Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/473/2045
Don't privatise social housing!
RECENT CHANGES could lead to the end of "not for profit" social housing in England or, at the very least, fundamentally change housing provision. Housing campaigners and Socialist Party members always warned that transferring council housing to housing associations (HAs) would mean profit would dominate over tenants' needs and democratic accountability would be destroyed.
Housing bosses called these protests 'scaremongering'. Housing associations, they implied, were cuddly, community-centred organisations not driven by the need to pay dividends to private shareholders.
Now, the big associations are clearly exploring how they could become profit-seeking limited companies (PLCs) with shares up for grabs. The government is merging the Housing Corporation, which used to regulate and pay grants to HAs, with English Partnerships which works mainly with private developers doing land deals, to form a new quango, "Communities England".
The guardian recently reported that the Housing Association "Places for People" was investigating how to go private. A columnist in Inside Housing, the trade journal, warns readers: "It's not if but when... If PLC developers can manage social housing, why can't associations become PLCs?"
Labour Party conference has passed resolutions for the "fourth option" (a policy that lets councils modernise and retain housing stock) three years running, but private companies managing social housing have become increasingly common. For the first time ever, the government has started paying social housing grant direct to private builders (in the past it could only go to councils and HAs).
Resolutions at Labour Party conference won't stop this. A campaign involving council and HA tenants is vital. Once again the need for a political party that speaks for the working class is clear.
Socialist Party members consistently warn that New Labour is no longer responsive to pressure from trade unions, despite the money they put into Labour Party coffers. This is not just a debating point; it is crucial to the defence of public services.
How will HAs be regulated when the new quango replaces the Housing Corporation? The HAs suggest that they regulate themselves. The National Housing Federation has proposals that suggest a smokescreen with much talk of "tenant scrutiny".
The boss of Whitefriars HA says: "We recognise the need for regulation and the need to put tenants at the front of it". But the new quango would regulate its members - as well as being a pressure group for them: it would be both poacher and gamekeeper.
Apparently this is too much even for one anonymous HA boss, who said: "The trouble with self-regulation is that is what the British Medical Association and the Law Society does but I think they are awful because they never find any problems unless they are so big they can't hide them" (Inside Housing 26 January).
The Socialist Party has played a leading role in both council and HA tenants' campaigns to stop selling off stock. Potentially these new moves represent an even bigger attack on tenants - and anyone who hopes to become a tenant. There are now roughly as many HA tenants as council tenants. A campaign linked to the unions, and fighting alongside council tenants, could stop this scheme.
But the government is moving fast. Council tenants facing transfer should demand an immediate moratorium on transfer proposals until the position is clarified; HA tenants' groups should seek assurances from their associations; and trade unions - already committed to oppose transfer - should pledge to fight full privatisation of housing associations.
In The Socialist 7 February 2007:
Civil servants' strike
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis