Thursday, February 22, 2007

Defend Council Housing response to Hills Report

Professor John Hills yesterday published his report Ends & Means on the ‘Role of Social Housing’.

It is clear that someone – we presume Ruth Kelly’s Department for Communities – is briefing that Hills has endorsed an attack on the fundamental principles of council housing.

It is obvious that Ministers are increasingly desperate – losing the Brighton ballot (another 77% NO vote announced today) increases the pressure on them to listen to the people and agree the ‘Fourth Option’ but they are still intent on trying to find a way of getting rid of council housing. Hill’s position is less clear.

Professor Hills went out of his way at the LSE yesterday afternoon to preface his main remarks by underlining his commitment to the principles of ‘decent’, ‘affordable’ and ‘secure’ housing. He said:

"if you came with the impression that I was going to be recommending the ending of security of tenure, or that tenants if they're lucky enough to improve their circumstances will be thrown out of their homes, then you're going to be disappointed."… "security and stability are a fundamental part of their lives"

Tenants packed a room at Parliament after the Hills report launch to launch the new DCH pamphlet 'Dear Gordon' Invest in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing which challenges Gordon Brown to change government policy.

MPs attending included Michael Meacher, Frank Dobson, Ken Purchase, Jon Cruddas, Paul Holmes, George Galloway, Kelvin Hopkins, Brian Iddon, Alan Simpson, Harriet Harman, Mike Gapes, John Hemming and Brian Binley. Trade union leaders Gail Cartmail (Amicus), Jack Dromey (T&G), Iain McNicol (GMB) and Wilf Flinn (UCATT) spoke alongside Professor Peter Ambrose and tenants from local campaigns.

Alan Walter, Defend Council Housing chair argued “Government has been trying to get rid of council housing by privatisation. Now that they’re losing tenants ballots around the country they’re flying a kite to see whether they can regulate or legislate to take away our secure life long tenancies. 3 million council tenants will be outraged and MPs need to decide quickly which side they are on! Stop the deliberate stigmatisation of council tenants and council estates and start investing to improve existing council homes and build new ones”

Austin Mitchell MP, chair House of Commons Council Housing group commented “The Hills report is an endorsement of the principles behind council housing – the need and the right to decent, affordable, secure and accountable housing provided by elected local authorities. What he missed out was the need for the big build – to provide council housing for those who either can’t afford or don’t want to get on the home ownership escalator.”

The Hills report does open a door – he talks about ‘offering’ people who approach the council in housing need and existing tenants ‘alternatives’. Ruth Kelly has pounced on an opportunity. In government language ‘offer’ means force or coerce so she’s trying to fly some kites to whether people (council tenants and MPs) will stomach proposals on means testing the right to a council home; differential rents and/or time limited tenancy agreements. Any attempt to restrict the ‘right to rent’ decent, affordable, secure council housing from an accountable landlord will face massive opposition. It also makes a mockery of the government’s stated aim of creating ‘sustainable communities’. Restricting access to council housing to only the poorest creates distorted and transient communities and denies council tenants the right to a ‘home’ as opposed to somewhere just to temporarily lay our heads down for the night.

Kelly said yesterday this was a start of the debate. One day is quite long enough! Nearly 3 million council tenants across the UK and the 1.6 million households on council housing waiting lists will fight any attempt to reduce our security of tenure and we’re demanding government stop robbing council housing and agree the ‘Fourth Option’ to improve existing and build new council homes.

Professor Hills identified a number of problems with council housing in this report. Contributing to the debate at the LSE Alan Walter, chair of Defend Council Housing, suggested to him that tenant dissatisfaction on repairs could be largely solved if government fully funded council expenditure on management and maintenance (M&M) and dissatisfaction on overcrowding would be solved if more council homes were built. To loud applause Alan Walter invited John Hills to join with tenants and other supporters of council housing in urging the Secretary of State to fund the ‘Fourth Option’ as her own party conference has voted three years running.

Hills kept to his script replying it wasn’t up to him to comment on whether there should be a “first, second, third or fourth option” – that was up to Ministers. The alliance of council tenants, national trade unions, councillors and MPs across parties is waiting.

DCH also met with the Cave Review team at the Department for Communities (DCLG) on Monday to give oral evidence in support of our written submissions and to clarify the aims of the Cave Review into Housing Regulation. We will be discussing how to bring tenants together from around the country to make sure our voice is clearly heard.

See for background information on ‘Fourth Option’ for council housing, No votes against privatisation, press reports, Labour’s conference policy, ‘Ten Questions to Candidates’ in elections for Scottish and Welsh government, local elections and candidates for Labour Party leadership and deputy leadership elections (see back of Dear Gordon: Invest in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing pamphlet)


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