Monday, 14 May 2012

Council Housing changes - A victory for crass stupidity

I have a question for you. How old do you think you will be when you die? Fifteen years  ago, I never gave this question a thought. Then in 2000 my mother had a stroke. Prior to this, she'd been going on four cruises a year, having a career as a successful businesswoman. I'd pop round to see her, share a Guinness on her return and be regaled with tales of her trip up the Amazon, or round Australia or to Ephasus in the Med. When she was 75, she looked 60 and was enjoying her life. Then she had a stroke. In the space of two minutes she aged 30 years. When she was admitted to Barnet General hospital, I was shocked. They put her on the geriatric ward. I was enraged. How could they consider her a geriatric? Three weeks before she'd been sunning herself on a cruise, the life and soul of every party. Sadly, I found out she was in the right place. The four cruises a year became an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes with a disabled group. The chats over a pint of Guinness became a nightly occurrance. Failure to appear on time would lead to panicked phone calls. As she could no longer cook, lunch became meals on wheels. Although my mother had hundreds of thousands of pounds in the bank, she was totally dependent on other people for her existence.

So what has all of this got to do with Council Housing? She was wealthy, she could afford her care? Well there is one element of the equation that the Tory policy makers both locally and nationally seem to be unable to grasp. That is that the people who cared for my mother. The cleaners who mopped the ward at Barnet General hospital, the lady who delivered her meals on wheels, etc all have to live somewhere. Any of us can be struck down at any time. If you look the wrong way, when you cross the road - SPLAT - a life of reliance on carers. If you price accomodation out of the reach of ordinary people, then there will be no carers. There will be no cleaners. It is all very well saying that people should not have "a council house for life". What should they have? A sleeping bag and a pitch under Westminster Bridge. Of my siblings, I am unique. I am the only one never to live in Council accomodation. My parents moved from a Council House in Wise Lane to their own place in Millway in 1960, two years before I was born.

I was lucky to have a mother who understood economics and social justice. She viewed Burnt Oak Estate as a victory for humanity and human spirit. Working class people could live in a decent house, have a decent garden and could afford it. Green spaces were designed for children to play on. The residents worked in local factories such as Boosey & Hawkes, Van Den Plas and De Souters. Occasionally, some hapless local Conservative would make a snobbish comment about Burnt Oak and then spend fifteen minutes getting it in the neck, being told how estates like Burnt Oak were the lifeblood of Great Britain and the true source of our wealth. She would point out that money was ultimately made by people who got their  hands dirty. They have the right to live in decent homes and have enough money to lead happy lives. Every change to council housing law under the Conservative Party has made this more difficult. The right to buy legislation, one of Thatchers most popular polices has resulted in estates like the Watling being transformed into cash cows for sleazy private landlords. The council tenants took advantage of the discounts, bought up, moved out and copped a huge profit (which I don't begrudge them). The houses were bought by landlords seeking maximum profit for minimum work. A trip around the Watling estate thirty years ago would reveal a well maintained area with youngsters playing on the greens outside their homes. Sadly, with every year, it appears more run down and shabby. My grandmother lived in Milling Road, Burnt Oak for twenty years, I was raised to be proud of that fact. I daresay that if she was alive today, there would be people on the right clamouring to sling her out of her home.

Even more sadly, none of the receipts from the sales was used for building new homes. As a result, we have a social housing crisis. On BBC London, we hear of councils "prioritising" certain professions. This is indicative of the snobbish Tory thinking. Cleaners and carers are bottom of the pile. It may amuse you to know that I was discussing the issue of getting a cleaner with a local Conservative (I've just opened a new studio complex and need one). His response "I know a lovely Polish girl, who will charge you next to nothing". I couldn't resist it. I asked what he thought about immigration policy "It's disgusting, I'm all for leaving the EU and stopping all this nonsense". That is the flaw in the UKIP/BNP argument. If we shut the borders and sling out the immigrants, the country would collapse.

The solution is simple. We need to protect council housing, stop the relentless march of London housing towards "luxury flats". Rather than compelling developers to provide "social housing" in developments, we should have a joined up policy, where we ensure that builders meet the requirements of existing local communities, rather than trying to attract people from far and wide to clog up "desirable areas". If there are 6,000 people on the Council waiting list, lets house them first in new housing. Once we've fixed our local problem, then we can start worrying about luxury flats for people moving from other parts of the country. 

One day, you may be old and dependent on other people. If you need a nurse to wipe your bum or a lady to deliver your dinner and you've priced them all out of the neighbourhood, then please don't complain.I have one final question for you? Do you believe in ghosts? Sadly for me, I'm forced to. You see every time I hear about another Tory attack on Council Housing, I hear the screaming banshee of my mothers soul screaming in my ear that I should get off my fat, lazy, pampered arse and do something. That is why this blog supports council housing and decent social housing for people at the bottom of societies ladder.


Morris Hickey said...

All of yourr comments about post-1980s policies on council housing apply equally to Bliar's government and McBroon's. To allege that they are solely Conservative is simply not true.

baarnett said...

I have heard how the good people of Grahame Park were let down by Barnet Council, which treated the place as a destination for problem families and without adequate support, which led to the sharp deterioration there.

But Barnet Council has based its future on building loads and loads of those "luxury flats for people moving from other parts of the country".

Having said that, it is better to provide a social mix, and the age of standard large council estates is thankfully over.

caroline said...

What about 'affordable housing'? Does the fact that this exists as a category simply highlight that most of the new stuff is, frankly, unaffordable?

Moaneybat said...