Forum > Welfare Rights

Who should have a council house?

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This isn't so much about benefits as it is about housing.  Twenty years ago I was given a council flat.  I didn't ask for one, but someone from the council simply sat me down and made an application for me. It's something I've been massively grateful for to this day.  The other day I read that someone was shocked that people without children had council houses, especially couples without children.  They seemed to think that with so few resources and children having to move every few years from one private rental to another, social housing should only go to families.  I love having a stable home, I kept being turned down for rooms in house shares because everywhere was 'no DSS'. My ability to stay employed fluctuates so a private tenancy might not have lasted long anyway.  My old flat was nice, then I moved to Brighton, which definitely would have been an unaffordable luxury otherwise.  Now, this is probably going to sound like a pathetic moan but I actually find it really hard to live alone and stay in all day, which a lot of the time I have to do, working from home when I can.  It gets especially difficult after a week or so, so I may have someone to stay for a while, for company soon. It's a one bedroom flat but they could sleep in the living room. Do you think I deserve to have council flat?

Sunny Clouds:
The difficulty with this one is that it's multi-way over who should get what.

To say what I think, let me start with my broad political views.  I believe that wide availability of a good range of decent quality social housing is important.  I think it helps with fairness, I think it helps with social unity, and I think it also helps house-owners, who are less likely to face rocketing house prices. 

Successive governments in the UK have held opposite views, as characterised by 'right to buy' etc.  I am of the opinion that this has led to wide social division, because if it's hard to get social housing, you then end up with concentrations on them of those with most needs.  With less council housing and more social housing owned by housing associations, which may buy housing rather than building it, and with 'slumlords' also forming part of the housing market, you can end up with a situation I found not far from where I live.

There was a conversation a few years back where a couple of people were talking about 'problem' neighbours.  Not a particular family.  They meant a whole load of houses rented out as social housing.  I said they weren't so much problem neighbours as neighbours with problems and no support for them.

Meanwhile, you get the old council housing estates (a couple of close relatives of mine lived on one when I was younger) which used to have a far wider range of social class, family size, age group etc.  Now more and more are a mixture of 'buy to let' and 'problem families'.

Meanwhile, more elders move into variations on 'sheltered' housing.  Often rip-offs with nothing like the support they were promised.

Here comes my starry-eyed 'In my youth...' thing.  I think that this fragmentation of our society is problematic all round.   The more you mix people together, including different generations and different social classes, whether on council estates or off them, the better it is.  Not just people helping in an obvious way, but research shows that when children and elders with early to mid stage dementia mix, including where the children have got problems of their own such as ADHD, it benefits both generations. 

And as I see it, as a biased single person, mixing singles and families can help. 

So from my perspective, it's good to have lots of people not seen as 'needing' social housing in it, because my view is that the more different sorts of people are intermixed, the better.

Let me use a disability analogy.  There's someone I used to know from a mental health website.  She and her husband were both disabled.  She had severe and enduring mental illness, he had a chronic kidney problem that required regular dialysis, plus other health problems.  It mostly worked well, subject to those problems any couple can have.  I'm not under any illusions that mixing people with different needs always works.  Someone close to me is part of a couple where in theory it's like that, but actually the one I'll characterise as the 'physically disabled' one also has mental problems and, in my opinion, exploits and emotionally harms the one I'll describe as 'mentally disabled', who primarily has learning disabilities.

Likewise, I fully appreciate that mixing different sorts of people together can cause problems.

Further, over the years, government and media have pushed the idea that too many people are living in homes too big for them, hence what is colloquially called the bedroom tax, or what the government calls the removal of the spare room subsidy.

Where I live, the council was blunt and public about it. It lacked smaller social housing for people to downsize to.  It wasn't family housing and larger housing that they were short of, it was smaller housing.

Meanwhile, the perception engendered in the public that too many people, particularly 'undeserving benny scroungers' were given too much money to live in big places they didn't need, mapped onto the two family benefits cap.  Anyone that's read much of what I write knows how irate I get about that.  Children punished for their parents' apparent sin of daring to have too many children.  And a big push in the media for lovely popular programmes and internet articles about what in America they call 'welfare queens'. 

So that filters down to a perception that single people shouldn't be occupying smaller places that all those supposedly undeserving, supposedly idle, supposedly whatever families should be living in, whilst such families, also maybe feeling desperate, may also feel resentful.

Meanwhile, as people fight over what I'll call 'ordinary' social housing, funding's been withdrawn in England (don't know about rest of UK) for a lot of what was for some years called supported housing, leading to a rise in 'exempt housing', i.e. people, mostly single, with a range of problems, dumped in housing with token support.  Backlash from communities.  Single people then finding house and flat prices have gone up, they're on the back of the waiting list for social housing if they're not already in it, but if they end up homeless or desperate, they can end up in exempt housing where they're resented even more and their problems get worse surrounded by others with problems.

So I don't like what's been done with housing, I think the only way it would be fixed would be by a change of government, and I don't mean Starmer-type Labour, which as I see it, is roughly Blairite, which wouldn't reverse this.

My empathy lies with all those that find our current housing situation horrible, and all those, however big or small their family is, single or large or in-between, who find themselves caught in the middle of this divide-and-rule.

I hope you can either stay where you are or get a decent alternative.  I was lucky in the past when I needed to rent to have connections that helped, including someone with good income and wealth who offered, unasked, to be a guarantor for my rent.  Disgusting that I needed it.  Housing benefit shouldn't need a guarantee.

Big hugs.

Yes, I see what you mean about the need for all generations and different kinds of people to live together in the same community.  Everyone benefits from that.  A family with two children lived in my first flat before I did.  They were given a bigger flat because of overcrowding, and no family would be allowed to move into a one-bedroom property for that reason too.  Now, as you say, there is a shortage of smaller houses and flats, and I heard that was because of the bedroom tax driving people to downshift.

Sunny Clouds:
As an aside about single people (like me), I came across a TED talk once that wasn't about single people as such but still gave relevant food for thought.  Bear with me on this because at first you might think "What on earth has that to do with it?"

The man giving the talk was, I believe, American.  His son came out to him as gay, which at first he found difficult because his brand of Christianity condemns LGBT+ people.

Then he thought about it and drew an analogy with a range of other non-human creatures.  Why not see gay people, typically childless, as extra people who can provide extra support for the community so that those with children can have them?

There are quite a few creatures that have some or most members of their group not having young.  Some are familiar to us.  See those two vixens with some cubs?  Probably only one of the vixens is the mum.  The other is cubless and helping.

I thought of my own family.  A lot of the childcare was done by a couple of single family members born at the tail end of the nineteenth century.  They did bits of childminding for various children, including me, and one even acted as surrogate mum for one child whose mum was repeatedly unwell.

That whole notion of childless people as an extra resource really made me see myself differently.   And not even just on the childless thing or the working thing, but on a much wider level seeing people not just in terms of what they don't do, but in terms of what not doing that means they can do.

I hope it doesn't seem too weird an analogy again to think in terms of limping.  In terms of what?! I think I've mentioned it the other day in a thread. When you look at someone limping, do you focus on the fact one leg isn't working properly, or do you focus on the way the other leg is compensating?

Being disabled, I don't think any of us needs to see ourselves as justified by how much we can contribute, but I do believe in seeing value in difference. 

Thus a single person living somewhere where being a family is the norm can add something, even just by being single and being there.

Sunny Clouds:
Another aside...

Not terribly long ago, I said to some neighbours I may have to move from the family home because of how my father's estate is being split up.  I made some comment - I don't remember how I worded it - about how maybe I shouldn't have a whole house to myself.  Nobody agreed with me, and the attitude was summed up by a teenager who demanded to know why I thought I was any less deserving of a house just because I lived alone.

I found myself wondering how I'd fallen into the trap of feeling I needed to justify it. Our housing situation in this country is appalling and unfair and pretty random.  I don't have to justify that.  I didn't feel others had to justify having a home when I was street homeless, I was just grateful to those that helped me in terms of shelter and food.

If you need a home, it's not your fault if there's a shortage of homes others need.  If, in all fairness, you can find somewhere suitable and your home is more suitable for someone else that genuinely needs it, well you may feel willing and able to move.  But often it doesn't work out like that.


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