible answer. She said that people see their housing as a very personal thing, and if it is inadequate they tend to see it as their failure rather than the failure of a bigger system. With health and education, she said, people are more likely to see and understand common factors.

I thought that was an interesting insight. Part of the challenge for housing organisations is certainly to get their issue higher up the political and profile ladder. And one way might be to build on that insight, and try to build the case more widely that whilst our home may be our castle, it does not stand in isolation and the housing of others is an issue that affects us all…

Then in the evening a more after dinner affair, to the Association of Corporate Treasurers, 1300 people at the Grosvenor House – where they still can’t get a mobile signal in the ballroom so there were a lot of frustrated football fans.

Former Labour minister Lord Myners was there to collect an award, and I got one of the best laughs of the night by telling the bankers in the audience – around 600 of them – that they owed him a huge debt … he was the man who signed off Fred Goodwin’s pension, ensuring they copped it a lot less than they might have done.

I was there to sing for my supper and keep the wolf from the door, but both events had a charity element and my contribitution was a book sale and signing at the end of my speech, with all the profits going to the ACT’s chosen charity, Wellchild, the charity that provides nurses to care for seriously ill children. Demand was high and I was there till gone midnight. The Blair Years paperback, though out now three years, was still vying with Prelude to Power hardback as the best seller, and All In The Mind was easily beating Maya, which pleased the mental health campaigner in me.

Anyway two good events in a day, and at the second I met an interesting group of bankers who specialise in getting in money for social housing. Their views were not that far apart from the people at the earlier one.

  • Can you shed any light as to why Labour didn’t reverse the Tory policy of preventing councils using “Right To Buy” money to build more council homes? I honestly thought that would have been a priority from day one.

  • Malcom King

    Good discussion on benefits reform on radio five earlier. Housing kept coming up from the public but you are right that it does not really resonate as a major political issue and it should. I agree that the sense of health and education being communal may make a difference. IDS did not sound convincing but equally a lot of people have bought the line that the unemployed are workshy and people are better off on benefits

  • Helen

    Thanks for coming to the conference and for the very frank way you spelled out what you saw as our challenges, and the advice you gave on dealing with government. It was interesting that as you were speaking the students were on the rampage and I think perhaps the coalition needs to wake up to the anger people feel that a lot of these changes are not needed and that they do not need to cut so much so quickly. Good luck

  • Gilliebc

    Interesting blog AC. I would tend to agree with the comments of the woman from the National Housing Federation, although I don’t think some people look at it in that way. Some people view a roof over their heads as a god given right, for want of a better expression. They have no respect for the roof over their heads, because they don’t own it and therefore treat it accordingly. Hence the number of run-down council estates and the problems that go with that sort of mentality. Personally, my home is the most important thing in the world to me, along with husband and family of course. In fact I would rate housing/home above health and education in the scheme of things. I’ve been fortunate in life in all 3 of those necessities but am very mindful of those people who haven’t been as fortunate, which is why Shelter and other similar charity organisations are my favourite charities.
    Another thing that strikes me regarding all these benefit cuts is this, leaving aside the immorality of it for a moment, is it a good idea to be cutting police numbers at the same time as taking away the money of the most vulnerable and dependent members of society? Violent crime, robberies and demonstrations will soar at an alarming rate, I would imagine and where will the police be? There’s not going to be enough of them to enforce the law if the ConDems get their way!

  • ClaireA

    I am that woman from the National Housing Federation, and also valued your presentation. The article I mentioned as the source of my comments is here

  • ClaireA

    Oh, and in view of your blog post will we see Housing added alongside Health and Education in your Categories list on the right? đŸ˜‰

  • an angry lady

    Today at work I will try to help a gorgeous 7 year old. She is a lovely girl – clearly very well loved and looked after. And as bright as you can be. But her biggest challenge is that she shares not just a bedroom, but a bed with her mum and two brothers. She tells me she ofter goes to sleep on the lounge floor so her brothers don’t kick her. I’ve seen the flat. It has one tiny lounge and kitchen, one tiny bedroom and a tiny bathroom. For four of them. Mum has not claimed for social housing, or a whole load of other benefits. Social services don’t seem that bothered. There is no garden, she has no toys, no books, no space to do her homework. It makes me angry to the point of implosion.
    I wish to make two points
    a) how can her private landlord be allowed to accept her rent, knowing as he does the conditions she is living in. He also owns a local business. One that I will never go back to. How he can look in the mirror is beyond me.
    I am working with this family, providing a level of support that is shortly being removed due to the cuts. I could, if given time, make a huge change to them. As it is I have to leave then to it. It breaks my heart and makes me livid in equal measure.

  • ClaireA

    Wow you really did add Housing to your categories! Fantastic.

  • Marcus Cotswell

    I don’t often say this but I agree with Alastair 100 per cent about the need to get housing further up the agenda. The failure of successive governments to put an adequate housing framework in place has stoked boom and bust and led to totally unjustifiable redistribution of paper wealth towards those who were fortunate enough to get on the ladder before prices sky-rocketed, without any commensurate improvement in the housing stock. It’s the prime example of a nation that has been living beyond its means – not just the government but individuals too.
    We need to build more homes – but that’s not the end of the story. We need to get a proper planning framework which means that the right sort of houses are built in the right sort of places to support people’s lives rather than some sort of bucolic idyll. And it needs to be linked in with transport and schools and hospitals. As thing stand, there’s too much nimbyism and too much pulling up of ladders and it’s time it stopped.

  • It was a great presentation and everyone found your top ten tips valuable. Thanks for being so obliging by chatting to everyone and signing books.