I am prompted by #housingday to think about the value of social housing. At a very posh artists’ opening recently I was asked what I do for a living. Usually my answer meets with blank stares and a swift change of subject, but this time the enquirer’s face lit up and she responded with “social housing changed my family’s life!”
This was no old age pensioner talking about the old days but a middle class woman younger than me from South London who recalled that she and her brothers were brought up in rooms in Brockley. Rooms that had a full size bath in the kitchen which, with a wooden board over the top, doubled up for food preparation on non-bath days.
Eventually their rooms were bought up by a housing association and they were upgraded to a self-contained flat with inside toilet and a separate bathroom, with bedrooms that they did not need to share – an event so major in her life that it still brings joy to her forty years on, despite her current day affluent circumstances. She lives in a house worth well over a million pounds but is an avid fan of social housing and opposed to offering the Right to Buy these precious commodities.
I was reminded of my own upbringing in railway (tied) housing and my mother bathing us in the kitchen sink, I suppose we didn’t have a bathroom or it was too cold to use in winter, That was still quite normal in the 1960s.
My son laughed when I told him this story about his friend’s mother and my childhood, – suddenly my generation is part of the bad old days when social housing was less available. There was a housing shortage: employers were able to tie people to their jobs by providing basic workers accommodation; and private landlords could provide frankly substandard housing to needy families.
We’ve come a long way since then, the standards set by social landlords have dragged the rest of the rented sector into providing decent accommodation. Millions of families’ lives have been changed by social housing, even in the last generation, let’s keep it plentiful and affordable.