Much reaction to Wednesday’s HuffPost UK investigation into Kensington and Chelsea council, which revealed the council had more money to invest in property renovation at places such as Grenfell Tower than previously thought, focused on what it shows us about the state of UK housing. What is more interesting to me is that we have come to accept housing in this country is a problem to be ‘fixed’ in the first place. It reminds us that a lack of housing, and the failure of successive governments to provide its citizens’ most basic of needs, is still somehow not a matter of shame for the world’s fifth richest country.
In 21st Century Britain, we have accepted housing is no longer a human right, but a commodity. For something to be a commodity, a ‘market’ has to exist for it, and creating this market has been the focus of housing policy in the UK for at least the last forty years. Instead of building homes to meet the needs of an increasing population, we have instead spent this time building a market for homes.
This market is designed to benefit those already on the property ladder, through restrictions on supply, weak regulation of house builders and even weaker regulation of landlords. In reality, this means there isn’t actually a market in housing – for there to be a market, there would have to be something of a level playing field. Instead we have an oligopoly – thetop 100 companies in the sectorhave a stranglehold on the market, and we’re buildingfewer housesnowthan we did in the 1960s.
In this climate, it is easy to see how speculating on property has become a lucrative market – and goes a long way to explain why Kensington and Chelsea managed to make £130million in just three years by playing property developer with taxpayers’ money.
Grenfell was a wholly avoidable tragedy and the lack of meaningful reformmeans another Grenfell could still happen at any time. But this threat is just one small part of a much larger problem; the risks posed by a lack of accountability threaten democracy itself. Just like Grenfell we have been forewarned, but sadly it seems that just like Grenfell, these warnings will be ignored an overconfident, unaccountable elite who have an agenda to push. This investigation shows Kensington and Chelsea were more interested in building a property portfolio than in building safe homes – and its response to the investigation shows it is still unwilling to admit acting in the wrong, simply because what it did was within the rules. The council may have a cash surplus, but it is morally bankrupt.
While it may have built a cash reserve that ensured its financial health, who knows if we have seen the worst of things yet. We are told that Kensington and Chelsea has turned over a new leaf, that it is not the same council it was before the Grenfell tragedy. So far there’s little evidence to this. Pre-Grenfell, RBKC was a council that feared no consequences and thus did little to hide its contempt for residents and their housing. What’s changed?
Source: By Moyra Samuels