“We must recognise that for too long in our country, under Governments of both colours, we simply have not given enough attention to social housing. It should not take a disaster of this kind for us to remember that there are people in Britain today living lives that are so far removed from those that many here in Westminster enjoy. Just a few miles from the Houses of Parliament and in the heart of our great city—people live a fundamentally different life, do not feel the state works for them and are therefore mistrustful of it. So, long after the TV cameras have gone and the world has moved on, let the legacy of this awful tragedy be that we resolve never to forget these people and instead to gear our policies and our thinking towards making their lives better and bringing them into the political process.”
Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons following the Grenfell Tower Fire (Hansard, 22 Jun 2017 column 166)
It is disappointing that, coming up to the two-year anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy, there has not been any significant progress in achieving the Prime Minister’s aim to bring the four million social housing tenants into the political process.
We have asked Inside Housing to publish this letter because we as tenants consider that our input into the political process is sufficiently important to merit sector wide debate.
We are writing to you again following our letter to you on 15th January which unfortunately you have been unable to respond to, to invite you or your officers to a sectoral discussion to be hosted by Inside Housing on how best to develop national tenant representation.
We welcomed that your Government agreed to our request to include a question about national tenant representation in the Social Housing Green Paper.
We are sure that you will be delighted that in response to the Government’s question so many stakeholders in the sector have responded so positively that national tenant representation is needed.
We can confirm that this level of positive support for our proposals for national tenant representation is what we are experiencing also. As you know, a huge 93% of respondents to the survey we carried out (mostly from social housing tenants) said that there is a need for national tenant representation.
Disappointingly, this was matched by a similarly huge 87% of respondents who considered that tenant voices are not currently heard in Government policy discussions.
We are also pleased that all the major sectoral bodies support tenants’ views that there should be national tenant representation, including Inside Housing, the National Housing Federation, the Association of Retained Council Housing, the National Federation of ALMOs, Shelter and Dame Judith Hackitt in her proposals about how to respond to the issues brought up by the Grenfell fire tragedy.
A Voice for Tenants Steering Group was formed in the wake of Grenfell, bringing together the national bodies that act on behalf of tenants alongside other tenants active nationally.
Whilst our group consisted of the most nationally representative group of tenants at that time, we never purported to be representative of tenants. We have always made the case that it is not possible for any tenant group to speak on behalf of four million social housing tenants or achieve the Prime Minister’s aim to bring them into the political process without the means to have a two-way dialogue with them.
We approached then Housing Minister Alok Sharma MP offering to work with him constructively and coherently to start the process of building engagement with tenants. He responded positively to our approach and asked us both to draw up proposals for how dialogue with tenants could take place and to assist him in holding a set of Ministerial events for him to meet with tenants.
At that time, DCLG officers had no experience of working with tenants. It was as a result of our knowledge and experience and the tireless input of many of our volunteers that it was possible to hold a successful series of Ministerial events.
The Minister and DCLG officers were surprised by the quality of tenant debate at those events, and they were a fantastic start to tenants and the Government working in partnership together.
The Ministry broadly welcomed the proposals we had made to them at their request. Given the many different tenant viewpoints on how national tenant representation should be established, we have always proposed that A Voice for Tenants should be established through an extensive tenant led national consultation with tenants.
We saw this as a start to what would need to be a long term means of building tenant involvement in the political process, which would need to include engagement with tenants in many different ways.
The Ministry have asked us on many occasions to amend our proposals – which we have done – and the Ministry asked us to set out how national consultation should take place in our submission to the Social Housing Green Paper – which we also did.
We are disappointed that, despite the overwhelming support for the principles in our proposals, there has been next to no dialogue between Government and our group since the end of 2018.
Time has moved on since we made our initial proposals to Government in July 2017. More tenant groups are emerging, most of them with stronger views than ours that Government should have taken action much sooner to redress power imbalances between tenants and landlords.
We recognise that different proposals than ours may be appropriate now, and that we on the A Voice for Tenants Steering Group may not be the right people to take forward the national tenant representation debate on behalf of tenants. It is also the case that our group – which has had no financial resources – is now finding it hard to progress any further.
Our last meeting had six people present in person, with a further nine people who could not afford train fares to attend on the phone.
Perhaps we were naïve, but we never anticipated that it would take nearly two years for any progress to be made and that there would still be no resources to enable even our small group of tenants to debate issues.
The fundamental question remains regarding how the Government and the sector are going to ensure that four million social housing tenants are going to be brought into the political process. If our proposals to Government are not what is needed, then what is the Government going to do to achieve the Prime Minister’s aim? How can the housing sector assist in this aim?
We invite Government and the sector to take part in a sectoral debate on this issue to be hosted by Inside Housing.
These are important issues within the fabric of our society. It is a fundamental democratic deficit that the views of the eight million people living in the four million social housing tenanted homes are being ignored.
Most social housing tenants feel totally disregarded and disrespected by politicians and their landlords alike. Unless we start to take steps to address their alienation and powerlessness, there will be long-term negative consequences for society as a result of it.
Chair – A Voice for Tenants Steering Group