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August 24, 2012 / politicsbitesize

The ghettoisation of the less well off

The right-of-centre think tank, Policy Exchange, published a report on Monday 20th August 2012 outlining its proposal to sell off expensive social housing. Ending Expensive Social Tenancies puts forward the idea that by selling off 816,000 social houses the government could raise enough funds to ‘create the largest social house building programme since the 1970s’.

Around 3.5% of social housing in expensive areas of the UK becomes vacant each year and the report suggests that, as and when that happens, those properties should be sold off. According to the report, the sales of this 3.5% would raise around £4.5bn annually, which could be used to construct between 80,000 and 170,000 new social homes each year. The move would also provide the construction industry with a much-needed boost in jobs. Alex Morton, the report’s author, explains the reasoning behind the proposals:

Expensive social housing is costly, unpopular and unfair. That is why almost everybody rejects it. Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads but not one better than most people can afford, particularly as expensive social housing means less social housing and so longer waiting lists for most people in need.’

However, some critics have suggested that the plans are tantamount to social exclusion and represent the potential creation of class-based ghettos. Chris Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, claimed that the plans amounted to a ‘ghetto social housing policy’. David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, suggested that the proposals were fundamentally flawed and ‘could effectively cleanse many towns of hard working people who can’t afford to buy or rent privately’. Poverty campaigners added to the dissenting voices by arguing that the proposals would increase social division, because low paid workers would be moved out of ‘nicer parts’ of our cities and into deprived areas.

What these commentators are effectively saying is that those who live in social housing have a right to live in ‘nicer parts’ of a city, in a house they can’t afford. The campaigners use words like ‘cleansing’ to explain the potential relocation of social housing from places like Kensington to places described by Joan Smith in the Independent as ‘Not-Kensington’. But what of the people who don’t live in social housing but cannot afford to buy an expensive property privately? Are they too being marginalised?

As someone who works for a living in a job that is not very well paid but is interesting, I am grateful that I have managed to get on the property ladder. The house that I bought was priced within my means and in an area that isn’t too bad, but it certainly isn’t Kensington. Those who live around me, in the main, have bought a property on the street because that is what they can afford. Does this mean that the people on my street live in a ‘ghetto’ demarcated by the level of income they individually receive? Or does it mean that because we don’t earn huge amounts each year we simply live in houses that we can afford? And if that latter question can be answered in the positive, does this mean that we are subject to the same social exclusion stigma as those people moving to affordable social housing in a less-well-to-do-area?

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