"Today, 1.61 million people in England live in council housing – only 8% of the population . In 1979, it was 42% of people.
Back then, people with no hope of the relative stability of owning property had somewhere stable to live. Now, social housing has become the holy grail, a rare and seemingly precious resource only for the most needy. But the idea that property is a precious financial resource is dangerous. Viewing it in this way can easily make us forget that housing is in fact a necessity, a social good, just like healthcare and education.
Council housing was built on the ideological basis that people had the right to dignity and stability, a chance to raise families, to create secure communities and a good local economy. But the language around housing today, of property, units, and profit, ties us into the myth that housing is scarce. That is not so. If we were to count up the number of empty properties in the UK we would have enough homes for everyone: the government’s own figures show that the “housing surplus” has nearly doubled from 800,000 spare homes in 1996 to 1.4m homes at any one time in 2014.
The lifelong and inherited tenancy of that council house probably saved our lives. Despite that, the right to live and work, to raise your family, and to enjoy a social and community life within a small locality is now seen as unambitious and, dare I say it, un-aspirational. Viewing housing as something less than a social good plays into this – social housing becomes a punishment for not being aspirational enough, where people are encouraged to be grateful for whatever they receive rather than certain of their right to stability.
In these unstable political and economic times it should be a priority that everyone can have a stable home. To do this, we need to a radical approach that rejects the myth of scarcity, by seizing empty properties for example, and banning limited tenancies. Take away the scarcity and we will remove the bad practice".