The appalling and horrific events that have unfolded at Grenfell is a stark reminder of the perils of austerity and the failure to give consumers a voice. Indeed, as some of the events leading to Grenfell have unfolded we have learnt how there are plenty of tenants voicing disquiet with the safety and standards of their housing. Unfortunately, they fell on the deaf ears of authorities pre-occupied with economic regulation, increased efficiency and new developments of “non-affordable” housing.
Well governed and financially viable landlords are a vital component to the undoubted need to solve the shortage of affordable housing. Essential, but not enough.
It is exactly 10 years since the publication of the Cave Review of Social Housing Regulation. In the aftermath of Grenfell, its title is a harrowing reminder of what can happen when the recommendations of this seminal piece are not heeded – “Every tenant matters”. Over this period we have witnessed the emergence of an increasingly polarised and divided society. We have increasing consensus that the housing market is broken. The Cave Review made the case that tenants living in social housing require effective regulation so that they can be protected. As the focus has shifted more and more to economics, consumer standards have been sidelined and once again it is the most vulnerable that have paid the price most dearly.
It is useful to reflect on the three identified objectives of regulation identified in the Cave Review:
- to ensure continued provision of high quality social housing
- to empower and protect tenants
- to expand the availability of choice of provider at all levels in the provision of social housing
With existing systems, can we be sure that we have consistently high quality housing in the sector? Are tenants empowered? We know already that they are not protected, and the daily stories of the victims of Grenfell highlight the lack of choice available for the millions of people living in the “regulated” housing sector.
As the merry-go-round of social housing regulation is set for another shake-up with the split of the Homes and Communities Agency and the establishment of a separate Social Housing Regulator, TAROE Trust calls upon the Government to sit up and take note of the recommendations now made a decade ago:
- tenants need to be given a properly funded tenant voice to represent their interests in national debates
- tenants need extra protection, particularly the most vulnerable
- tenants need real power to influence the quality of services and hold landlords to account
These are not revolutionary demands. It is not a call to create a cottage industry. They are humble requests to value the dignity of every person… including tenants. The recent history of social housing is filled with missed opportunities. Failure to implement the recommendations of the Cave Review is one such example. We cannot and must not allow the horrors of Grenfell to happen again. George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. It was contained in Volume 1 – Reason in Common Sense. The need for a strong tenant voice is one example of basic common sense.