21 June 2009

I have already looked at Labour’s failure on child poverty. Now another important and dismal failure: housing waiting lists. On 1 April 1997 there were 8 043 households on the public housing waiting lists for housing in Cornwall. In 2008 there were 17 728. The figures are here and the explanatory notes should be read, especially note 1.

This increase is not unique to Cornwall; there are increases across England. It isn’t down to second homes, or empty houses, or the increase in household formation, or any of the litany of excuses: it is at bottom a failure to build enough houses for rent and purchase that local people can afford, a failure by a government in effect indifferent to such housing and lacking the resolve to push for it, and councils timid about nimby ire. Public housing has been neglected by the Labour government. The numbers being built are pitiful. There has been a lack of will, a failure of determination, much talk and few houses. Is housing and child poverty the “failure that topples all our success”?

Finance for affordable housing is difficult and there has been a notable lack of imagination in realising new schemes for making land acquisition and building and rent and purchase feasible. There has been insufficient will. The government should think of letting councils keep the housing receipts to finance the building of new houses.

Why does it matter?

People need houses to rent and to buy at a price they can afford. Put aside for the moment notions of fair play and social justice and even interdependency, it’s in our own interests to ensure people have a roof over their heads. People more easily believe they have a stake in their community and are less alienated from society and more socially minded if they have decent place to live. It pays us to ensure people are housed well. Children, the people who will work tomorrow and create the wealth and pay the taxes for our pensions and health service and roads, deserve better than third rate, insecure accommodation. They have the best chance of flourishing and growing up straight in a loving and stable home with a sense of being important to their family and their society. A decent, permanent house is part of that. It pays us to ensure children have a decent house to grow up in.

A decent place to live is also necessary ground for an autonomous life, a resource and right of positive freedom. People do not become independent, rational, self-realisers without the means to education and health and housing. For most of us society makes possible the circumstances wherein we might live with independence and dignity.

Affordable houses and child and adult poverty: key matters where Labour has let us down and where Conservatives are unlikely to seriously try to succeed.

We mustn’t give up in Cornwall or anywhere on building much more affordable housing. In Cornwall we should explore whether the new council should seek to build and own some housing; who provides isn’t a question of dogmatism but of what mix delivers best for people in need of a home. We mustn’t abandon those local people struggling to get a house. There has to be more determination and imaginative intelligence and I hope that the government even at this late time and the new unitary council will have those in spades, though the latter has set a cautious and unchallenging target.

Other posts on affordable housing and Cornwall
Affordable housing and Cornwall Part 1
Affordable housing and Cornwall Part 2
Affordable housing and Cornwall Part 3
Affordable housing and Cornwall Part 4
Housing the people in Cornwall
Goldilocks and Cornwall


“a failure that topples all our success”: John Steinbeck The grapes of wrath