Opinion: Why, as a tenant, I’m reluctantly voting remain

For a lot of reasons, the decision on how to vote in the EU Referendum should be simple for Rob Gershon. As a full-time carer for his wife, the various benefits that relate specifically to disabled people and carers – around issues of equality legislation, protection and fair treatment – should be the end of the argument. Here, Rob wonders aloud why it isn’t:

The dull and pragmatic stuff to do with addressing the housing crisis should make the EU Referendum an easy contest. House builders and housing associations have, belatedly and a little quietly, come out in favour of remaining, though various managers at my local council, in what might have been an off-the-record comment, suggested neither In nor Out would make much difference to them, although this probably does not take account of what the environment would be like in terms of the changing ability of housebuilders and housing associations to meet local needs.

It’s not that easy, though. Far from being ambivalent about the referendum, I find it has been difficult to choose one vote or the other. There’s a strong case that vast majority of economists, scientists, unions and businesses have all expressed an opinion on remain being the most sensible option.

The problem I have with voting to remain is that the people predominantly proposing it have made an almighty mess of the things that the ‘poorest’ and ‘most vulnerable’ people rely on. David Cameron and George Osborne, in conjunction with Iain Duncan Smith and his many think-tanks, have created a particularly corrosive atmosphere around council house tenants, and carers and disabled people. They pay scant lip-service to the work of volunteers, communities and carers, but repeatedly make policy that damages all three.

Some of the problematic policy is focussed on welfare ‘reform’, and some of it is damaging through policies to do with housing provision and affordability. When it came down to it, pro-remainers like the PM, chancellor and housing minister have chosen to ignore the people in most housing need, and favour relatively well-off people with generous housing subsidies for myopic starter home and shared ownership schemes.

Housing associations themselves have willingly signed up to this new political direction. Although there are still associations willing to champion the core purpose of providing homes for people who increasingly can’t afford them, there seem just as many shrugging about how expensive homes are, then voluntarily facilitating policies which make things worse. In many cases policy has still not been finalised, as the vast majority of the Housing and Planning Act is yet to be thrashed out in secondary legislation. What’s clear in the first weeks since the Act became law is that the DCLG are willing to stop developments where there is ‘too much affordable housing’ or where there is powerful NIMBYism at work.

Unfortunately, in much the same way as a mooted reduction in house prices if we Brexit was sold as a negative by the chancellor, the idea of hitting back at the NHF’s voluntary Right to Buy, and its damaging implications for the provision of genuinely affordable housing, is a powerful reason to vote to leave.

It is undeniably the equivalent of cutting off a nose to spite a face, but when the current direction of housing policy is so damaging to people who need the most help with finding homes, the temptation to throw a spanner in the works is powerful.

One of the few things that can temper my natural distaste about voting for the same thing that David Cameron wants comes down to the likely policies of his opponents in the EU Referendum. Iain Duncan Smith, and before him Chris Grayling, have been involved in some of the best-intentioned, but worst-designed and implemented policies around ‘social justice’ that have ever existed. While these policies have been supported, and even championed, by most of the rich people who now urge us to remain in the EU, there is little doubt in my mind that further regressive policy will emerge if we turn away from the support structures within the EU that seek to combat poverty.

As part of my recent travels and interactions around resident involvement, I had a conversation with a council tenant who was “starting to regret having voted Conservative at the last election” as the reality of their housing policies is starting to bite. It’s clear to him now that the government is intent on dismantling social housing forever, and he felt a little bit hoodwinked by the election rhetoric around aspiration and housing.

He then went on to tell me that he hates the EU, and he’s definitely voting to leave because, as he sees it, it’s the fault of the EU that we didn’t dredge rivers, and therefore have had to pay so much for the damage of the recent spate of floods. No amount of logic on my part about the further implications for social housing, and the people who live in it, if we leave the EU, made any difference to his rather angry stance.

So, I have to vote to remain, if only to cancel out his vote. I’m not particularly happy about it, and beyond the referendum there is going to have to be continuing grown-up discussion about just how awful the remainers housing policy is, but giving befuddled George Osborne another excuse to cut even more support for poor people, disabled people, carers and volunteers does not seem in any way a good idea.

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