UK – The housing associations front: how Tories are eradicating grassroot political opposition

London 6 May 2022 – The reason why the British far-right government is attacking housing associations is not simply the outlook for privatization in order to favour the private real estate industry, which is historically Conservative prone.

There’s a second more direct goal Tories want to hit by targeting both Housing Associations and their tenants: these are in part the bulk of opposition, Labour and Lib Dems voters.

In an article published by the Independent in 2018, the then deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (representing the Lib Dems in the shared executive with the Conservatives), quoted PM David Cameron or Chancellor George Osborne as saying “I don’t understand why you keep going on about the need for more social housing – it just creates Labour voters”, he wasn’t sure which of the two said the words.

Today Tories’ systematic attack against social housing demonstrates those words have been turned into policy backed by new law.

1) Extension of right-to-buy to housing associations properties allowing social tenants the same discounts available to those who live in council-owned properties. This will result in an indirect privatisation of the social housing and progressive reduction of help to those who cannot afford private renting.

2) The political precarisation of social tenants: the end of legacy benefits included housing benefits is a hit to housing associations; tenants’ precarisation through the mandatory application to the contested Universal Credit, the new benefits system that does not cover the rent, not only puts people at risk of homelessness, but shakes the ground of social housing and associations reducing their income and forcing to future evictions.

3) Pitching tenants against their housing associations landlords: Tories became, suddenly, concerned for the health of social tenants…some MPs highlighted the commitment of Boris Johnson led government to support disrepair claims. This from the same Conservatives who voted against the amendment to force landlords to make properties habitable, as Ibtimes reported in 2017. Over the last months housing associations estates received an overwhelming amount of letters to ‘the occupiers’ offering no win no fee generous legal support of claim for disrepair against social landlords. These legal firms must be well funded then. But the Tory divide and rule policy is not news; this 2016 article by Guardian commentator Owen Jones explains “The truth is we have a government waging war against social cohesion and the hard-working people it occasionally likes to patronise”.

4) The 300.000 new homes a year promise, not fulfilled as yet: one of the slogans of the last Tory electoral propaganda. Of course Covid-19 pandemic slowed the construction sector, which was, by the way the only one allowed to go on, along with the basic food and health. But we have to keep in mind that the social housing electoral pledge was the Tory bet to outperform the Labour whose manifesto promised 200.000 new homes per year.

The truth is that the Tories aren’t in that rush to lowering the housing prices (the more estate available you have, the less rents and cost increase). Keeping high rents and impossibility to buy is a real estate industry/private landlords friendly policy; a Tory policy.

The front of the battle where Tories are really in a rush to push the fight is, instead, the one against the grassroots’ support for the political opposition; those swathes of the British society who thrive through the economic crisis of the post-Brexit and post-Covid era and now realised who are the real responsible for increasing poverty and reduction of social rights: they are a threat to the Tory propaganda.

It’s not by chance that millions of them are set to lose the legacy and the entitlement to basic rights over 2022 -2024, the crucial period of the upcoming political fight in view of the May 2024 general elections.