Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A Dogmatic Approach To Social Housing

For today's post, I'm again drawn to the Red Book and the 'problem' of social housing.

Remember, the game here is not to solve anyone's housing problem. It's to get the Labour Party elected to run the country. So it becomes necessary to explain the social housing problem in that light, rather than in a way that might elucidate its root causes and allow us to figure out a solution.  The facts should not be allowed to get in the way of a good story.

Why social housing? Because, as Dr Eoin Clarke explains, Labour's figures show it was deserted by a disproportionately large number of private renters, compared to property owners, in 2010 compared to 1997.  I can't vouch for any causal connection, but let's roll with it.

The primary challenge for the Labour Party is that this slide in support appears to have beeen a problem of its own making. Dr Clarke explains that in his view, "The Right to Buy scheme launched by Margaret Thatcher in 1981 was initially a good thing." And by the time she left office in 1990, the government was building social housing at about the same rate as it was being sold. That continued during the Major government, although both social housing sales and builds decreased steeply. 

Dr Clarke then asserts that the reason for the decline in sales and new builds of social housing was that Thatcher wouldn't let councils keep the sales proceeds - although that doesn't explain why the programme seemed to go okay for its first 9 years so I suspect something else was going on...

But never mind all that. Here's what happened next, according to Dr Clarke: from 1997 to 2010 there was virtually no social housing built at all, social housing sales boomed and the population grew by 4.41 million. House prices "rocketed". Young families had no option but to rent and "their rent payable was often extortionate... That," confirms Dr Clarke "is the legacy of New Labour's handling of housing."

Enough said, one would have thought. Yet against this background, Dr Clarke then asserts:
"Thus, it is fair to conclude that Margaret Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme was, on balance, a disaster for British housing."
"... we don't trust the Tories to build adequate stocks of social homes, because in their last 18 years of power they only built one for every four they sold."
Huh? Where does that come from?

Ironically, a little later, in her later essay on "Understanding the Psychology of the Working Class Right Wing", Rhiannon Lockley has this to say:
"...the key achievement of propaganda is to make the belief being transmitted internalised to the point where its origin is lost and it is accepted as natural and self-discovered by the individual...  The volume and diversity of negative messages about scapegoated groups in the right-wing media today does much to achieve this, and it is also supported by the factual style of reporting whch presents arguments as definite rather than exploratory."
All of which leaves the following questions: Is there a social housing problem? If so, what is it? How big is it? What are its root causes? What improvements could we make to address those causes? What controls could we put in place to show that it doesn't happen again?

But whatever you do, don't ask a dogmatist.

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