“I often say I owe everything to social housing..”

Tom Murtha

Tom Murtha

Chair of HACT, Plus Dane Group board member and Emmaus Coventry Trustee

I often say that I owe everything to social housing. I discovered recently that this is truer than I had realised.

I have been reading my Mam’s diaries and in them discovered another date among the birthdays of my brother and sisters. It belonged to my older brother who I knew had died at birth in 1947. He had been born in a breeched position and those in attendance could not save him. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Leicester the location of which was only known to my Dad. I was born 5 years later in 1952 and even though I was breeched I survived. Maybe I was just lucky but I believe that it had something to do with the place of my birth and the medical attention my Mam received.

Tom at 5 months having survived the trauma of his birth

Tom at 5 months having survived the trauma of his birth

I was born in the bedroom of a new council house on New Parks Estate in Leicester unlike my brother who was born in a shared terrace slum. I also benefited from the support of a proper midwife and doctor provided free by the newly established NHS. My parents could not afford such help in 1947. Part of the reason for my survival were two of the great social initiatives created by Anuerin Bevan who had responsibility for health and housing in the post war Labour Government. These initiatives were continued by the Conservative Government in the 1950s. I am a product of an era where there was cross party support for investment in the welfare state. It provided my home, my health, my education, and if things went wrong a safety net. In those days politicians of all parties realised that there were many social and financial benefits from investing in these provisions.

Toms Mam and Dad on their 25th wedding anniversary just after they were housed as homeless by Leicester City Council

Toms Mam and Dad on their 25th wedding anniversary just after they were housed as homeless by Leicester City Council

Today’s politicians seem to have forgotten this and all of these areas are threatened in a new age of austerity. The immediate casualties of this are those in care, those in receipt of social security and those living in any form of social housing. And there is more to come. After 2015 there are more plans to continue to shrink the state. This will lead to further attacks upon the welfare state, the public sector, local authorities and the NHS.
The government call this a moral crusade. But I know of no “morals” that involves demonising those living on benefits, poor people, people with disabilities and those living in social housing. This so called crusade began by stigmatising these groups and then penalising them with cuts. Why is it that poor people are paying the highest price for the recession when those that caused it benefit? I often think that is only when the welfare state has gone completely will peoples realise why it was originally established.

Tom and his wife Vivsha on the day before they were married

Tom and his wife Vivsha on the day before they were married

I believe that social housing is under attack as part of this policy and that the people who live in social housing are at risk. When everything else that supports people and communities is taken away social housing is often the only thing left to provide an anchor. Our ability to do this is being eroded. Funding for real social housing is almost non-existent. The right to buy and sale of social housing assets is reducing the supply of social housing even further. Those homes that are left will slowly be converted to so called affordable rents which is political newspeak for rents that are too high for people to afford. Recent research has shown that those who used to be housed in social housing are being excluded for financial reasons. All of this shows that we are witnessing the slow death of social housing and until recently we were doing nothing about it.

I am pleased to say that this is no longer the case. People and organisations are coming together to champion social housing and to make the case for Government investment in it. People are arguing that it does not have to be like this and that there is another way. If we are to build the number of houses that are required in the UK we must bring back state investment in social housing. What we did it in the 1950s we can do it again.
There seems to be only one economic doctrine today that says state investment is wrong. This of course is not true and there are other doctrines which champion it. Even if you can’t change doctrines you can change priorities. The current approach is based upon political priorities not economic ones. If we change priorities then state investment in housing could begin again. To put it simply I would rather have investment in social housing that HS2. The case is simple. By providing homes you provide hope, you create jobs, and you save money in revenue costs by providing capital investment. We all know that you can’t build subsidised housing without a subsidy. What we forget is that subsidy is just another word for investment. This is an investment that makes huge returns for today and tomorrow.

My family benefitted from a political consensus in the 1940s and 1950s which understood the value of state investment in social housing. Having survived my traumatic birth I grew up in a number of council houses and once when we had been homeless for 9 months in 1964/65 the council rescued us. I was married from a council house and eventually my parents died in a council bungalow in Leicester. When I cleared their belongings with my one remaining brother, who still lives in social housing, I found a box that contained my Mam’s diaries. I could not bring myself to read them at the time as it was too painful. They were left in the box for 11 years until I was able to read them. It is through them that I now know of my older brother’s fate. I also know how my Mam and Dad felt when they moved into their first council house as a young couple full of hope in 1950 and how much they enjoyed their final years in the security of their last council bungalow. First and foremost it was their home and even though I have been married for 40 years and have lived in a number of places I still regard it as my home.

Toms Mum and Dad in their last council bungalow

Toms Mum and Dad in their last council bungalow

That is why I am willing to fight to defend social housing and to argue the case for investment in it. For me it was a matter of life and death and it still is for many more.


5 thoughts on ““I often say I owe everything to social housing..”

  1. William Shortall says:

    A great personal story Tom, and one that expresses just how valuable a resource social housing is for people and the benefits it brings to economy of the UK as a whole, saves money for the tax payer unlike the private rented sector which costs the tax payer more compared to social housing.



  2. Julie Fadden says:

    Wonderful blog that clearly lays out the case for social housing – we all should leave this world better than when we found it and fight to keep the things that help to sustain and support the most vulnerable in our community – well done Tom!!!

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