Spin doctors in Ruth Kelly’s department for communities and local government went into overdrive last week to suggest that a report by Professor John Hills would back their plans for an attack on the principles of council housing.
The report would abolish the right to a lifelong secure council tenancy, they suggested. It would introduce means testing to force better-off council tenants out of the public sector, they hinted. But they were disappointed.
“If you came with the impression that I was going to be recommending the ending of security of tenure, or that tenants if they’re lucky enough to improve their circumstances will be thrown out of their homes, then you’re going to be disappointed,” Hills said at the report’s launch.
Austin Mitchell MP, chair of the House of Commons’ council housing group, commented that the Hills report amounted to “an endorsement of the principles behind council housing” – in particular that social housing should be decent, affordable and secure.
But he added, “What John Hills missed out was the need for the big build – to provide council housing for those who either can’t afford or don’t want to get on the home ownership escalator.”
Alan Walter, chair of Defend Council Housing (DCH), said that the frantic spin from the government reflected its difficulties.
“They have been trying to get rid of council housing by privatisation,” he said.
“Now that they’re losing tenants’ ballots around the country, they’re flying a kite to see whether they can regulate or legislate to take away our secure lifelong tenancies.”
Though the Hills report failed to live up to the government’s hopes, Alan noted that it does talk about offering “alternatives” to council housing.
This formulation could be used by the government to push through some of its neoliberal proposals anyhow.
DCH remains opposed to such moves, says Alan. “Restricting access to council housing to only the poorest creates distorted and transient communities.
“It denies council tenants the right to a home – as opposed to somewhere just to temporarily lay our heads down for the night.”
To download copies of “Ends and Means: the future roles of social housing in Britain” by Professor John Hills, go to http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cr/CASEreport34.pdf