Grant Shapps is a nice chap! Personable, likeable and emollient - I've seen him walk on stage in front of a hostile conference crowd and spread calm like honey on morning toast. He's very much a man of the future in the Tory party and is being encouraged into the limelight as the "acceptable face of the Tories". Helped by the presence of the Liberal Democrats the "Nasty Party" moves into a new era in which Thatcherism is but a distant memory and it attempts to become the caring sharing party of the 21st Century.
So just why is this minister pursuing policies even more damaging that Margaret Thatcher ever dreamt of? Thatcher, the bête noir of social housing. Even she didn't suggest that anyone who has made a success of their life should be forced to move on from their Council estate like some unwelcome guest who has outstayed their welcome.
My family moved into a Council house when I was four years old. They moved out, into a house we had built , when I was eleven. We moved on and upwards, just as Grant Shapps is suggesting. But others stayed, and our street was a mixture of professions and situations. 50 years later it's a community embracing success and failure, wealth and poverty and a mixture of social housing and freeholds. It takes a long time to build a community. We were there at the start but it's much better now, after more than 50 years of development. There's a new community centre and a Multi-Use Games Area. The young mothers are now grandmothers and the estate has seen at least three generations pass through.
How desperately damaging it will be if we move on anyone who becomes wealthy, whether or not they want to go. We will be creating ghettos of failure. Social housing will equal lack of ambition and define those who are stuck in a second class environment. Instead of rewarding success we will be moving that success on to another nearby community.
That's not how it should be. Social housing, formerly Council housing, was meant to be for hard working families who didn't have capital to buy their own homes. It was for people who were successful in their lives but who hadn't been born expecting an inheritance to pay for a deposit on a house. There was a vision behind Council housing and many politicians worked to make that vision a reality. Mistakes were made, many mistakes. But there were also many successes and fine communities were created in many areas of Britain.
The Thatcher "Right to Buy" was immensely damaging to social housing but at least it didn't kick the upwardly mobile off the estates, but rather encouraged them to stay in the homes they now owned, improving both their houses and their communities.
What we now need is a new commitment to social housing. A commitment to build the hundreds of thousands of houses we need to look after the "in betweeners", the people who don't currently qualify for social housing but can't afford to purchase their own homes. The workers who hold the future of our country in their hands.
We do a fairly good job of housing the very needy but fail miserably the very people who this Coalition government profess to champion. The nurses, the teachers, the police and the rest of those hard working essential workers who can now only afford to live in certain limited areas of our country. We're storing up a catastrophe to be inherited by the next generation.
So, please minister, you've impressed many of us with your ability to listen, but are you really hearing our message on the future of social housing in Britain?
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