The housing minister is unfairly demonising tenants and his comments must be challenged
Stand up for tenants
I felt the need to speak out against housing minister Grant Shapps’ recent comments on social housing tenants because after a career in social housing I know them to be untrue. I am also a product of social housing and the remainder of my extended family still lives in social housing, so for the people who I have spent 36 years working with, and for my family, I felt I needed to say something.
Mr Shapps said: ‘For years the system for social housing has been associated with injustice - where rewards are reaped for those who know how to play the system best.Despite this terrible image a lazy consensus in social housing has ensured that, for an entire generation, no one has bothered to do anything about it.’
My initial response to the minister’s comments was one of anger at the constant sniping at social housing in general, and tenants in particular.
The language is unnecessary and it appears to be part of a planned campaign to demonise 4 million people. This is evidenced by similar comments linked to earlier initiatives.
The minister is talking about real people, living real lives. Midland Heart is one of many housing providers set up to help people in need, often caused by illness and disability. We try to support people to live happy, healthy and independent lives. It is particularly disappointing that these comments are directed at those who perhaps can’t answer back, because they are too ill or feel too marginalised to do so.
I want to stress that I accept the government’s right to introduce new initiatives and to challenge what we do, but not to cloak them in continuous negative comments.
I am pleased to see that other senior leaders and colleagues appear to agree with me. I am sure they were also ready to speak up before me, I just happened to be the first. Maybe this is because I have a bit more freedom as I retire from my current post this year.
I think those who know the true nature of our work and have spent any time with our tenants feel exactly as I do and know that Mr Shapps’ comments are based upon anecdote and ignorance.
Of course there is a minority of tenants who have a negative influence on their communities, but this is true of all tenures, not just social housing.
I am proud to be a product of social housing and I am proud to have spent my career working with wonderful people. Therefore, I feel obliged to challenge the minister who, through his negative comments, creates the very stigma he is talking about.
The only way to remove that artificially-created stigma is to challenge it at its source. To sit by and do nothing is not an option.
Tom Murtha is chief executive of Midland Heart