Communities secretary Sajid Javid has announced a ‘top-to-bottom’ review of social housing in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire
Announcing the green paper at the National Housing Federation conference in Birmingham today [19 September], Javid said that the west London tower block blaze had highlighted the divide between rich and poor.
He said his green paper would be ‘most substantial report of its kind for a generation’ and ‘kick off a nationwide conversation on social housing’.
He recounted his working-class upbringing in Bristol, saying ‘society had low expectations of us, and we were expected to live down to them’.
Javid added: ‘If the Grenfell tragedy showed us anything, it was the extent to which these attitudes have spread and become deeply ingrained in the way this country thinks and it acts.
‘While I don’t want to prejudge the findings of the public or police inquiries, it’s clear that in the months and the years before the fire, the residents of Grenfell Tower were not listened to.’
Javid said his green paper on social housing in England would be ‘a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector. The green paper will be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation.
‘It will kick off a nationwide conversation on social housing. What works and what doesn’t work. What has gone right and what has gone wrong. Why things have gone wrong and – most importantly – how to fix them.’
He said the results would inform government, housing associations, tenant management organisations (TMOs) and tenants.
The communities secretary described England’s housing market as ‘crippled by a long-term failure to match supply and demand’, and said that in the wake of Grenfell the proposed paper would look at safety issues, as well as the quality and management of social homes, and the rights of tenants.
Appearing to acknowledge the ongoing structural problems at Ledbury Estate in south London, which had its gas supply cut off last month following post-Grenfell fire-safety checks, he said: ‘If a resident reports a crack in the wall that you can fit your hand in, big enough to use as a bookshelf, it shouldn’t just be patched up and ignored.’
Javid’s announcement comes as the police said they would consider individual, as well as corporate, manslaughter charges as they continues their criminal investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire.
New RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said he ‘welcomed’ and announcement of the green paper, describing Javid’s talk as the ’most positive social housing speech from a senior Conservative in many years’.
’I am pleased the Government appear to have recognised the need for a fundamental rethink of social housing and hope that these warm words will be accompanied by the necessary resources,’ he added.
’Good quality housing is an essential component to improving life chances and tackling low social mobility. We will eagerly await the Government’s details on Right to Buy and social rents and what may be expected of housing associations in terms of building homes.’
Javid’s speech at the National Housing Federation (extract)
I grew up on Stapleton Road in Bristol – also known as ‘Britain’s most dangerous street’ or a ‘moral cesspit’, depending on your tabloid of choice. And I remember my school careers adviser telling me that there was no point in aiming high because kids from my neck of the woods simply didn’t take A-levels or go to university.
Society had low expectations of us, and we were expected to live down to them. It was the same years later, when I was applying for jobs with merchant banks in London. I got the sense that the interview panels had never before met someone who lived in the overcrowded flat above the family shop. That’s just my experience. It’s just one person’s story.
But if the Grenfell tragedy showed us anything, it was the extent to which these attitudes have spread and become deeply ingrained in the way this country thinks and it acts. While I don’t want to prejudge the findings of the public or police inquiries, it’s clear that in the months and the years before the fire the residents of Grenfell Tower were not listened to. That their concerns were ignored or dismissed. That too many people in positions of power saw tenants less as people with families and more as problems that needed to be managed.
A lot has been written and said about the social and political context of Grenfell. Much of it accurate, some of it less so. There’s certainly been some unfair criticism of social landlords generally. Unfair because I know that everyone in this room is passionate about what they do. Passionate about getting safe, secure, affordable roofs over the heads of families. I know that and you know that. And I want to thank you all, and everyone that you employ, for all the good that you do. Thank you very much.
But the question I keep coming back to is very simple. In one of the richest, most privileged corners of the UK – the world, even – would a fire like this have happened in a privately owned block of luxury flats? If you believe that the answer is no, even if you think it was simply less likely, then it’s clear that we need a fundamental rethink of social housing in this country. Because whether they’re owned by a council or by a housing association, whether they’re managed by a TMO or a local authority, we’re not just talking about bricks and mortar.
We’re not just talking about assets on your balance sheet. We’re talking about peoples’ homes. About people’s lives …
Today I can announce that we will be bringing forward a green paper on social housing in England. A wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector, the green paper will be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation.
It will kick off a nationwide conversation on social housing. What works and what doesn’t work. What has gone right and what has gone wrong, Why things have gone wrong and – most importantly – how to fix them.
And the results will help everyone involved in the whole world of social housing: local and central government, housing associations, TMOs, and of course the tenants themselves, to make this country’s social housing provision something the whole nation can be proud of.
Of course, in the wake of Grenfell, the green paper will look at safety issues. But it will need to go much further. It will look at the overall quality of social homes, many of which are now beginning to show their age. It will cover service management, the way social homes and their tenants are taken care of. It will look at the rights of tenants and show how their voices can be better heard. And it will cover what can be done to ensure their complaints are taken seriously and dealt with properly, and make sure tenants have clear, timely avenues to seek redress when things do go wrong.
If a resident reports a crack in the wall that you can fit your hand in, big enough to use as a bookshelf, it shouldn’t just be patched up and ignored. The reason it’s there and the impact it could have need to be properly investigated. Problems shouldn’t just be fixed, they should be learned from.
These are the kind of issues the green paper will explore. But that’s not all. It will also look at wider issues of place, community, and the local economy. How can social landlords help to create places that people really want to live in, places where roses can grow? What role can social housing policy play in building safe and integrated communities, where people from different backgrounds get along no matter what type of housing they live in? How do we maximise the benefits for social housing for the local, regional and national economy as part of our industrial strategy?
What more can we do to help tackle homelessness? What support is needed for leaseholders who have a social landlord? What can be done to tackle illegal sub-letting; not just chasing down offenders but dealing with the cause of the problem in the first place? And, at the heart of it all, how can you, me, local government and others work together to get more of the right homes built in the right places?
As you can tell – I hope! – I’m talking about a substantial body of work. It’s a green paper that will inform both government policy and the wider debate for many years to come. And I want to make sure that we hear from everyone with something to say. Not just the usual suspects – those working in the sector or the think-tanks and lobbyists. But the people who matter most, the people living in or clamouring for social housing.
So it’s not something we’re going to rush. Yes, I do want to see it published as soon as possible. But what matters most is getting it right. There’s simply too much at stake to do otherwise. Whatever comes about as a result of the green paper, much of the delivery is going to be down to the people in this room, the housing associations.