Myleene, Mansions, and Messages, oh my!

When a proposed mansion tax receives more media attention than existing housing policies such as the bedroom tax, has the message of #HousingDay failed to carry? How can we improve the reach of the sector?

When a proposed mansion tax receives more media attention than existing housing policies such as the bedroom tax, has the message of #HousingDay failed?

The Story

It’s been two weeks now since #HousingDay on Wednesday 12th November when the housing sector flooded social media to celebrate the work and success of social housing across the country, with #HousingDay trending on Twitter to such an extent that briefly – and rather appropriately – even Kim Kardashian came behind in the fight for social media dominance.

(See what I did there?)

But the party is over, and while I really enjoyed #HousingDay – and participated myself with a blog on appreciative enquiry – in the cold light of hindsight I am recognising an uncomfortable truth.

#HousingDay failed.

Well, not entirely…but as far as getting the message of #HousingDay heard is concerned there are some important truths we need to acknowledge and lessons to learn.

So, with that in mind, let’s go back to Klass…

Garage Grannies

Think of the Privileged Elite

…Myleene Klass, that is.

The media have readily seized upon her supposed dismantling of Ed Miliband on ITV’s debate show The Agenda regarding a proposed Labour mansion tax. Ms Klass was concerned that a tax on properties in excess of £2m would disproportionately target little old grannies rattling around in family homes in London…grannies that, apparently, are living in little more than garages – after all, Klass asserted that’s all £2m can fetch in London nowadays.

Klass is wrong, of course. Poly Toynbee has handily summarised why Myleene’s concerns (if genuine at all) for ‘garage grannies’ are misplaced so I don’t have to – I’m aware that Ms Toynbee probably didn’t write the article for my sake, but I thank her all the same – and anyway, the point of this blog is not to debate the pros and cons of a proposed mansion tax.

For while a minority of asset-rich, cash-poor retired couples with large detached houses in the countryside may one day be faced with the prospect of slightly downsizing, ‘grannies’ in London are much more likely to be hit by different kind of tax altogether.

Point and Click Tax

“You can’t just point at things and tax them.” – Myleene Klass, ITV’s The Agenda

Erm…actually Myleene, that’s exactly what the government can do.

The water you held up to demonstrate your point – “You may as well tax this glass of water” – was probably bottled water, rather than ‘tap pop’ from the mains. The cost of that bottle of water included VAT, which is value added tax. So, yes, the government probably did tax your water (at a standard rate of 20%, no less.)

Another thing the government have pointed at and taxed is ‘spare’ bedrooms in social housing. I blogged earlier in the year about the reduction in the spare room subsidy, more commonly known as the bedroom tax: about how it was discriminatory – an accusation even the High Court accepted – not fit for purpose, and morally wrong. Sadly, little has changed since then – the policy has not been repealed and fresh moral abuses are constantly surfacing from the dirty bathwater, most recently the story of a woman who is challenging the government over being charged the bedroom tax on a panic room specifically installed by the police to protect her and her 11-year old son from a violent ex-partner.

The fact that a single parent and survivor of rape is being taxed for having facilities to protect her from future assault is appalling; the DWP’s response of “This is exactly why we have made £345m available to councils to help vulnerable people.” – i.e. ‘It’s okay; there’s always Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)’ – is, frankly, disgusting.

As a self-declared “strident feminist”, I would have hoped that, given the above, Klass would have attacked the bedroom tax with the same energy as the mansion tax…but she didn’t. Ed Miliband brought the subject up in the televised debate, but she didn’t bite, instead sticking to her self-interested guns.

And she’s not the only one. We’re all guilty.

Much Noise and Little Wool

“Rage — whether in reaction to social injustice, or to our leaders’ insanity, or to those who threaten or harm us — is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice, can be transformed into fierce compassion.” – Bonnie Myotai Treace

It was right and proper that #HousingDay was used as an opportunity to shout about all the good that is being done in social housing…but we won’t change the world by patting each other on the back.

How many #HousingDay articles were about drawing wider attention to detrimental policies such as the bedroom tax, or highlighting the litany of errors – and potential disaster-in-the-making – of Universal Credit? How many organisations took the opportunity to explain to observers, with what extra attention #HousingDay afforded them, the damage that the loss of precious stock to ‘wrong-to-buy’ is causing?

Were we preaching to the converted? Was it all just a big, self-interested PR exercise for HA’s? “Look at how great we are!”

But not everything in UK housing is great – if it were, we wouldn’t keep talking about a crisis. #HousingDay was an opportunity for the sector to not just praise the good of social housing, but to lobby politicians, debate with policy influencers, and incite a wider audience to recognise the housing crisis the UK finds itself in, and galvanise those that listen to take up the cause of housing as their own.

And for that conversation – that anger – to yield results, it needs to be directed squarely at those setting the policies, no matter how socially or politically unpalatable such confrontation may be. As 24Dash’s Max Salsbury asks: why the support for a bedroom tax for social housing tenants with not very much money, and hostility towards a mansion tax for homeowners with lots of money?

Conclusion

Inside Housing recently reported that housing has fallen out of the top ten most important issues for voters; recent events hardly make that surprising.

Despite all the energy invested in #HousingDay – all the blogs, tweets, vines, articles, etc. – the first major housing issue seized upon by mainstream media following the event is an ex-pop star celebrity – with an estimated net worth of £11m, no less – berating the Leader of the Opposition about a proposed mansion tax.

That’s what made the headlines?

Yes, you can argue that the story was significant insofar it highlighted the debating and leadership skills (or lack thereof) of Ed Miliband, but the fact that a proposed mansion tax was discussed rather than an actual bedroom tax which is actually affecting thousands of people right now is evidence enough that the message of #HousingDay didn’t reach as far as we’d like to think. After all, I’m pretty sure debating the pros and cons of a proposed mansion tax wasn’t the point of #HousingDay, nor does it affect the lives of most people, grannies or not.

Do we need celebrity endorsement? Media buy-in? Protests and placards? It’s not enough to make social media noise – re-tweets and favourites alone don’t change policy.

#HousingDay made it clear that those who work in the sector genuinely care about housing; UK housing’s homework is to find better ways of spreading that message so that everyone else will care about it just as much.

Klass dismissed.

References

Getting Heard, Inside Housing, Online: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/inside-housing-digital-edition-7-november-2014/7006458.article, Available: November 2014

Mansion tax: most voters are with Ed Miliband, not Myleene Klass, The Guardian, Online: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/19/mansion-tax-myleene-klass-ed-miliband-self-deception-rich, Available: November 2014

Myleene Klass berates Ed Miliband over proposed mansion tax: ‘You can’t just point at things and tax them’, The Independent, Online: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/myleene-klass-berates-ed-miliband-over-labours-proposed-mansion-tax-you-cant-just-point-at-things-and-tax-them-9867063.html, Available: November 2014

Myleene Klass: ‘There’s a horrible culture that criticises women all the time. It has to stop’, The Independent, Online: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/myleene-klass-theres-a-horrible-culture-that-criticises-women-all-the-time-it-has-to-stop-8591833.html, Available: November 2014

Opinion: Bedroom tax?! Get stuffed and eat my Myleene, 24Dash, Online: http://www.24dash.com/news/central_government/2014-11-19-Opinion-Bedroom-tax-Get-stuffed-and-eat-my-Myleene?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter, Available: November 2014

Panic room woman challenges bedroom tax, The Guardian, Online: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/18/panic-room-woman-challenges-bedroom-tax, Available: November 2014

Value Added Tax (United Kingdom), Wikipedia, Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_Added_Tax_%28United_Kingdom%29#Rates, Available: November 2014

Wednesday Whinge: The great mansion tax debate (continued), 24Dash, Online: http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2014-11-19-Wednesday-Whinge-The-great-mansion-tax-debate-continued?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter, Available: November 2014

When Right to Buy Became Wrong to Buy, Halton Housing, Online: http://www.haltonhousing.org/nicks-blog/right-buy-became-wrong-buy/, Available: November 2014

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