The four-part film ‘No Place Like Home’ forms an introduction to the Review. This film grows out of, and adds to, the structural analysis and critique of housing policy contained in the Z2K Memorandum to the Prime Minister on Unaffordable Housing.
The review will be published quarterly with a first edition in April 2009. It will contain up to date information, comment, discussion and proposals from experts, policy makers, academics and professionals in the field of housing. The ambition is to create a dynamic locus for debate that will provide decision makers with informed choices and that will encourage more holistic and strategic thinking about housing policy development than has been evident in recent decades. It will also be a resource for those studying housing issues at FE and HE levels.”
“No Place Like Home” – an introduction to Z2K Housing Review
- part 1: Why housing is so important
- part 2: What has gone wrong – the evidence
- part 3: Why has it gone wrong – the reasons
- part 4: The main lessons – and how to do it better
Part One: Why housing is so important
By Peter Ambrose
The opening interviews with three young mothers in south London speak for themselves. Clearly apart from the reduced quality of life for these families the conditions are imposing heavy additional costs on the National Health Service.
At 3.25 Aneurin Bevan was the Minister in the post-1945 Labour Government responsible for both Health and Housing. He was the main architect of the National Health Service and played a key part in generating the housebuilding drive that was given very high priority in the post-war years until the provisions of the Marshall Aid Programme of US assistance to the UK economy forced deep cuts in social programmes – especially capital programmes such as housing.
Harold Macmillan was the Conservative Housing Minister in the mid-1950s who set a housing output target of 300,000 homes per year and more or less achieved it – with a much higher proportion of private housing for sale than had been the case under Bevan.
At 4.50 Adrian Cooper, a socially responsible and innovative housing provider, points out that housing construction has simply not moved with the times and, in contrast to almost all other consumer goods, has become more expensive in real terms without any gain in quality (see http://www.teamlimited.co.uk)
At 5.45 we identify the crucial infrastructural role that decent, affordable housing plays in our economy and society. Housing has three main functions:
- It provides shelter for the safe and healthy reproduction of the population
- It serves as social and economic infrastructure
- It is a form of personal investment and wealth storing
There is evidence in all Parts of this programme that the housing system is partly failing in its shelter function while its infrastructural function rarely forms part of the public debate – yet massive costs are generated if it goes wrong (the first serious attempt to calculate some of these costs is being carried out at the Building Research Establishment – see http://www.bre.co.uk – the report is due to be published in may 2009).
Instead all the recent focus and emphasis has been on the third function with the ‘housing ladder’ and house price changes at the centre of the debate. This reveals a very partial understanding of what a really cost-effective housing policy should be about and later Parts of this film will show that in any case housing is by no means a reliable form of personal investment.
One example of the effect of very high housing costs for important but low paid workers was that recently in a Brighton maternity ward there were two midwives on duty and ten mothers having babies. Brighton has a notoriously low pay/high housing cost economy and many organisations, including key public services, find it difficult to recruit and retain labour.
At 7.58 Stephen Hill draws attention to the social, environmental, community and economic costs that ensue when housing developments are ill-thought-out or driven primarily by private sector imperatives with no holistic vision – even after 20 years of planning.
At 10.15 we draw attention again to the almost complete lack of research on the costs generated by the malfunctions of housing policy. In the early 1920s Christopher Addison, Minister of Health and himself a doctor, had no doubts that poor housing conditions increased vulnerability to ill-health and that the ill-health cost a lot of money. He set the Registrar General the task of calculating the public cost of various manifestations of ill-health which he regarded as a direct outcome of poor housing conditions. These included the increased incidence of TB, the generally poor health of children in elementary schools and the levels of preventable sickness in the workforce. The Registrar General came up with some estimates of these ‘exported costs’ (over £42 million annually in 1921 values for a partial set of costs). Addison’s strategy to use these findings as an argument for further housing investment from the Treasury, in accordance with the 1918 ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ election-winning cry, was cut short by his prompt dismissal from office by Lloyd George (see Addison, C. The Betrayal of the Slums, Herbert Jenkins, 1922).
At 11.15 Stephen Hill refers to the latest Government ‘enabling framework’, the Homes and Communities Agency, for achieving better housing development. He was not encouraged by the poor quality of the consultation document. He also stressed the apparent nervousness and defensiveness engendered in the minds of politicians and civil servants by any use of the word ‘community’ – although ‘participation’ is repeatedly part of the Government rhetoric.
At 12.50 we point out that the large programme of public works and housing improvement carried out in Birmingham in the early 1870s under Joseph Chamberlain as Mayor was inspired largely by Biblical injunctions to improve the conditions for the poor as advocated by a number of prominent priests. But in the present neoliberal world inspired largely by Reagan and Thatcher it seems that all ethical and pro bono considerations have been replaced by competitive self-interest and/or bureaucratic process – and morality has been replaced by a concern with status.