The power to build

All the Labour candidates for Mayor of London are committed to increasing the number of homes that are built in the capital. Tessa Jowell, amongst others, has called for the creation of a new agency ‘Homes for London’ to “take the lead, building thousands of homes that Londoners can afford on the vast swathes of land that the Mayor owns”

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Tessa has a number of ideas for how this agency would London get building. These include:

  • Building directly on land the mayor owns
  • Training more Londoners in construction skills and,
  • Using planning powers to require affordable home ownership is part of new developments

These ideas will be familiar to many, partly because various voices have been advocating them for a number of years. But if these ideas are so good, why haven’t they been implemented?

Perhaps one of the reasons is that we haven’t had the right leader. Certainly a number of Tessa Jowell’s backers have made great play of her ability to get things done. For example, the NewStatesman, in their endorsement of her, refer to her track record moving both Sure Start and the Olympics from the drawing board into reality.

However, there is more to getting houses built than a strong and experienced Mayor (although that would certainly be a start). Alinsky’s famous quote springs to mind:

the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions

If the next Mayor is going to oversee a dramatic increase in the rate of housebuilding in London, they will need more than effective solutions. They will need to design an approach and strategy that brings together a coalition powerful enough to overcoming the obstacles that have so far prevented these much needed homes from being built.

Fortunately, next week’s blog post will outline exactly what such a strategy might look like. Watch this space.

Law and order responses require more than law and order

Successfully prosecuting people for committing domestic abuse requires more than a law and order style response.

I’ve written before about some other ways of reducing domestic abuse that do not rely on the police and judicial system.

However, the police and the courts need to look to these approaches if they are to successfully prosecute people who have perpetrated domestic abuse.

Context

In recent years there has been a conscious and successful drive to prosecute more people (mostly men) for committing domestic abuse. Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 19.30.13

While the total number of successful convictions has risen, so has the number of unsuccessful convictions.

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The main reason for unsuccessful prosecutions is that either the victim (usually a woman) does not attend or they retract their allegations.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 19.30.35

Implications

The reasons for this so-called ‘attrition’ are many and varied. However, one reason that comes out time and again is that victims feel disempowered and disorientated by the judicial system.

Bringing a prosecution against a partner or an ex-partner is a stressful thing to go through and the courts often don’t make this any easier.

The charity Safe Lives have done fantastic work promoting the employment of trained Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), who can advise victims and people at risk of domestic abuse, on how to stay safe.

Partly as a result of Safer Lives’ work, there is now a ‘Pan London Domestic Violence Service’ with IDVAs employed in every borough of London. In addition, there are now workers who will support victims through the court process.

The future

However, in many ways this is a classic and flawed way to solve the problem. If a system  is designed so that you need additional workers to support people through it, then there is probably something wrong with the design of the system. The same can be said of the need to employ people to advice patients on how to navigate the health and social care systems.

Too often public services are not designed with the interests of patients or victims primarily in mind. This means additional public money and private effort is spent trying to get the system to work.

As I said initially, I think eliminating domestic abuse would require more than a law and order approach. However, even to get the law and order aspect working requires resources and initiatives outside of and in addition to the police and courts.

Community Organising

What do Ed Miliband’s Labour party and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have in common?

Part of their dramatic failures was down to the limitations of embracing community organising as a strategy for winning elections and as a model for exercising power.

Much has been said about what organisational lessons Labour should learn from the 2015 defeat. For example

  • Mike Kane argued that Stella Creasy’s Sharkstoppers campaign should be a template.
  • Stella herself said that voter ID should be complemented with community organising which “has brought energy and innovation to our campaigning”. Wes Steering has said that “We need to open up our party to wider involvement to build the movement we need to win elections and change our country.”
  • Rafael Behr said that “the standard model treats members as a resource to serve the party when it should be the other way around: party as a service to its members and their neighbours.”
  • Paul Cotterill said that “All politics is local, even at constituency scale.  Just do stuff.  Throw away the Labour stickers.  Stick the Voter ID sheets in the shredder.  Come election time, if people know what you’ve been up to, they’ll vote for you.  If not, they won’t.”

There is something in all of these positions but, to varying degrees, all of them are limited by the idea that community organising offers either a method for winning elections or a credible platform for government. It does not.

You could fit what I know about Egyptian politics into a tweet. However, I was very impressed by Hazem Kandil’s argument that the Muslim Brotherhood had won over many with their ability to run community services but that operating these services did nothing to prepare them to reform a corrupt and reactionary Egyptian bureaucracy.

The same could be said of Ed Miliband’s Labour party. The skills needed to be an effective community organiser have very little to do with the traits people look for in politicians. For example, effective organisers are not visible, concentrate on developing local leaders and constantly struggle for the victory of their side. As Saul Alinsky put it

“Action comes from keeping the heat on. No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.”

Credible politicians have very few of these traits. They are visible, they attach themselves to successful campaigns and they position themselves as unifiers who can bring factions together for the greater good.

the skills needed to effectively organise at a community level have little or anything to do with the skills needed to govern effectively.

Similarly, the skills needed to effectively organise at a community level have little or anything to do with the skills needed to govern effectively. Running a campaign to get companies in an area to pay the living wage requires a completely different approach than designing and implementing an economic policy that will bring about full employment.

There is lots that Labour could learn from community organising, not in terms of a programme for government or a blueprint for campaign, but around public service reform. Teachers, doctors and police would all benefit by developing their listening skills, their ability to bring people together and to mobilising local civic institutions. This was an area on which Ed Miliband was curious silent.

Whoever is chosen as the next leader of the Labour party should incorporate the ideas of community organising into the area of public service reform rather than modernising the party or governing the country,

In 2014 1 in 10 charities supporting homeless people in London disappeared

There are fewer and fewer charities supporting homeless people in London and a handful of larger charities are doing the lions share of the work.

Last year alone 1 in 10 charities supporting homeless people in London disappeared. They were almost all swallowed up by larger organisations. According to the London Housing Foundation, there are now 122 charities supporting homeless people in London (down from 133 a year ago).

Of the slightly over 13,000 beds in specialist hostels in London roughly a third are now delivered by just three organisations: St Mungo’s Broadway, Look Ahead Care and Support, and YMCA (West London and South London).

Of the nearly 8,000 people who receive ‘floating support’ in London, over 80% receive that support from either SHP, One Housing or Look Ahead. If you are homeless in London and receiving floating support the chances are that you will be receiving it from someone who works for one of these three organisations.

This is not to say that large charities will deliver a better or worse quality of support to homeless people than smaller organisations. However, there is a risk that as local government budgets are cut further we will see these trends continue. There will be further consolidation within the sector, with fewer and fewer charities supporting homeless people. The larger organisations will dominate provision to an even greater extent.

This could lead to less innovation at exactly the time when the sector will need to be coming up with creative solutions to the innumerable problems faced by the growing number of homeless people in London.

An attack on mixed income communities

The Government has announced an attack on mixed income communities.

The previous coalition government certainly showed no interest in the idea of building or maintaining mixed income communities. This logic is now being pushed further and we are witnessing an all out assault.

The Government will:

  • Force local authorities to sell council housing in richer areas
  • Continue to squeeze the local housing allowance
  • Cap the total amount of benefits a household can receive at £23,000 pa

The combined impact of these policies will be that deprivation will be more concentrated in certain areas and there will be fewer mixed income communities.

This all comes at a time when academics in America are finding more and more evidence that growing up in mixed income communities is good for children in low income households.

Of course, under New Labour there were legitimate criticisms that the rhetoric of ‘mixed communities’ was far more often used to justify destroying social housing than to help poorer people to live in richer areas.

What Lawrence Katz and others are looking at is slightly different. They found that children in poor households who grow up in richer areas do better in a number of ways than children in poor households who grow up in poor areas.

every extra year of childhood spent in a low-poverty environment appears to be beneficial

This is true for different races and genders. Similarly, they found that children who moved to poorer areas, did less well as adults than those who stayed in richer areas.

This is not to say that poverty is inevitable. However, it does appear that it’s better to be poor in a mixed income neighbourhood than to be poor in a poor neighbourhood.

Housing and neighbourhood policy should aim to be part of eradicating poverty. While poverty is still a feature of our country, housing and neighbourhood policy should aim to make sure that as many poor children as possible can grow up in richer areas. The Government is failing to do this. What’s the phrase for the opposite of evidence based policy?

Expensive houses or really expensive houses?

Houses are getting more and more expensive in the UK.

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Expensive houses in London are getting more expensive at a fast rate

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Expensive houses in inner London are getting more expensive at an even faster rate.

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The gap between the cost of the more expensive houses and averagely priced houses is getting bigger and bigger in London, while it is quite stable in other parts of the country.

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Similarly, the gap between how much an average home costs and how much a cheaper home costs is getting bigger and bigger in London, but not in other regions.

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What’s going on here? It’s partly a matter of not enough homes being built. If there were more homes being built in London then house prices would not go up so quickly.

However, is there something else at work here? Larry Summers has argued that the rich countries are experiencing ‘secular stagnation‘. Economies with low interest rates and low growth rates don’t offer investors many places to put there money. It’s perhaps to be expected that in these circumstances rich people from around the world invest their money in property in inner London.

Are there slums in the UK?

Do slums exist in the UK? It’s more complicated than that.

Peter Marcuse’s blog has a ‘critical discussion’ on the nature and role of slums. This lead me to ask whether there are slums in the UK, or, more specifically, whether housing in poorer parts or areas of the UK is of substantially worse quality that in richer parts.

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Many people’s initial reaction to this would be to say of course housing in poorer areas is of a worse quality than in richer areas.

It’s certainly true that, as this chart shows, the poorer the area the more likely it is that housing will have damp.

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However, if we look at a different wider measure of housing quality (the decent homes standard), the picture is more complex.

There are a similar percentage of homes that don’t meet the decent homes standard in the poorest areas of the UK as there are in areas of average wealth.

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The picture gets still more complex if we look at a different way of dividing areas, not by wealth but by whether they are urban or rural.

This chart shows us that homes in rural areas are far more likely to fail the decent homes standard than homes in city centers which are in turn more likely to fail the decent homes standard than homes in suburbs.

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Part of the explanation for this complex picture is that social housing in the UK is often kept to a good standard, while lots of private rented housing is not kept up to standard.

What to conclude from this? Perhaps the idea of area based housing initiatives in the UK is wrong headed, and a strategy to improve the quality of housing in the UK should focus on giving individual homeowners, landlords and tenants, the right support and incentives to bring all homes in the UK up to a decent standard.