Warm Words and Some Cold Reality

It genuinely is a good thing to have a serving Prime Minister come to a social housing conference and extol the virtues of and provide the promise of more funding to enable more social and affordable rented homes to be built. The fact that Theresa May’s attendance at this week’s National Housing Federation Summit was the first time ever that this had happened (the attendance of a PM let alone more money) was a genuine coup for the Fed.

One always wants to take the warm words at face value and to believe her genuine desire to ‘shift the dial’ in terms of how social housing is viewed and also how those that live in social housing are perceived. Let’s be under no illusion that such a ‘dial shift’ in the language from Government and perhaps more specifically the Conservative party was absolutely necessary. True to previous form – Theresa May was seeking to row back the Conservatives from being a ‘nasty party’ in how they consider the nine million UK citizens living in social and affordable housing.

Having been in the room and listened to her speech, it was good to hear; whether it really warranted the standing ovation (seemingly just from the CEOs of the G15 desperate to feed from her new trough) I don’t know but let’s take her positive language at face value.

Ideally I would like to hear such a positive and warm speech given to a room of housing associations, local authorities and private house builders. I could not help but think there was an element of playing to the gallery for housing associations (no great surprise and who wouldn’t given this specific invitation). The reality is that the housing crisis needs all three sectors to pick up new house building and if any one sector feels they have the divine right or the Prime Ministerial favour as the chosen one it won’t help. I urge my NHF colleagues to be careful on that point. Housing associations play a huge role but I would urge us to remember that we should be partners to and dare I say more supportive of those that have the statutory and strategic housing responsibility – their local authority partners.

However I was disappointed to hear that no sooner had her positive words about the need and benefits of social housing left her mouth than they were immediately followed by the traditional Tory mantra of ‘…but of course getting on the housing ladder is the much better option’. Unplanned or simply an unfortunate juxtaposition the Prime Minister could not help undoing some of her previous 15 minutes of olive branch waving by again residualising and undermining any sense that affordable social rented accommodation could be a genuinely aspirational tenure of choice. At best a safety net to stop people falling further and in her eyes a mere stepping stone to the joys and delights of home ownership. This ideological entrenchment still needs further work.

So to Theresa May, I say thank you; you didn’t have to come to the NHF, you didn’t have to say what you did and it is welcomed. I just hope this positive attitude goes deeper in the Conservative Party – it is unfortunate that the Daily Telegraph quickly came out criticising the un-conservative nature of her comments. We welcome this turning point from this time limited PM and let’s use this to deliver more social housing

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