By GMHA (@gmhousingaction)
50,000 affordable homes by 2037, 30,000 of them social or with affordable rent. A headline of ‘safe, decent, affordable housing for all’. The Greater Manchester Housing Strategy certainly contains some strong ambition. At the moment however it is just paper and the world is full of strategies.
To realise the ambition fundamentally requires increasing long-term government investment. At the launch of the housing strategy Paul Dennet, Mayor of Salford and Greater Manchester housing lead, drew attention to skewed government investment towards London and the south.
In November 2018 the Manchester Evening News showed how £7billion in affordable housing funding is skewed heavily in favour of areas of ‘high affordability pressures’, overwhelmingly in London and the south east. Of the 162 councils deemed eligible for 80% of the funding, four were from the north. Trafford, and three from Yorkshire and Cumbria. More than half were in London and the south east.
In April, Greater Manchester’s ten districts had a £68million housing deal cancelled by central government. Planning for housing is well and good, but as Mike Tyson said about plans, everyone has one until they get punched in the face.
The condition of our homes, our ‘stock’, is a major concern. Eight out of ten of the homes we will have in Greater Manchester by 2050 have already been built. It’s estimated that around 27% of homes are ‘non-decent’. To address this, the strategy plans to fit 60,000 homes in Greater Manchester with energy-saving technology. 60,000 homes every year. For the next twenty years. To do this would mean meeting the city-region’s zero-carbon commitments. At the same time, it would directly address fuel poverty which has a huge impact on our neighbourhoods. However how will this be funded? There is nothing to impel the market to deliver this intervention.
For campaigners alienated by the countless apartment blocks rising up in the city centre, the strategy provides some reassurance. The links between housing, health and our common welfare are understood and central. Also the housing strategy does not (cannot) ignore the structural changes in our economy and the undeniable impact of austerity’s sledgehammer in the 2010s.
Housing politics in 2019 has been harshly shaped by Tory ideology. The least well-off have borne the brunt of destructive, gleeful axe-swinging. The bedroom tax, the local housing allowance freeze, cuts, sanctions, delays, a welfare regime so punitive the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty likened it to a digitised, sanitised version of the Dickensian workhouse. In-work poverty rising. 40,000 zero-hour contracts in Greater Manchester. Half of all the jobs created in the last five years have been temporary or self-employed.
However in his report, Professor Philip Alston noted how ‘the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone. Its manifestations are clear for all to see’. He also drew attention to how ‘through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is. The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial’.
We are the most unequal country in Europe. Housing politics, in how central government divvies up its funding for example, sometimes reflects this.
For campaigners, the strategy provides an idea of what we can achieve, but the ambition is a long way from reality. Greater Manchester has lost 92,000 social homes through Right to Buy since Thatcher introduced the programme in 1981. Central government funding on housing could change radically with the next Prime Minister. We seem to have a new housing minister every week.
The housing strategy is not a statutory document. A Delivery Plan for the Housing Strategy is set to follow with more detailed plans of numbers, sites, partners including developers and housing associations, viability assessments and Section 106 agreements.
To move from from paper to practice will require partnership, pressure and lobbying, evidence and the ability to use it. Campaigners must develop better networks including councillors and MPs to foster knowledge and the ability to act together.
Accountability, pressure, lobbying; these are long-term things. Knowledge is power here and the devil has always been in the detail. Campaigners can only be truly influential in the push to tackle the housing crisis if they know their stuff; to be able to know the pressure points.
The Greater Manchester Housing Strategy marks an ambitious statement for change, but to realise a ‘safe, decent affordable home for all’ will require so much more than warm words from us all.
6 July 2019
Image from Greater Manchester Combined Authority