Social Housing debates are at centre of the political discourse right now, and they rightly should be following the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the ongoing UK housing crisis. We need to ask ourselves collectively some very important questions. It is time to move away from the strong doses of individualism we’ve shot ourselves up with and start thinking together as a collective society. No civilised country, can call itself civilised unless people have housing rights which includes having somewhere safe and secure to live, from the richest to the poorest.
I would like to turn attention in this blog post to the following. Listening to Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) earlier in the week, tackling the question of social housing. A caller rang in and stated “Why don’t people work to move out a council home. Why do people in this country think the state owes them everything? My parents came to this country in the 1960’s and they worked and they never relied on the state”. This sort of viewpoint in regards to council housing is unfortunately far too common in the UK. It’s rather elementary to put your experiences, or someone else’s, as indicative to what everyone being housed by the state should do, or be doing. The world is extremely complex, no two people are the same, no two groups of people are the same, no two parts of the country are the same, the environment, is the same etc.
The thrust of this blog post though isn’t why some hold such views (as crazy as they are). The caller stated his parents came to the UK in 1960’s and have never relied on the state, that may well be the case but when we read behind this we see the statement holds value judgements. Not everyone is like necessarily like yourself or immediate others. If you are not lucky enough to have come to the country in the 1960’s when jobs were more easy to come by, or are/were more reliant on the state in the sixties because you have less capital you fall into a category that this caller presumably (and we are assuming at this point, has). Statements such as these lead those living on a council estate to fear openly admitting that they do.
‘Social shame’ is present in UK society. This goes for all areas of state dependency, not just social housing.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy highlighted the many failings of UK society. Not just of local government, but by how people who live in social housing are viewed by those who do not or never have resided in social housing. By this I am referring to both citizens and politicians. Those that have never lived in social housing tend to hold positions of power, over those who do. This very imbalance is a danger to British democracy, at a local and national level.
The image of the blackened hull that is Grenfell Tower should wake us all up to the dangers of lack of empathy and understanding. It should also wake us up to the face that we need to think collectively in order to help others out. So we too may lead lives that are happy. The more people in our country that are happy and not living in terrible conditions the better it is for society collectively right?
We also need to focus on power, who has power. Why do they have it? How? We need to forever question what government is doing, and be critical. At both national and local level, here it seems in Kensington and Chelsea local government were/are able to do as they please without very little oversight from anyone with power. The residents were disempowered and nobody was listening. This HAS to change but can only be done by mobilisation of the people on mass. The Grenfell Silent March which begins at Kensington Town hall and ends at the Lancaster West Estate is one way of doing this, as well as remembering the 72 victims of the tragedy. Now with Brexit and many other issues on the central agenda it is critical that this does not fall off the political agenda. The people of North Kensington need our support not just for a brief moment, but a lifetime.
Only if the citizens of the UK mobilise can we rid ourselves of the class system that has plagued the UK for centuries, and finally tackle rising inequality. We cannot go on creating areas where there are shops implicitly stating to one section of society this is not intended for you and just (2 minute’s walk in North Kensington) short drive away there are shops targeting a different class of person. It is clear that this will take time, primarily as the upper classes/elites who actually most likely prefer the status quo are more than likely to be in positions of power.
To make matters worse the new leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council (appears she is not so new). Has NEVER set foot in Grenfell Tower or any other tower block at all. I wonder if you can guess which part of Kensington she is living in? 😕
There is a massive disconnect between those in power, and classes. Nowhere is this more poignant then in North Kensington, with similar cases up and down the country.
Clearly, as someone senior in the council she should have visited the tower, without question. This involves conversing with residents, and investigating the many complaints. If she had actually visited the tower in the many years in which residents were complaining, she would may herself have acted. Her position in my opinion is surely is also untenable.
A clear problem is representation, if someone is unable to take the time to step foot in any tower block in a borough they have a deputy leadership role in, how are they supposed to represent all the people in that borough? Especially if this said person is middle/upper class, visibly. Everyone needs to connect with the people they should be working on behalf of, and that means everyone a borough. Nobody in this council appears (or actually cares) about representation of the poor, traditional working classes or service class. I am aware by simply mentioning the class system in this way, I am partly responsible for upholding it.
And finally, Grenfell Tower has clearly changed how these country perceives social housing. Has it truly touched all corners of society? Probably not. For too long social housing tenants have been held in contempt by councils and housing associations. From my own personal experience of living in 1970’s tower block (featured image on the right) reporting issues to Enfield Council and them not being acted upon, often with that familiar response that KCTMO residents had, stating that nobody else has reported the issue and issues often taking long to resolve.
To conclude. Why is Social Housing considered a failure?
Being housed by the state is considered a failure by some in society because of the increasing lack of empathy, the overuse of value judgements, lack of care, lack of oversight by us collectively towards those less fortunate. The over focus on owning property and gaining wealth through property has led to a destruction of society as we know it. This over focus on purchasing property is partly fuelled by the fact that the rental market is poorly, regulated with poor securities.
We have allowed society UK society has become more individualistic, more about “keeping up with the Jones”. The idea that people live in council homes out of choice rather than need as the LBC caller suggests is another reason. It is clear not everyone is the same, and tarring everyone with the same brush is a problem that a majority of UK society appears to have.
Too little oversight at local government level has allowed for conflict of interest, corruption, or just general disinterest all of which seem to be rarely picked up in any official statistics (which is equally worrying!).
This is a tragedy that we are all responsible for. Lacklustre politicians and indifferent citizens. We are all responsible.
(In a few weeks in the top menu, I will add a link with videos of various events recorded post Grenfell for viewers. For those wishing to understand more about the problems residents faced in Grenfell Tower and the Lancaster West Estate the Grenfell Action Blog is a good place to start.)