Five wishes for 2018

It’s the time of year again. The time for New Year’s Resolutions that last only a little longer than the next day’s hangover and the time to hope that maybe things will get better once the clock strikes midnight.

So here are five things that bugged me in 2017 that I hope are about to change over the next 12 months.

1) That it will be 2018 not 1958

This seems a vain hope given a prevailing political climate that is blowing us back to the glory days of ‘iconic blue passports’. The Home Office is even making an early bid to take us back to the land of warm beer and black and white telly.

Maybe Britain will wake up in 2018. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn the lessons that were sinking in back in 1958 and realise that the Empire has gone and we need to look closer to home. Read the rest of this entry »

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10 things about 2017: part two

Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on December 27.

This second part of my look back at the year in housing starts with the return of the S word and asks how much has really changed. Part one is here.

6) The year of social housing?

The Grenfell fire intensified a debate about the future of social housing that was already underway.

Under David Cameron and George Osborne, the government had relentlessly boosted the right to buy and pursue ‘affordable’ rather than the social housing they saw as a breeding ground for Labour voters.

The year began with an announcement of first wave of part of their legacy, the starter homes that critics warned would displace other affordable homes.

However, the tide was turning against that type of politics. Away from Westminster, protests about estate regeneration (and loss of social housing) had spawned Dispossession, a documentary shown in cinemas across the country.

But the impact was evident inside the village too. When Theresa May called a snap election her manifesto featured plans for ‘a new generation of social housing’. The reality has never quite matched the rhetoric but to hear a Conservative prime minister mention the S word was a change in itself.

Read the rest of this entry »


10 things about 2017: part one

Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on December 22.

As in 2016, it seemed like nothing would ever be the same again after a momentous event halfway through the year.

The horrific Grenfell Tower fire on June 14 means that the headline on this column should really have read ‘nine other things about 2017’. Just as the Brexit voted has changed everything in politics, so it is almost impossible to see anything in housing except through the prism of that awful night.

That said, 2017 was another year of momentous change for housing, one that brought a few signs of hope too. Here’s the first of my two-part review of what I was writing about.

Read the rest of this entry »


A damning verdict on the building regulations and fire safety

Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on December 18.

Six months on from the disaster that changed everything it sometimes feels like not much has changed.

Despite the promises made in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell fire, progress has been painfully slow on rehousing families from the tower and surrounding block.

The police will not complete a full forensic assessment and reconstruction of how the fire spread before autumn 2018 and potential suspects in the criminal investigation will not be interviewed until after that.

Interim findings from the public inquiry were originally due by Easter 2018 but the judge leading it says the scale of the work that is required means that will not now be possible. No date has been set for the final report.

With up to 2,400 witnesses to be interviewed, 31 million documents to be examined and 383 companies identified as having played some role in the refurbishment of the tower, it’s not hard to find good reasons why things are taking so long.

Establishing the causes of the fire to stop the same thing happening again will be complicated enough but that is just part of getting justice for the victims and survivors.

Finding who was to blame will take time and all the while questions will remain about building safety elsewhere.

Tangible progress towards finding some of the answers comes with today’s publication of the interim findings of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt.

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Over-egging the pudding

Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on December 14. 

Is a year that has seen a huge shift in the politics of housing ending with a return to business as usual?

The Grenfell fire is the obvious reason for the change in the terms of the housing debate but it is not the only one.

The prime minister’s party conference speech will be remembered for the prankster, the lost voice and the collapsing stage set but it did seem to mark the culmination of a shift from Help to Buy to help for all tenures. But just as her country is not quite working for everyone, so her social housing revolution may not be quite what it seems.

One clue, I think, lies in the way that parliamentary debate has returned to the bad old days of Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps in terms of the selective use of statistics. The first time I noticed this was at last week’s Communities and Local Government questions.

Alok Sharma seems a nice chap and has quietly impressed with his willingness to listen to tenants at consultations ahead of the social housing green paper. But asked about homes built for social rent last week, he boasted that: ‘Since 2010, nearly 128,000 homes for social rent have been built in England, and 118,000 have been built for affordable rent.’

That’s an answer that does not quite compute at first but check the statistics and he is perfectly correct – and totally misleading – at the same time.

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Farewell social mobility

Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on December 4.

One instinctive reaction to the news over the weekend that Alan Milburn and his fellow Social Mobility Commissioners have resigned is a simple question: what took you so long?

After all, what was then the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission was the creation of Nick Clegg, with the idea that they would hold the current and future future governments to account.

It always looked a tough job when the former deputy prime minister’s coalition chums seemed hell-bent on increasing child poverty and reducing social mobility after 2010.

After the 2015 election, when Clegg and most of his Lib Dem colleagues lost their seats, the child poverty bit was taken out so that the commission could concentrate on the more Conservative-sounding and more convenient part of its brief.

That is just as well for them as child poverty is now rising again in the face of stagnant wages, rising rents and frozen benefits but it seemed there was still a job to be done in ensuring that government paid attention to wider social concerns.

And when Theresa May became prime minister in 2016 her themes of correcting ‘burning injustices’ and ‘a country that works for everyone’ it seemed that it might be worth the commissioners hanging around to help.

That came to an end on Saturday night when Milburn and three other commissioners, including former Tory Cabinet minister Gillian Shepherd, tendered their resignations (Downing Street claims he jumped before he was pushed).

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