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Labour perpetuates cycle of despair

A key plank in the government’s housing policy has been its encouragement of the development of mixed communities whereby people from all levels of society live side by side. But in practice this may be backfiring in many areas and merely helping to perpetuate the cycle of deprivation the policy seeks to address.

Some years ago I visited a deprived housing estate in the north of England. Two things stood out as a result of my visit. The first was the feeling of despair and futility of most people living on the estate. The major employer in the area had closed down some 15 years previously and most of the people living on the estate had not worked since.

Seeing little chance of new employers coming into the area, most had resigned themselves to spending the rest of their lives on the dole.

The second and perhaps more surprising impression I got was of the sheer size of the estate. It was huge and as a consequence a whole infrastructure had developed on it. Shops, schools and medical facilities were all available and it was clear from talking to the residents that for many of them, a trip off the estate was a rare event.

Against such a backdrop it was easy to see how the feeling of despair had developed and to appreciate how difficult it would be to break the cycle and introduce a more positive feeling.

The government’s policy of requiring developers to include a proportion of social and affordable housing in new developments was designed to ensure that such accommodation was available away from ‘sink’ estates in more desirable areas.

The idea behind this was that it would allow less well off people to live in areas they would otherwise be unable to afford. This would allow them to break out of this circle of despondency that often characterises deprived areas.

This policy is now being realised and most new developments have an element of social or affordable housing attached to them.

But the policy is being implemented on a national basis with little regard for the area each development is being built in.

So even in areas where there is a high proportion of social housing, developers find they are still required to ensure that 50% or more of their development is for social housing. This flies in the face of the intention of the policy.

Nobody doubts the need for more social housing but if the government is seeking to promote mixed communities, surely it should seek to encourage open market home buyers into less desirable area and concentrate social housing in more affluent areas. If it doesn’t do this it will merely be perpetuating the cycle of despair.

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