Council houses are homes too
12:55pm Thursday 9th August 2012 in Your Say
It has taken me a while to respond to Councillor Holland’s letter because I felt very angry when I read it and I needed to calm down a bit to write something fairly polite and coherent. So here goes.
Coun Holland may feel the need to do the Government’s dirty work, but when he justifies the forthcoming ‘bedroom tax’ as reasonable he just can’t get away with it.
His belief about most working people being happy to pay tax to help those in need reveals his unwritten assumption that all housing benefit recipients are unemployed. The fact is that there are plenty of people who work who still have to claim housing benefit, because they can only get part-time work and/or their rate of pay is so low.
And his statement about total housing benefit having risen is completely meaningless without some context. Why is that the case? Could it be that more people are becoming worse off? Nor does he explain why housing benefit paid will continue to increase. He just agrees to treat it as the responsibility of council home tenants to solve the problem for the Government.
With his ‘many people will have read reports of people claiming £2,000 per week in housing benefit’ he nastily insinuates a doubt about the needs of all housing benefit claimants. It’s a classic tactic to divide us from each other and in this letter he tries to set private tenants against council tenants; house owners against council tenants; non-claimants against claimants; council tenants on low wages against those on high wages; working people against unemployed and so on. Why? To distract us from the real issue – the massive waiting lists for housing in Swindon and elsewhere.
And if he thinks that Bob Crowe living in a three bedroom council home with his £145,000 salary is a problem, then he clearly shows his complete ignorance of the original thinking behind council homes. They were never intended to be the last refuge of the very poorest. The calculated process of turning them into what was started with Margaret Thatcher's policy of selling them off and not allowing them to be replaced. This has never since been properly tackled by any government.
Originally council houses were conceived as being available to people with a wide variety of situations and incomes and as offering a home, not just a place to stay until you were ‘deemed’ not to deserve it any more. Long may Bob Crowe stay in his council home alongside other council tenants. It’s refreshing that he has never felt the need to move away.
Homes are places that you invest in, practically, financially, emotionally. You decorate, and improve them in ways that suit you; if you are lucky you develop a garden and maybe even grow some of your own food. They are places where you bring up a family, get to know neighbours, shops, schools and other local organisations. They are the base for the formal and informal networks that create the support you need and that enable you to give support to others. I was trying to avoid the word community because it’s used so often, but here it fits.
Of course nobody will be forced to move. But they will be forced to choose between moving and becoming even poorer, when there are already poor enough to qualify for housing benefit.
Largely the people affected by the new housing benefit policy will be those who qualified for a home based on the size of their family and whose family has now grown up and moved out so they are deemed to have an extra bedroom or two. Presumably that’s because once you find yourself having to rely on housing benefit you no longer need to, say, put up your parents occasionally; or have your children and grandchildren over to stay; or have visits from friends who live in others parts of the country or the world; or even give respite to someone who has nowhere else to live.
Not only is it not fair to face people in this situation with the ‘choice’ of moving or becoming poorer, it is a mind-bogglingly shortsighted policy because it means that in future people will be actively discouraged from thinking of their council flat or house as a home to be invested in. And what becomes of community then? Is Coun Holland suggesting that only people who don’t need housing benefit deserve to keep their local networks?
Oh, and the kicker is, if you decide you would like to move to a smaller place and there isn’t one available, you still get the drop in housing benefit even though there’s nothing you can do about it. Still, penalising the poorest people for having financial problems is a good old tradition – why change it? I know, let’s disguise it by calling it ‘fairer renting’.
There is only one thing that the local authority and the Government need to address about council homes and that is building more of them. I wish Coun Holland would look for ways to justify that instead. I am a council tenant. I am fortunate not to claim housing benefit.
Margie Phillips Denholme Road Swindon