A new film explores and exposes the tragic crisis that the Tories would love to keep quiet until after the general election: the housing crisis.
Feature documentary Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle is directed by Paul Sng and narrated by actor Maxine Peake. The film premieres on 8 June at the East End Film Festival. There will then be a UK cinema tour with Q&A panels from June to July to discuss the issues.
The Big Issue has called the documentary:
Perhaps the most important British film since I, Daniel Blake.
Dispossession explores the political failures that have led to the currently chronic shortage of social housing in Britain. And in particular, it looks at the ‘right to buy’ policy, so-called ‘regeneration’, the unfair stigma surrounding council estates, and the 2016 Housing and Planning Act.
Continue reading below...
The Tory record
The Conservative Party, however, would love to keep the issue of housing quiet during the election campaign. Since taking power in 2010, the party has focused on promising “affordable” homes without specifying what it considers affordable. Meanwhile, it has overseen a worsening housing crisis, including:
- A 54% rise in homelessness.
- Missing its own house building target by 10,000 properties a year.
- Rental prices rising [paywall] around 33% since the financial crisis. All while wages have fallen in real terms [paywall] by around 9%.
- Councils/housing groups only building one social house for every nine sold under ‘right-to-buy’.
- More than 200,000 homes in England lying empty. The value of these is £43bn.
- House prices rising to more than seven times people’s income.
- A fall in the number of home owners (to a 30-year low in England), and a rise in the number of private renters.
- A chronic shortage of affordable and suitable temporary housing, with local authorities having to place tenants in B&Bs.
- 19,000 households being evicted and forced onto the streets by private landlords in just one year.
- More than four in ten UK homes failing to meet acceptable standards.
- House building companies making billions while consistently missing affordable housing targets.
In fact, the housing crisis is so bad that it’s taking its toll on people’s mental health. And with a shed in London selling for £350,000, even one Tory MP admitted in 2016 that he’d had to move back in with his parents. But as 39% of Tory MPs are landlords themselves, resolving the crisis appears not to be at the top of the Conservative agenda.
A key issue on 8 June
In 2016, one former aide to David Cameron said that:
This housing crisis, and the related feeling of unfairness, is the one thing Labour under Jeremy Corbyn could use to claw itself back into power.
And indeed, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has prioritised the issue, making a number of proposals to deal with the crisis. These include creating a new Department for Housing which will oversee the building of 100,000 council and housing association homes every year, and the suspension of the current sell-off of social housing. Corbyn has said this would be one of his first priorities in power, insisting:
We need a serious national initiative to deal with the housing crisis; by building for those that need homes rather than building for speculative investment…
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 6, 2017
The issues covered in Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle
There are currently 300,000 fewer homes for social rent than 20 years ago and about 1.2 million families on local authority social housing waiting lists. In this context, Dispossession interviews a number of housing experts and activists. And between them, they insist that the housing crisis is “the challenge of our generation”; and that “housing doesn’t work if provided through the market”. They also focus on the following political failures:
- The right-to-buy scheme, which has slowly eroded the ethos and mission of social housing. This, the film’s commentators say, was a “policy disaster” which was “detrimental to the whole social housing system”. Mainly because governments just haven’t replaced the homes that people bought.
- ‘Regeneration’, an issue which The Canary has previously reported on; and for which some Labour councils have received criticism. But since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, he has spoken out about what he calls “social cleansing”, insisting that it has happened in part “because our local authorities are not equipped with the funds and powers to deal with the housing needs of their communities”. The overarching message on ‘regeneration’ in Dispossession is that luxury apartments are replacing council estates; that ‘regeneration’ is destroying and uprooting communities; and that full refurbishment of existing estates would usually be a much better option than demolition.
- The demonisation of council estate residents in the media, which has helped to legitimise the failure of politicians to build more social housing. Even though, at the same time, the Conservative government has been very keen on people buying up existing social housing. A contradiction in terms when we consider the stigma surrounding such houses, which they themselves have helped to create.
- The 2016 Housing and Planning Act, which has reduced housing security by introducing ‘flexible tenancies’. According to the commentators in Dispossession, this act does not invest in social housing for the people in the greatest need, and it signals a continued reduction in the number of social homes available to rent through housing associations and local authorities. Indeed, housing charity Shelter has predicted a loss of 180,000 such homes over five years as a result of the Housing and Planning Act.
A clear solution
Dispossession also points out the absurdity of it all, and the obviousness of the solution. It looks at how housing benefit costs have grown because of the move from social housing to the private rented sector; in other words, taxpayers are giving money to private landlords and not getting anything in return. This year alone, in fact, around £8.8bn in housing benefit will go to private landlords (and this figure has been higher in previous years).
The only solution, one commentator in the film says, is “to invest in social housing again… in the way that the post-war government invested”.
The reality today, however, is that an entire generation of young adults are finding it almost impossible to buy a house or get a council tenancy. And with secure, dignified, and affordable housing essentially out of the question, Dispossession insists that “private landlords are calling the shots once more”.
On 8 June, we have a chance to change that.
– Vote on 8 June. And strongly encourage others to do the same.
– Read more articles on the housing crisis by The Canary.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons and Paul Sng
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