Tamsin Stirling is an experienced housing researcher with 25 years in housing practice, policy and research. She has worked within and with Welsh Government, local authorities, housing associations and third sector organisations. She was editor of Welsh Housing Quarterly (www.whq.org.uk) for more than 15 years and specialist policy adviser on housing, regeneration and planning issues to Welsh Government Ministers Huw Lewis AM and Carl Sargeant AM between April 2012 and April 2014.
Tamsin’s specialties are research, evaluation, policy analysis, strategy development and information dissemination. Her areas of interest include housing, social policy, governance, tackling poverty and inequality, devolution and policy divergence.
I didn’t grow up in a council house – for most of my young life, we lived in tied accommodation linked with my Dad’s job. He was, to use the terminology of the time, a ‘special schools’ teacher, working some evenings and weekends, as well as in the classroom, with accommodation provided by his employer. By the age of 12, I had had six addresses – no particular hardship, but not great either.
Work-wise, my first encounter with things housing was as a Community Service Volunteer in a bail hostel in West London. There were two main reasons for people being in the hostel – some had committed pretty serious offences and the court wanted to see them somewhere with a curfew, various other rules and an element of supervision. But for others, it was simply a lack of a settled home that meant weeks, or maybe months, in the hostel. I remember one young man who had been sleeping rough – he had stolen some bread and milk from a shop doorstep and was remanded to the hostel as ‘NFA’.
Skip forward a few years and I got my first job in housing as a housing officer for a housing association in south Wales. 25 years later, I still work in housing – thoroughly hooked!!
For me, the case for government investment in social housing comes down to a few basics:
• housing is a fundamental human right – Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living
• some people cannot meet their housing needs within the market – this may be particularly so given the way housing markets are working in many parts of the UK
• emotionally, we all know how important a safe, secure home is
• economically, the case for capital investment in social housing with rents affordable to people on low incomes is sound, particularly when compared to pouring in revenue subsidies to support ever higher rents which are not necessarily invested back into the homes or related services (see LSE and IPPR for example). Investing in a collectively owned asset certainly makes sense to me
Having just worked within Welsh Government for two years, I am proud that our national politicians remain committed to investing in social housing – linking this both to tackling poverty and to the jobs and growth agenda. However, our politicians, and in particular, our Minister, Lesley Griffiths, along with all of us involved in housing,have a significant challenge to find ways of building more social housing within what it a very hostile emotional and political environment at a UK level, as well as a context of decreasing budgets.
We live in an affluent country in the 21st century – it should not be beyond our collective capabilities to house our people at least adequately. Those of us who feel angry that we are not doing this can direct this anger positively – to counter stigma, unapologetically keep making the case for social housing and work with others to find ways to build more. Council Home Chat is a great example of taking such action, an initiative being driven by young Welsh housing professionals.