All photos and copy by Debbie Humphry
CITY’s web-editor Debbie Humphry talks to Ken Loach and Aditya Chakrabortty about the UK Housing and Planning Act, which was passed into law in May 2016 despite widespread opposition.
Ken Loach, renowned British film-maker, directed the critically acclaimed Cathy Come Home (1966) , changing perceptions about homelessness. So what does he think about the Housing and Planning Act, 5o years on?
Aditya Chakrabortty, Chief Economics leader writer for the Guardian, brings us his insights into the underlying political intent of the recent Housing and Planning Act (2016)
The Chartered Institute of Housing predicts the Act will cause the loss of 350,000 social rented homes by 2020.
Thousands of council and social housing tenants face massive rent rises.
Council tenants are denied permanent secure tenancies.
Local councils and housing associations say implementing the Act is an expensive nightmare.
Debbie Humphry in conversation with Ken Loach
Ken: The Housing and Planning Act is getting us further and further away from the possibility of providing decent housing for everyone. There are two conflicting visions of housing. One is the right-wing view that housing is a market and the market will provide. The other is a people’s view, which is that housing is something that everyone is entitled to and that we can provide by using our collective endeavours. The Tory view is that the market will satisfy the need. But in fact the needs of people are disregarded because of the ideological commitment to the market. Everything is seen as a commodity: ‘if a commodity is valuable people will invest in it, and commodities will be made to satisfy needs’. Well homelessness is an absolutely prime example of how the market has failed to provide housing. So the Housing and Planning Act is getting us further away from seeing housing as a social need, and moving us farther towards the market view, and that is a disaster for ordinary people.
Debbie: Is there any particularly aspect of the Housing and Planning Act that stands out for you?
Ken: One of the major points of the Housing and Planning Act is the selling off of social housing, which will mean more people will rent privately. Social housing could be sold to private landlords, and already the number of private renters is increasing, with the number of home-owners decreasing. The Tory propaganda of a home-owning democracy where everyone owns their house and their plot of land is now no more than a fantasy. The reality is that people are becoming private renters, with landlords making a profit out of them. So the sale of social housing is disastrous.
Debbie: You lived in London for a long time. What impact do you think the Housing and Planning Act will have in London?
Ken: We’re already seeing how London is going to look with Boris Johnson’s tower blocks, sold off-plan as investments across the world. The market is destroying housing in London by building luxury flats, which are attracting wealthy buyers as investments. We’re getting these monstrous buildings disfiguring the architectural face of the capital, and driving ordinary people out. But with a capitalist economy nothing is stable so who knows what will happen. The housing market is a bubble and will collapse, and the anarchy of the market will just create mess after mess. The one thing we can be certain of, London will not be a well-planned integrated city where people can live and work in the same area, where everyone has somewhere decent to live, and there’s a balance between employment, social services like schools and medical centres, green spaces and sustainable living. We need to plan for all those things, or we’ll end up with a chaotic mess of buildings that are not suitable for what we need. The Housing and Planning Act will mean people who do necessary work in the city will be unable to live here.
Debbie: Do you think we can we do anything about this situation?
Ken: I think we need to campaign for the opposite of the market: for publicly-funded housing, sustainable housing, controlled and owned by local authorities, where the labour is employed directly, architects are employed directly, and the planning takes into account sustainability, green spaces, social needs and, above all, employment.
Overhanging all this is the issue of the environment and climate and that is part of the housing problem. We need sustainable planned housing, and the only way we can do that is through local authorities who can plan their area, and build houses that people can sustain economically.
Debbie: Can you compare what is happening now with what was happening when you made your film ‘Cathy Come Home’ about the terrible housing conditions?
Ken: ‘Cathy Come Home’ came out 50 years ago in 1966 and showed how easy it was to become homeless. But it’s worse now because the economy has gone through several changes driving the idea of housing as a private business. The consequence is ever-rising numbers of homeless people, including homeless children, and rising numbers rough sleeping. The percentage of people who are now renting privately has massively increased, and the latest figures are that 60 per cent of people in London will be renting privately in a few years. That’s a mark of how disastrously things have gone wrong. I’ve got grandchildren now who are just about to leave school and it is difficult to see how they will find a decent home.
Debbie: How do you see the future?
Ken: At some point there will be a crash. House prices can’t go on escalating into infinity. We need to make demands on the Labour party‘s new progressive leadership to re-assert Bevan’s plans for council housing: planned council housing with all the services, environmental issues and work taken into account. And that’s a fundamental shift from housing as a private matter for money. We must change our priorities. We’ve got a chance here with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. We should demand that the Labour party stands up for a new policy on housing based on public finance, public ownership and planning.
Debbie Humphry in conversation with Aditya Chakrabortty
Aditya: To me the Housing and Planning Bill isn’t about providing more housing to those who need it, nor is it about providing more planning for local authorities that need more planning powers. What it’s really about is a full-throttle upwards redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle classes to those right at the very top. And property developers in particular, with huge subsidies to build these starter homes, which are meant to be affordable but are unaffordable to all but the very richest. And that’s the thing that really galls me about it.
Debbie: Is there any particular aspect of the Act that you’d like to mention?
Aditya: For instance, a household on a modest income being forced to pay not social rents but market rents, the so-called Pay to Stay clause, I just thought that was absolutely shocking. And what really troubles me is it’s dreamt up by people who plainly have an agenda against social housing, and even more so against having cities with mixed communities. The big brain behind the Conservative housing policy is Alex Morton who used to be at Policy Exchange where he came up with various papers about how basically we ought to get people whose faces didn’t fit out of London. He supports forcing people to move from ‘expensive’ social properties. So it’s him that came up with the idea that social housing in places like Westminster, Camden or Tower Hamlets is so valuable because of the land they’re on that they ought to be sold, and the people who live in them ought to move to the perimeters of London. I mean when you’re getting to the stage where you’re handing to big property developers ten of billions in tax payers money for building supposedly affordable housing that most British people simply can’t afford, well then I think you’ve got to say it’s pretty transparent that what you’re up to is taking the money from the poor and giving it to the rich. We are paying people huge sums to rip us off and the Housing and Planning Act fits exactly into that pattern.
Debbie: How does the Housing and Planning Act fit into a wider political picture?
Aditya: What we’ve seen in Britain is the private sector infiltrating the public sector.
Britain’s increasingly run by the private sector, and housing is another example of that because we’re handing over public land to property developers who’ll then charge us a whacking great sum to build houses. The Housing and Planning Act is the last part of that, it’s the latest part of that game, and that’s what I find so abhorrent about it. There are certain places that are valuable because they’ve had public money poured into them, which then allows speculators to come in. Everything from the big property speculator building that new tower to the middle-class person who’s got a bit of money left in their pension pot and thinks they’ll get into the Buy-to-Let game. So then the people whose faces don’t fit it get kicked out, that’s what you’re really seeing with the Housing and Planning Act, the drive to do that. So the people who used to be productive and are dispossessed from their labour are now being dispossessed from their homes.
Debbie: You were brought up in London, so what changes have you seen regarding housing?
Aditya: I was born and raised in a place called Edmonton, on the perimeter of North London. There you see the Housing Crisis. You see people who have been dumped in Edmonton into temporary housing by other local authorities, so that the local council hasn’t got enough housing itself to house its own residents. You see people living in beds and sheds, you hear all sorts of things going on right at the bottom range of the rental market. This is where you see the real sharks going on, in Edmonton in the rental market there.
But most of what you see is how this idea of trickle-down economics never really reached a place like Edmonton, Croydon, Hainault, those sorts of places. Part of Edmonton has got some of the worst economic statistics in Britain, yet it’s ten miles from Westminster, in one of the richest and most powerful cities on the planet. A city that can raise billions for a stock flotation if it wants, a city that can send people off to war, and yet ten miles from parliament you get people who are fighting with each other discounts in Tesco’s.
Debbie Humphry is web editor for CITY, visiting research fellow at The University of East London, and Director of LivingMaps Network. She is an academic, writer and photographer whose research interests include housing, neighbourhood, social justice and social mobility.
- Many local Cabinet Members for Housing have requested the Minister of State pause the Act.
- Many MPs and Peers, from all parties, objected to the legislation.
- The Act returns to parliament after the summer to debate secondary regulations.
- Axe the Housing Act campaign continues the fight http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/atha_briefing1_june2016_2nd-1.pdf
Aditya Chakrabortty featured in CITY’s London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms conference, and review by Debbie Humphry CITY 20 (3)
Axe the Housing Act A full campaign briefing on the Act from Axe the Housing Act campaign is available http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/atha_briefing1_june2016_2nd-1.pdf
Debbie Humphry is web editor for CITY-analysis, a researcher and photographer, currently a research fellow at University of East London’s (UEL) Centre for East London Studies (CELS), with interests in housing, neighbourhood, class, social mobility, social justice and participative visual methodologies. http://www.debbiehumphry.com