Posts Tagged ‘Ministry for Community Development’

The Conservatives and the Sale of Council Housing in Britain and Sweden

May 15, 2016

I’ve put up a couple of pieces, one today and one yesterday, which attempt to expand an article Mike put up on his blog, Vox Political, about the housing shortage and the scandalous rise in evictions. These have now doubled. This ultimately comes back to the Tory sale of council houses under Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. This was deliberately designed to turn Britain into a home-owning democracy. The stock of council housing was deliberately reduced, and over the years former council houses have been bought up by housing associations and private landlords. As a result, rents in some areas have risen to the point where they are unaffordable.

Michael Sullivan in his book, The Development of the British Welfare State, notes that the Tories took their ideas for Housing Association, as a non-state solution to the housing crisis at the beginning of the ’60s, from Sweden and the Scandinavian countries.

In 1961 the Conservative government, struggling with evidence that the crisis was deepening not tapering out re-introduced substantial subsidies for new build, but, under Joseph, the Ministry of Housing was already turning to new ideas about housing for the poor. Officials seeking non-state solutions to the housing problem visited Scandinavia to investigate their not-for-profit housing association. Sir Keith, already an innovator, invested £25 million in a pilot project in 1961. In 1963, the fruit of that investment twelve two-bedroomed flats in Birmingham, took their first housing association tenants. Here, then, though from social democratic Scandinavia, was an idea that was to take root 20 years later in education and health: the publicly funded but independently managed provider of services. In the dog days of the Conservative government, a jubilant Sir Keith announced a £100 million grant to the newly formed Housing Corporation so that the idea of housing associations could spread. (P. 215).

It is therefore ironic that Sweden is also facing a housing crisis of its own, due to the importation of British Conservative housing policies in the 1990s under a Conservative administration. In 2013 riots erupted in an ethnically mixed sink estate, the product of the government’s abandonment of the social housing policies of Social Democratic administrations. This resulted in the creation of nearly all-White, affluent areas from which the poor were excluded through high rents. Owen Hatherley of the Guardian reported:

Under conservative governments in the 1990s and 2000s, housing began to be privatised, with predictable results, especially given the British experience. Flats in the most desirable areas – here, the city centre – rocketed in price. Yet Stockholm has kept building, and British architects and planners have kept visiting. The “success story” is Hammarby Sjöstad, a waterside scheme which shames the likes of Salford Quays. As much as Vällingby, it shows the virtues of long-term planning over speculation.

But although some of Hammarby was built by the municipality, it’s a wealthy and overwhelmingly white area, and rents are high. It offers little to those exiled to the peripheral million programmes. Hammarby implies that in Sweden, social democracy was only abandoned for the poor. Its innovations were retained for a bourgeoisie whose new areas are far more humane than those provided for them by British developers.

In Stockholm, the centre was cleared of the poor – the likely consequences in London of coalition’s housing policies. The stark segregation visible there means that for the first time, it should stand as an example to London’s planners of what not to do.

To read the Guardian’s article, go to: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/16/sweden-housing-programme-privatisation

The newspaper, The Swedish Wire, also carried a piece about the recommendations of the Swedish building workers’ union and its leader, Hans Tilly in 2010. It stated clearly that the Conservative government’s free market policies had failed. More new homes needed to be built, existing homes renovated and improved, especially for the needs of the elderly and handicapped.

Among the unions’ recommendations were the following points:

Do something tangible about the housing situation of young people. Today’s youth is the first generation that is having greater problems finding somewhere to live compared to their parents’ generation. Therefore we should invest in more rental housing….

Pursue a social housing policy. Everyone must have the right to their own home and this right is often a prerequisite when it comes to giving our children a good environment to grow up in.

• Establish a new Ministry for Community Development. For far too long, these issues have been divided between different policy areas. Hence, what is required is a firm grasp of construction, housing and living environment, infrastructure etc.

The present government’s housing policy is frightening. The coalition government is, however, obviously quite satisfied with what it has achieved when it comes to housing policy. Its motto is choice. The housing policy is to a large extent a non-issue for the present government. The government’s Spring Budget for 2010 gives a summary of what the government itself claims to have done as regards housing policy since 2006. 19 lines describe how the government has worked to achieve a better functioning housing market, how those living in the Million Homes Programme areas have been given the opportunity to buy their homes and how the government has introduced a system of owner occupancy in newly built blocks of flats.

See the article at: http://www.swedishwire.com/opinion/4987-swedens-housing-policy-has-failed

Across the world, Conservative housing policies have failed. They are only creating poverty, social exclusion and homelessness. The time is long past that they should be abandoned.

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