Britain Democracy

The Government Thinks Individuals Should Be Responsible For The Housing Crisis

12:10Ciaran McCormick

A poster recently appeared at my local London Underground station that seemed to jump out over the usual product and commercial billboards. It was displayed, at great cost no doubt, by the British government's very own Department for Communities and Local Government.


It reads, dramatically:

'I used to think that somebody should help make sure we've got homes for young families'

...followed by a woman holding her children in hand saying:

'Until I realised I am the somebody'

I found this message deeply problematic and knew instantly that I wanted to find out what it was trying to say. We have a deeply entrenched housing crisis in this country, which is disproportionately severe in London. There are more than 50,000 homeless households. In the most pressured local authorities they have little prospect of short-term relocation.



House prices have soared and left my generation with little hope of earning enough to escape the trappings of rent. These extraordinarily high rents have been subsidised by the taxpayer through low wages and necessarily high housing benefits. The fact that people often have to rely on money passed down in gifts from their wealthy relatives has been shockingly legitimised in recent ISA schemes that encourage parents to contribute to house buying funds.

The idea that individuals should be responsible for making sure that we've got homes for young people is dangerous. That is the fundamental role of the government, to plan our broader society for the good of everyone. If everything were left up to individuals without these bonds, it would be a fragmented mess that would polarise the rich and poor even worse. However, successive governments of all varieties have not bothered to act on the housing crisis. It has been happening for so long and shows no sign of stopping, so this lack of hope seems to be the new status quo.




The poster actually publicises the government's Neighbourhood Planning initiative. This scheme aims to get local people planning their communities by producing a 'neighbourhood plan'. Groups organising these plans can have as few as 21 members and they must be voted in by a referendum.

The scheme's website asks:

Do you want to be the somebody who has a say over where new homes, shops and offices are built? And how they look? Maybe you want to improve your high street? Or protect your favourite local spaces? Or ensure there are enough new homes for young families?
It is of course essential that the views of local people are taken into consideration in decision making process. However, this is actually an ideological assault from the Conservative government on our civil society, masquerading as direct democracy. The Tories are currently rolling back the state, privatising the NHS and stripping back vital public services and the welfare state. This means that they are encouraging communities to step in as the government withdraws. This often has poor results. For example, free schools take away expert local authority steering and give it to private, religious or commercial interests that have consistently made headlines for their incompetence.

If you give control over local communities to individuals, they will have a very short-term and reactionary bias. This is not the sort of scheme that will enage people over the long-term so it risks a 'Not In My BackYard' (NIMBY) tendency to important developments such as infrastructure projects. This is even admitted in the smallprint of the scheme, since people will still not be allowed to do certain things. They can't plan for fewer homes than local planning authorities or deal with non-planning issues such as bus services and rubbish collection, big issues that people care about.

Fundamentally, issues such as house planning require government action at a national level, with the dedicated support of local authorities. It requires legislative overhaul to clamp down on rogue landlords, ensure that wages are affordable, introduce rent controls that have overwhelming support in this country and have worked abroad and build a more equal society. Finally, it requires a partnership between the public and private sector to actually built hundreds of thousands of homes each year. This emphasis on neighbourhood planning is short-sighted and a distraction from the national disaster of Generation Rent.

A new slogan for them:

'I used to think that somebody should help make sure we've got homes for young families. Then I remembered why I pay my taxes. That somebody is the government.'

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