Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Council housing shouldn’t just be for the poor

Martin Wicks, Secretary of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, tells us why we must defend 'secure tenancies' for council tenants and resist means-tested council housing

February 8, 2013
6 min read

Council housing by tristam sparks on flickr Feb 2013Ever since 1980 council tenants have been ‘secure tenants’ under law, which gives us genuine security. We know that if we pay our rent and behave in a civilised fashion then we don’t face the prospect of being turfed out of our homes. We don’t face the insecurity which tenants do in the private rented sector.

However, this ‘secure tenancy’ is now under threat. All local authorities are in the process of drawing up a ‘Tenancy Strategy’ which must include the type of tenure it offers to its tenants. They now have the freedom to introduce ‘flexible’ or ‘fixed term’ tenancies in effect; temporary tenancies, for a number of years. Many councils are introducing five year tenancies, two years for some. The government’s rationale for these is that ‘social tenancies’ should provide a ‘safety net’ for when people are ‘in difficulties’, a tenancy ‘when it is needed for as long as it is needed’. In other words ‘social housing’ is conceived as a tenure only for the poor.

The coalition government doesn’t talk about ‘secure tenancies’. It prefers to call them ‘lifetime tenancies’. There is a propaganda purpose in this. It implies that it’s unreasonable to give tenants ‘a home for life’. In fact, a ‘secure tenancy’ is an open-ended tenancy, but it’s not necessarily for life. Tenants can be evicted for breaches of their tenancy agreement and are.

How will it work in practice?

Councils introducing fixed term tenancies have to draw up a set of criteria for deciding whether or not a tenancy is renewed or terminated. If the latter then the tenant will have to either find more expensive private rented accommodation or get themselves a mortgage, if they can.

Many councils are setting an income threshold above which a tenant will be considered not to ‘need’ the tenancy. For instance the Conservative administration in Barnet has set a threshold of £32,580 whereas Westminster has set one of £61,400 (for 1 and 2 bedroom households) or £74,000 (for 3 bedroom or greater). In the case of Westminster ‘capital assets’ (savings above £16,000) will be taken into account and ‘can be assessed as notional income’. Some authorities, including Labour ones, have decided that if there is a change in the composition of a household, say a child leaving home, then a tenancy which is ‘under-occupied’ will not be renewed. Although existing tenants will keep their ‘secure tenancies’ the annual turn over would over time see them dying out.

The party which prides itself as the defender of ‘individual liberty’, is proposing to give councils power to intrude into the lives of tenants as never before; the power to impose a means test on people who pay full rent; the power to move people from property to property without their agreement and against their will; the power to rigidly impose a ‘bedroom standard’ which originates from the 1930’s when overcrowding was far worse than today, and one bedroom for a couple alone, would have been a step forward.

The campaign so far

Tenants organisations and tenant activists are campaigning against the ending of ‘secure tenancies’ because it would mean that council housing would become a means-tested tenure. ‘Flexible tenancies’ would undermine our independence, introducing instability, making tenants fearful for their future.

The government’s ‘social housing’ policy is consistent with its suite of ‘welfare reforms’. It’s ‘bedroom tax’ is designed to pressure tenants into work and/or into smaller homes by cutting the meagre amount of money they have to live on, even though there is. The ‘flexible tenancy’ is designed to force people out of their homes if they earn ‘too much’ or if their children leave home.

At the TUC Congress in September a resolution from UCATT was passed which committed the TUC to campaigning not only for ‘a massive social house-building programme’ but for an end to the ‘right to buy’. However, to move forward to this we have to defend what we have. Currently there is not a very widespread appreciation of the implications of flexible tenancies and the further impoverishment of ‘social housing’ tenants. The campaign to defend secure tenancies needs to be stepped up. In particular those unions that voted for the TUC resolution, especially the big three which are affiliated to Labour (Unison, Unite, GMB) should be pressing hard for a commitment from Labour that if elected they will reintroduce ‘secure tenancies’ for all.

Although housing benefit is means tested, council housing, as such, has never been. The coalition government is treating it like it is charity, giving councils the right to evict tenants who have done nothing wrong. But council housing was built on a mass scale because private builders were not interested in building homes for poor working people. Today’s housing crisis will not be tackled unless there is a return to building council housing on a sufficiently large scale such that the numbers of households on the waiting list, 1.8 million, begins to decline rather than continuing to rise.

A local campaign

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is campaigning locally for the continuation of ‘secure tenancies’ for all and pressing the Labour councillors not only to oppose fixed term tenancies but to make a public commitment to reintroduce ‘secure tenancies’ if they are forced through by the Tories (they only have a majority on one seat). Everywhere that ‘flexible’ tenancies are introduced there needs to be a campaign to end them, especially where Labour authorities have abandoned the principle of ‘secure tenancies’ for all tenants.

Read more about the Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


128