Saturday, 3 February 2018

Around The Houses

"It is entirely undesirable that on modern housing estates only one type of citizen should live. If we are to enable citizens to lead a full life, if they are each to be aware of the problems of their neighbours, then they should all be drawn from different sectors of the community. We should try to introduce what was always the lovely feature of English and Welsh villages, where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street."

Aneurin Bevan, for it was he, was as successful in this as he was in delivering universal healthcare free at the point of need. In 1979, two fifths of people lived in council housing, an impossible figure for a mere "safety net for the poor". Public provision, by definition, never is such a net. Not the NHS, not state education, not public transport, none of it.

As recently as 1980, what is now a breathtaking 20 per cent of the richest tenth of the population lived in social housing. I have never been rich, but I have certainly always been middle-class, and I did live, albeit briefly, in a council house in the early 1980s. In, for local readers, Burnhope.

Now, after three decades of selling off the stock and of not building any more, the stringent criteria for new tenants effectively guarantee a large number of single mothers of dependent children who are thus unable to work full-time, if at all, and of people newly released from prison or newly discharged from psychiatric institutions.

Margaret Thatcher's assault on council housing is the one thing that her supporters still feel able to defend unconditionally. But in reality, it created the Housing Benefit racket, and it used the gigantic gifting of capital assets by the State to enable the beneficiaries to enter the property market ahead of private tenants, or of people still living at home, who in either case had saved for their deposits. What, exactly, was or is conservative or Tory about that? Or about moving in the characters from Shameless either alongside, or even in place of, the respectable working class?

We need 200,000 new houses every year, for 10 years. The ban on councils' spending the capital receipts from council house sales needs to be lifted, too, requiring them to use the money to build new ones. The rent-to-buy scheme doing the rounds also demands serious attention. And the proposal by Momentum in Haringey to set up a non-profit lettings agency needs to be implemented nationwide. That ought not to be too difficult, since Momentum is already a limited company.

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