Clear Direction

By Tom Murtha - on 13/06/2013

HACT's chair Tom Murtha blogs about making the case for a new wave of investment in the UK housing sector.

Could Danny Boyle be persuaded to create a film that illustrates a future UK with no strong NHS, state school system or welfare benefits or investment in social housing?

I received this tweet recently which sums up the main issue we face when campaigning against welfare reforms and the lack of investment in social housing. How do you get the central message across about the human cost of welfare reforms and lack of investment to a sceptical public and politicians who either do not understand the implications of their policies or do not care about them?

Of course in the 1960s a great director did make a campaigning film which highlighted the issue of homelessness which split families and caused great hardship. The director was Ken Loach and the film was called Cathy Come Home. It caused a national outcry which led to the creation of Shelter and the modern housing association sector. Similar stories in the press today and TV documentaries no longer appear to have the same effect. Have we become immune to the suffering that is reported or have we succumbed to the demonisation propaganda that those in need are to blame for their predicament? Another tweet I received recently said that such programmes now would only be seen as reality television, a kind of poverty porn.

So is it pointless to campaign against welfare reforms and for greater investment in social housing at a time when even the opposition seems to be intent on following the same path as the government? I think not. This is why I support strongly Inside Housing’s Grant Britain Homes campaign for more investment in social housing. When I retired the editor of Inside Housing wrote in my leaving book that he wanted to make the most of Inside Housing’s campaigning voice and that he would continue to fight. This campaign does exactly that. It is good to see that so many have already shown their support for the campaign and I urge you all to sign the petition.

Despite the sometimes negative comments I receive to my blogs I believe that the housing sector is still motivated by strong social values and that when we speak out against injustice our voice will be heard. I am pleased to see that Inside Housing is leading the way on this. The case for the campaign is well made elsewhere and I won’t repeat what I have said in another blog that the need for subsidy as investment in social housing is Stating the obvious. My main concern here is how we use the tools at our disposal to show the human cost of the government’s policies in a way that will change public opinion and gain its support.

Are we doing enough to evidence the real effects on the lives of our residents and the communities in which we work? I hope that even when the results of the spending review are announced, whatever the outcome, that we will continue to campaign against the government’s policies by showing their real effects. Proper provision of housing, health, education and employment are the building blocks of a decent society. They help overcome what Beveridge called the ‘five giant evils’: want, squalor, ignorance, idleness and disease. His report which was written in 1942/43 evidenced the human cost of these evils and led to the reforms of the post war governments which created the welfare state. The vision and public support for these reforms has been documented recently in the film The Spirit of 45 which was again directed by Ken Loach. In our campaign we need to find better ways of showing the human cost of current reforms and lack of investment. I have said before in these columns that the housing sector has the strength, authority, technology and the evidence to do this. All that is lacking is a unifying message, voice and leadership. Inside Housing is showing the way. It is now up to the sector to reveal its true values and add its strength to the campaign. Sometimes I think that it is only when the welfare state has been totally dismantled that people will realise why it was established in the first place by those visionaries of the post war era. If we allow that to happen it will be too late to speak out. By then the human cost will be measured in millions of ruined lives. The time for action is now. Does anyone have Danny Boyle’s phone number or even Ken Loach’s?

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