Giving hope

Housing and philanthropy seemed to go together naturally in the 19th century. Can they do it again in the 21st?

An interesting report out today from the Smith Institute, New Philanthropy Institute and Peabody Trust sets out to answer that question and in the process asks some more of its own about what the relationship should be between the state, housing providers and the private sector.

Peabody is of course one of the prime examples of Victorian philanthropy. American banker George Peabody donated a total of £500,000 (the equivalent of £40 million now) to ‘ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy’ in London. Thanks to careful management of its money, requiring a return of 3 per cent on its capital, it developed into an organisation with 20,000 properties housing 55,000 people.

Yet, as I blogged in celebration of Peabody’s 150th anniversary last year, that begs the question of why there are no equivalents today. Inequality is back to levels last seen in the 1920s and the super-rich grow ever more super and richer. So why is there no contemporary equivalent of Peabody or William Sutton or Octavia Hill? Why is there no Richard Branson Trust or Fred Goodwin Model Dwellings Society? The last major housing development funded by a philanthropist was Silver Edge, a model village in Essex founded by window magnate Francis Crittall – and that was in 1925.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Whose benefit?

You know the formula by now: take a provocative premise, add three claimants selected to provoke different reactions, stir in the reaction on twitter, then stand back and watch the viewing figures mount up.

As with How to Get a Council House, Benefits Britain 1949 suffers from all the faults that are seemingly hard-wired into Channel 4 reality shows. The opening episodes showed them both at their worst (see me on HTGACH and Frances Ryan on BB49) but with time they evolved into something that went beyond the format and the premise.

I’ve just caught up with the second episode of Benefits Britain 1949 and if you haven’t seen it I recommend a viewing in conjunction with the third and final episode of How to Get a Council House because they neatly bookend the whole debate about social housing and its place in the welfare state.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


The welfare state reaches retirement age

This Friday marks the 65th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in British history. With some justification, it has been called ‘our second Finest Hour’.

But as the welfare state and the National Health Service reach retirement age are both of them being pensioned off by a government intent on austerity and endless rounds of welfare and public sector ‘reform’?

Monday, July 5, 1948 was known as The Appointed Day. It marked not just the start of the NHS but also full implementation of the Beveridge plan for social security. A comprehensive system of national insurance now complemented earlier measures including family allowances and industrial injuries compensation.

NHS-Launch-Leaflet

The NHS launch leaflet, July 1948

Personal testimonies of the time range from the touching to the gruesome and the comical to the romantic. One young GP remembered going to see a family where he’d left medicine for a sick child. As he was leaving he heard coughing and asked the mother if she wanted him to go up. ‘I’m sorry, doctor, we can’t afford it,’ she said, explaining that it was another child who was ill. ‘Today, July 5th, it’ll cost you nothing, I was able to tell her,’ he said. ‘And I’ve never forgotten it.’

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Never knowingly undernudged

So-called ‘John Lewis-style mutuals’ are (depending on your point of view) the future of the public sector or a euphemism for privatisation. However, the expression may have some unexpected implications for the government.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude launched a competition today to find a commercial partner for the government’s Behavioural Insights Team – or Nudge Unit. He described the move as ‘employee-led’ as the 12 Nudge staff have led the process and will continue to run the organisation. Reports suggest that private companies will be invited to bid for a stake of up to 50 per cent in the new business in return for the government guaranteeing long-term contracts. The staff and the government would also own stakes.

nudge

The Nudge Unit is claimed to have already saved the government millions of pounds although it not quite clear how. It hit the headlines for different reasons today when it was revealed to be behind bogus psychometric tests for jobseekers. It is best known to me as the unit that the DCLG failed to consult when it introduced the New Homes Bonus in a bid to change the behaviour of local authorities and I wonder what, if anything, it had to say about the behavioural impacts of welfare reform that the DWP found impossible to quantity.

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10 things you may not know about the Beveridge report

This Saturday sees the 70th anniversary of the publication of the iconic report credited with the creation of the welfare state.

Sir William Beveridge published his report within weeks of the victory at El Alamein that seemed to mark a turning point in the Second World War. His ideas, and the language in which he expressed them, seemed to many people to symbolise what they were fighting for: a better world after the war and no return to the miseries of the 1930s.

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Revealing the real Rachman?

It’s almost 50 years since Peter Rachman died and we still use Rachmanism as a shorthand term for everything that is bad about bad landlords. But is what we think we know wrong?

That is the premise of a fascinating documentary on BBC Radio 4 this week that set out to find The Real Rachman – the Lord of the Slums (listen again on iplayer here). The legend it investigated was of the evil vice racketeer who owned slum properties in Notting Hill packed full of tenants with working girls ‘bending the basement’ below them. In 1963 the People exposed an ‘empire based on vice and drugs, violence and blackmail, extortion and slum landlordism the like of which this country has never seen and let us hope never will again’. The same year Panorama exposed a ‘big time 20th century racketeer’ who sent men round with dogs to evict his tenants.

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RIP Neil Armstrong

I was nine years old when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon and uttered the immortal words that he didn’t quite get right.

At the time the landing seemed most memorable because we got the day off school to watch it. In retrospect, of course, it was almost the end of term anyway so the teachers were probably glad to pack us all off into a room to watch TV.

Re-watching it now the main thing that strikes me is how blurry and black and white it looks but it was a completely different story then. It’s important to remember that hardly anyone had a colour TV and live TV of any kind was pretty primitive, so it did not seem that way at the time. The whole thing with the beeps on the soundtrack etched its way so far into the national consciousness that we would be doing them on the school playground for months afterwards.

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Victorian values

Octavia Hill retains an extraordinary ability to inspire and infuriate. The ideas of this pioneer of housing management, social work and environmental protection almost seem more influential (and more contradictory) now than they did when she died 100 years ago this week.

She was a high-achieving woman in a society dominated by men but she was not by an stretch of the imagination a feminist. Her housing managers were women because, ‘ladies must do it, for it is detailed work; ladies must do it, for it is household work; it needs, moreover, persistent patience, gentleness, hope’. Yet she was opposed to women’s suffrage on the grounds that, as Kathryn Hughes puts it, ‘women were unsuited to thinking about the big issues of finance and foreign policy’.

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The Cameron connection

After The Secret History of Our Streets, I wonder if David Cameron will be quite so keen to namecheck Sir Patrick Abercrombie in future.

As I blogged for Inside Housing earlier today, last night’s brilliant first episode of the series exposed the role of post-war planners in the demolition of the homes around Deptford High Street. Most prominent of all was Abercrombie, the monocle-wearing creator of the County of London Plan who said in a wartime film about the ‘dirty, dismal houses’ of the south London area: ‘You see the trouble is that London grew up without any plan or order. That’s why there are all these bad things and ugly things that we hope to do away with if this plan of ours is carried out.’

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Secret history

Have we really learned our lessons from our post-war housing mistakes or are we still making some of the same ones?

That was the question running through my mind after watching the brilliant and sometimes heart-rending first episode of The Secret History of Our Streets last night. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you really should make time to catch it on iPlayer if you missed it.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


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