Housing is about homes. Homes should be secure, safe and affordable. Social rented housing, of the model provided most acutely by council housing and to a slighter less degree by housing associations, fulfills those criteria. Owner occupation does as well. Both tenures are essentially secure as long as the rent/mortgage is paid. Private renting does not provide any of the three criteria that makes a house a home.
When people such as KPMG argue that we need to reduce owner occupation, they do not mean in favour of secure rented housing. What they want, as does the Coalition, is high cost, insecure private rented housing. For the housing profession to allow this deliberate confusion of social rented housing with rented housing per se is frankly disastrous. The CiH has, as is becoming increasingly the norm, culpable in supporting implicitly an agenda of housing being about profits and control rather than about homes and communities.
The push for owner occupation, especially after 1980, was designed primarily not to reduce private rented housing but social rented housing - hence the right to buy. The more far sighted on the right have realised that owner occupation for the masses is a bad thing:
• Eventually one of the biggest costs a household faces - accommodation - is no more once a mortgage has been paid off. That reduces the survival imperative driving the masses to work.
• Once the mortgage is paid off, the financial and landlord class are no longer making money from accommodation costs which, under a private rented model, are imposed in perpetuity on households.
• Subject to the interest rate changes, over time inflation eats away at the impact of mortgage debt on household income whereas rents can be raised all the time.
• Owner occupation gives working class people an asset they can use to provide greater opportunities and choices, especially in later life (e.g. retirement to sunny climes). It also makes them just a little less deferential to the landlord class. That is not acceptable to the likes of Call-me-Dave for whom the natural order is for an elite to control the lives of the majority through law, order, work and noblesse oblige.
The role of the housing in the economy is about more than just providing jobs building homes. It is about providing people with a home they can feel safe in. People should have adventures in life – that is what leads to ideas, new businesses, improved services, happier lives. And so a stronger economy and society. But their home, their safe haven, should not in itself be a risky adventure. People take chances when they feel there is a safety net to catch them if it all goes wrong. There is no better safety net than a place you can call home.
Housing could also usefully contribute to the wider economy by being made available at a sensible cost. Every excess pound spent on the usual grotesquely excessive rents charged by private landlords or on a crippling mortgage is less money for other things that spread wealth wider in the economy than just to the parasite landlord and financial sectors. A new car made in Derbyshire. A new bed made in Wednesbury. A day out with the children in Skegness. A meal for the family at the pub down the road.
All of which is anathema to a governing class that sees only itself as being entitled to safety, security and quality of life. Paid for, of course, by someone else. And what is particularly distressing, seems to get pleasure and satisfaction out of kicking the lower orders down and then kicking them when they are down.
Hence the Coalition's overt push now to return the nation to privately rented housing for the majority.