Anyone who’s been semi-aware of anything that’s happened in the last 35 years or so will know that Tories don’t like Council Housing. They are the party of the “striver”, and so hate the idea that anyone’s getting anything they haven’t grafted for. The great oracle in the sky to aim for is the blessed state of Home Ownership. Thatcher in the 80’s made this available to your average bod on the street by letting them buy their council property at a fraction of their value, and from then on the holy grail has been to Own Your Own Home.
This week the government announced that lifetime tenancies for council properties would be stopped, and five year tenancies brought in. On first look, this is a difficult policy to manage. There are many people living in council properties who are earning a decent wage and could live in the private sector but who are taking advantage of the reduced rent of a local authority property. And there are plenty of people needing housing who could take up that now-vacated property. But in actual fact I don’t think the thinking behind this policy is as nuanced as that. I think it comes down to a hard and fast line the Tory party are pushing: you don’t want to live in a council property.
When council properties were starting to be built en-masse after the war, they were seen as replacement communities for the slums that had been either bombed or torn down. Everyone knew each other, neighbours were neighbourly and took care of one another. Tory policy has been the reason council estates have turned into places people don’t want to be (I’ll put some books at the end that I think are excellent reading on the specifics of this as I want to mainly focus on the stuff from this week). By creating what is in effect a five year rolling tenancy, Tories have made sure people will never feel totally settled in their homes. Why redecorate if you’re going to be told to move in a few years? Why get attached to a place if you might be told you have to leave it?
And the problem with not becoming attached to a place is that you lose a sense of community. After Right to Buy, there were a lot of council properties that were taken up by buy-to-let landlords once the original buyers sold up. Those in less salubrious areas often ended up being rented back to the council (who would have to pay an exorbitant rent to the private landlord) and used as temporary accommodation – those coming out of rehab, homeless people, people on probation. You end up with a transient population and where there’s a high turnover of tenancies there’s a low feeling of community (for a more in-depth look at this issue I highly recommend the chapter “Damage” from Nick Davies’ book Dark Heart – see end of post). A transient population is fractured. And the introduction of five year tenancies will make it even more so. This will cause a huge amount of damage to areas of social housing which more often than not are also areas of high deprivation and child poverty.
The Tories are pushing even further their housing hierarchy. At the top, home ownership. Underneath, expensive private renting. And at the lower level? Council housing, where only the poorest live. If you live in council housing, then, you must be poor. and we all know the messages the Tories like to push out about the feckless poor. Council housing is now a “last resort”. Which is going to further effect estates and communities. It’s another attack from the government to tell the poorest people “you do not matter”.
Recommended books on the history of council housing:
Estates: An Intimate History – Lynsey Hanley
The People: The rise and fall of the working class – Selina Todd
Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain – Lisa McKenzie
Dark Heart: The shocking truth about hidden Britain – Nick Davies
I was sat in the library earlier today reading a copy of Children and Young People Now, which had an article about the “reform” of the probation service. I’d been marginally aware that something was happening but hadn’t looked at it in any particular detail up to this point, but when I did I was struck by something (that wasn’t my head hitting the table at the ridiculousness of it all).
This is exactly the same as the youth work reforms. Pretty much down to the letter. Here are some choice quotes from the Guardian’s article on the changes:
“The public probation service is to be scaled back and “refocused” to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases.”
“Unions expect that as much as 70% of the work currently done by the probation service in working with offenders in the community will move to private and voluntary sector providers under the plan, including the supervision of nearly all medium and low-level risk offenders.”
It’s all so familiar. Generic services will be shipped out to private and voluntary sector orgs while the public sector only deals with the high-risk, and removes most of its (trained, highly knowledgeable and experienced) staff in the process.
Compare this to the youth service restructures that have happened in Local Authorities all over the UK over the past couple of years – generic “Youth Services” have been disbanded, save for a few case workers now working with specific high-risk young people, generic youth provision has been left to the private and voluntary sector – and it’s a horrifyingly familiar story.
So not only have the government removed all responsibility for the more generic provision of services for young people from themselves, they’re pretty open about not wanting to have it back either. “Youth policy is not a priority for central government and should be developed by local authorities rather than Whitehall, the Education Secretary has said.”
That’ll be the same local authorities who have just removed most of their youth provision, then. It’s a catastrophic pass-the-parcel of responsibility for our young people. Central government don’t want it so they fob it off onto local authorities, local authorities can’t do anything about it so they throw money at the problem and hope the vol orgs will deal with it.
Young people are not a problem to be dealt with. They are not a service that you can fob off onto a young people’s organisation and hope they buy some footballs with the pot of money you’ve thrust at them. They are the future of a country, the MPs and doctors and teachers and parents and the ENTIRETY of the next generation. What kind of message are the government sending to young people in the UK?
So far, young people have been told they just don’t matter enough. And we wonder why young people feel disenfranchised. The way the government has been treating young people has been nothing short of shocking. They have been the first to lose out on services, on access to their education and on making sure they have a solid future ahead of them. I am left to draw only one conclusion: that this government just does not care about its young people.
On Saturday, I travelled over to London to join 149,999 other people to march through central London. All the usual groups were there – unions, public sector organisations, politicians, campaigners, activists, anarchists – and together we walked through the streets of London to Hyde Park, where speakers at the rally talked about the actions of the government and how everyone was being screwed. For me, it was definitely exciting to see so many people who are so angry enough with the way things are to travel across the country by the coach-load to shout and wave banners.
But what now. There’s been calls for a general strike, sure, but for me personally it definitely made me think about my profession and what’s going to happen with it. Balloons and placards called to save the NHS, protect teaching and nursing and all of those essential public services that means we can function in society. But what about youth work? Well, youth work’s already gone. Who has a youth service any more? They came in and wiped youth work away before people were able to react and shout about it. Granted, some places did create a lot of fuss and did a lot of work to save their youth service but a lot of the time? It was taken away before anyone had really noticed.
And that’s terrible. That’s really terrible. A support network for young people all over the country just gone, with no big fanfare and barely any consultation (or tokenistic consultation at the very best). To me that just shows the way young people are thought of. We can just take away their services. No big deal.
We’re living in a very different culture now, as youth workers. And it’s up to us to jump and shout now and draw attention to what’s happened, and draw attention to how things need to progress from here. Youth work is already in danger of becoming diluted with other services, so if we don’t work hard to keep youth work as a vitally important profession as itself, we risk losing it completely. That’s why I’m hoping people will take part in Blogging for Youth Work Week in November, that’s why youth workers need to be championing the fantastic work they do and encouraging other youth workers to do the same.
Going on the march was a great experience but lots of people have said it’s pointless. That marching will achieve nothing. Well, maybe not directly. Cameron will not look out his window in Parliament, see thousands of people marching through the streets and say “Oh my goodness! I’ve made a terrible mistake!” But I figure that taking no action means you don’t disagree. Marching at least shows that people care. I’m more than willing to march again if I have to.