The reform of Social Housing is moving on at pace, with key aspects being about not having life term contracts but much shorter term, not being able to “leave it to your children” and others. There are many who are shouting loudly, both pro and ani the moves, but for me, we need to ask the fundamental question, what is Social Housing for? Answering this, will lead us to determine if the reforms actually meet that need.
So, why do people move into social housing. Basically the theory is because the can not afford to buy or rent their own home. This can be for a number of reasons, short and long-term illness, disability, out of work, and if you believe the rhetoric just plain bone idle! If you are in one of the above conditions and can not afford your own home, then the state provides housing to you at a much reduced rate and the rest of the cost is picked up by the tax payer (though as many pay out of housing benefit, then almost all of it is paid by the tax payer). There are strict(ish) measures in place to see if you qualify and then you get your house. So, in summary, you can get a “Council House” if you can’t afford your own.
I think this is a good thing, its like unemployment benefit, should anything dramatic happen to me and I couldn’t work, I would be very grateful to know that at least my family would have a roof over their head and some food on the table. But what next for the Social Housing tenant? What do we, as society, expect from them and do we have a right expect anything? I think we do have a right and its as simple as this, tax payers are subsidising the Social Housing system and therefore want to see value for money. But there is a slightly deeper issue too, because it is funded by Tax Payers, there is not an unlimited amount of funding, therefore tax is required to sustain the fund, therefore if too many people take up social housing tenancy, there will not be enough money to sustain the process.
This leads to a more fundamental question (and where I started) about what we expect the tenant to do and I think the answer is to move out of the social housing system when the time is appropriate. That sounds harsh (especially from a Labour member) but lets put it another way. What we want is for people to succeed, and we reward success (crassly) in terms of prosperity and being able to afford more things. So this means that we get a job and succeed at the job, which means a better salary and then being able to afford our own house.
But it’s not that simple is it, many are in the social housing system because of economic problems, but the key is to look at why the problem exists, namely disability, illness etc. Many of those in Social Housing have no prospects (for many reasons) and therefore its unrealistic to say “go get a well paid job”. They need support, and Social housing is part of that.
However, looking at some of the more popular reform ideas, IE not allowing to leave the house to children. Well, I actually agree with this, I don’t see why you should be able to, after all, if the child needs Social Housing, they will get it in their own right. At the end of the day, the house is being rented off the state, and therefore should be given back to the state.
Shorter term contracts is a bit of a minefield for me. I think that there are cases that full life contracts are a sensible idea, IE the long-term ill, disabled and elderly, but for those just out of work, then shorter term contracts are much more suitable to enable revision of circumstances and the like. Yes its a big change in principle, but if managed right (and there is my biggest worry), then it would be much more akin to renting a property in the private sector. But much thought and discussion needs to go into how the process is managed and it will have to be joined up with other parts of government to ensure that any transitions into and out of the system are well supported. (Government departments talking to each other for the good of an individual, what a radical idea).
Almost everyone has heard of someone, whose friends neighbours dad was living in a council house when earning thousands – cash in hand. But for every story you hear like that, there are many many more people who would be living on the street, or worse, without social housing. Yes the system should not be abused, but also we should not let the abuse of the few outweigh the needs of the many.
So, back to the original question, what is the aim of social housing. For me, it is to provide a safety net and then a leg up back to owning or renting your own property. However, we must realise and accept that because of the way many have fallen into the safety net in the first place, they many never be able to get out. Therefore in theory this reform will not hamper those aims, as long as its well-managed. But (and its a big one) as has been proven already, this reform is not about providing a better service for residents, but about cost cutting, therefore all the compassion and empathy that such a system will desperately need may not be there because it will cost.