Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Government's Homelessness Review

Tongue Tied

The response to the Homelessness Review has been muted by the offer of carrots

Squall 6, Spring 1994, pp. 36-37.

The Government’s Green Paper Homelessness Review is undoubtedly the worse thing to hit homelessness for many years. But in order to subdue any opposition from housing charities, the chess players in the Tory policy department have come up with a corking middle-game plan.

At the same time as proposing the removal of the right of permanent housing for priority need homeless people, the Government have also announced its intention to establish a “comprehensive network of housing advice centres”. The cleverness of this move is twofold.

Firstly, it provides something positive to be seized on; something to be reported by the media other than the dire consequences of the homelessness review itself.

Secondly, because this “comprehensive housing network” is to be given to just one single housing agency, it has silenced potentially severe housing charity opposition by inducing a situation where the charities have been set in competition for the ‘new network’ contract.

Consequently the SHAC press release written by Bob Widdowson, the Director, (20/2/94) drew back from condemning the Green Paper outright. Instead, their most definite statement was that they “welcomed the proposal to establish a ‘comprehensive network of housing advice centres’ to help prevent homelessness.”

An even more obvious example of their intentions was demonstrated at the end of the press release. “SHAC is Britain’s leading independent housing advice and information charity,” it stated.

Although it is undoubtedly a quality housing organisation, SHAC operates only in London, making its claim to be the “leading” agency in this country, a might extravagant.

SHELTER have also been caught compliant in quest of the carrot. Their lame response to the Green Paper was also announced via a press release.

“Housing organisations today sent a letter to environment secretary John Gummer, welcoming a review of homelessness legislation as an opportunity to ensure that social housing is allocated on a fair and objective basis. We welcome your intention to consult us in the near future on homelessness and access to social housing. We see the consultation as an excellent chance to examine whether the supply of decent housing is adequate to house the homeless and others in housing need.”

The furore over SHELTER’s latent position blew up after Sir George Young, Minister of Housing, claimed that SHELTER supported the Green Paper. In the past Sheila MacKechnie, Director of SHELTER, has been at great pains to paint Sir George as a “fair and reasonable” man. However, the continuing lack of effective housing policy and Sir George’s damning words on single mothers (see ‘News of the Sqews’, page 9), have shown that her tongue is on the wrong bottom.

This was most undeniably demonstrated when Sir George Young translated SHELTER’S ‘nice’ response as being in support of the Government’s measures.

In the letters pages of Housing Association Weekly (21/1/94), MacKechnie attempted to defend SHELTER’s position by suggesting that “the difference between our letter and John Battle’s (Shadow Minister of Housing) call for a halt to the review of homelessness legislation is more apparent than real.”

Sheila MacKechnie of course has a well known awareness of the power of media in politics and cannot claim to be innocent of actively supporting such a disparity between the apparent and the real. As a consequence, she is hardly in a position to complain, as she did to Housing Association Weekly, about the consequences of such a two-faced stance.

It certainly seems to be the case that funded organisations are, at present, in a state of compromised silence with a carrot dangling in front of them. What is not fully realised, is that the Government is an extremely effective chess player, controlling the carrots that persuade compliance from organisations that ought to be voicing more opposition to the underhand political manoeuvres so negative to their original brief.