I get increasingly upset by the quality of reports coming out of most think tanks. They come up with stuff that cannot be used practically, which is insular and which takes no real account of the problems of ruining major social policies which inter-relate and add value to each other. It’s hardly surprising – go behind the scenes of most think tanks and you find a group of barely post pubescent scribblers, with first class honours degrees but fourth class experiences of the real world and real life.
I don’t know about the authors of todays Policy Exchange report but their housing report issued today sounds to be a prime example of this. It knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.
One of the major problems facing our country is that of ghettoised cities and towns. For 50+ years planning policy, land values and housing allocations policies have conspired to create ghettos. Some of them are ghettos of the rich; some ghettos of the poor; some ghettos of the old; some ghettos of the young.
This ghettoization brings massive problems alongside it. By having housing and allocations policies that tend to put people with problems together they often create problem areas. The aggregation of poverty and problems creates areas where people fight to leave as soon as they can. You then fill the vacant property with …. Someone else with a problem!
The problems cause other problems. In those areas the schools find it hard to attract a cross section of community and despite the best efforts of staff become secondary moderns in all but name. Employment opportunities dry up as recruiters in companies simply put a red line through applications from some post codes.
Taken to extremes many areas in the South East find it hard to recruit to important jobs such as the fire service because staff cannot afford to live with easy reach of their place of employment. Inside the ghettos there is no aspiration – there is not seen to be a way out so many young people give up all hope of entering a lifestyle that many of us would consider appropriate.
The Labour Government correctly diagnosed this when it launched its National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal in 2000. However, having said that it had identified long-term needs it gave up its long-term programme after just 5 years.
The Liberal Democrats housing policy paper understands these problems explicitly. It realises that housing is not just about the creation of bricks and mortar places but communities and neighbourhoods where communities and individuals within them can be self-sustaining and self-supporting.
Today’s report from the policy exchange is the absolute antithesis of this. Take out public housing in ‘nice’ areas and put ‘nice’ people. Condemn people with problems to areas miles from city centres with few support facilities. This isn’t a new idea it’s the same idea Lady (Shirley) Porter had in the 80s and for which she was heavily fined after due process of law.
Of course in the short term more houses could be made available if you sold expensive stock and if you spent 100% of the capital receipts in a cheaper area. But housing has no short-term fixes. Build a house today and it has to last for 200 years on the current rate of replacement for housing stock. Create a ghetto today and you will be picking up the social consequences, costs and problems down the generations.
The Liberal Democrat housing motion for Brighton in September is available from the Liberal Democrat Web site.