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Will the housing green paper lead to significant changes?

Patrick Mooney, News Editor

It’s unclear what the purpose and extent of the promised Green Paper on social housing will be – but it’s abundantly clear that a strong statement about the future purpose of subsidised housing and it’s role in our lives, is badly needed. The fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower seven months ago and lead to the death of 71 innocent people, as well as

traumatic life changes to hundreds of others – residents, neighbours and those who fought the fire and dealt with its aftermath – has changed things forever. The social housing sector did not cause the fire, but it has been doing an awful lot of soul searching ever since. Survivors and their representatives have spoken movingly about their experiences, but also with great anger when saying

that no-one listened to them before the fire caused such devastation in June last year. Complaints were made about power and water supplies to the tower block, about the fire fighting equipment in the block and the advice given to residents, as well as about the quality of works undertaken during the refurbishment of the tower. This in turn has lead to more widespread criticism that the tower represents a wider set of society’s ills – in particular a

concentration of low income households with inadequate support from the state which has failed them across a wide spectrum of public services (education, health, welfare etc). The co-location of poverty and extreme wealth in a small geographic area only seems to make matters worse.

CRITICISM Kensington and Chelsea Council has come in for a lot of criticism, but not everything that has gone wrong can be their sole responsibility. The Police investigation and the public inquiry will identify the causes of the fire, who was responsible, whether any crimes were committed and what lessons we need to learn etc, but there must be wider lessons if we are to avert a repeat of this tragedy. And we can’t wait for these inquiries to be completed before doing something. There are hundreds of other tower blocks across the country, many of them with their cladding panels now removed in

full or in part, while we await clear guidance on how best to safeguard the residents. They have stood in a sort of limbo or suspended animation for the past seven months. Some high rise blocks are being guarded around the clock by fire wardens, while others are having fire sprinklers installed. Surely there is a role for Government in ensuring that all residents of these tower blocks can sleep safely in their beds at night. Housing in the UK today has come to represent divisions and differences across society. Why is this and why is it that

social housing is increasingly associated with the poorest, least educated and unhealthiest members of society would be an interesting topic for the Green Paper. To many it is the housing of last resort. But it wasn’t always like this. In the 1950s and 60s councils housed tens of millions of people of all types and classes.

THE FUTURE The former housing minister Alok Sharma has been touring the country talking to groups of tenants and hearing directly about their concerns and hopes for the future. It will be intriguing to see how much these discussions inform the content of the Green Paper. I am sure no tenant has suggested anything as daft as the Bedroom Tax, which has failed spectacularly in its objective, but has created a lot of misery. Meanwhile the social housing regulator is going through (yet) another set of changes. Surely this is the right time to make

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Budget winners and losers

Fire safety concerns

Action on rogue landlords

Housing over the past 50 years

On the cover... The January issue of Housing Management & Maintenance features St John’s Way © Stannah

St John's Hill’s Clapham Junction scheme comprises the regeneration of a 1930s estate undertaken by Peabody to readapt the area to meet the needs of the residents.

Designing safety into

housing Plymouth development gives new and returning residents a feeling of security in their community. See page 28

it more proactive and a standard bearer for all rented housing – social and private. At the moment the HCA really only provides limited oversight of housing associations. It’s role in respect of council housing is vague in the extreme, while it has no role in the oversight of the private rented sector – the fastest growing part of the housing market in recent years. Perhaps the Green Paper could promote the HCA as a true champion and protector of all tenants. For too many people

living in social housing the term value for money has translated as an excuse or explanation for cuts to their services. Some would say the sort of cuts that lead inevitably to the Grenfell Tower fire. Now is probably the time to focus on improving standards and ensuring landlords are better aligned with other public services, like GP surgeries, hospitals and schools. Here’s hoping!

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