With the UK’s social housing in crisis, architect and TV presenter, George Clarke is a man on a mission...
With the UK’s social housing in crisis, architect and TV presenter, George Clarke is campaigning for change and is a man on a mission.
It’s 100 years since the first council houses were created in Britain by Health Minister, Lord Addison, following WW1 but today there are just 2 million compared with 6 million in 1980.
With social housing at an all time low in the UK and thousands of families forced to live in appalling conditions in temporary accommodation, George, who was raised in a council house himself, reveals why we are a nation in crisis.
Here, in an exclusive interview, George who is also an ambassador for Shelter, talks about the people he meets who are suffering, his campaign to create good quality social housing and explains why our Government needs to act now….
GEORGE CLARKE SPEAKS TO WHAT'S ON TV
What's On TV: Why is this issue so important to you and why did you want to start your campaign and make this programme?
George Clarke: "It’s something that I’m really close to and have been all my life. I was brought up in a council estate in Washington, Sunderland and my mum still lives there in that same house. I loved it and enjoyed the benefit of a really well designed estate with truly affordable homes, good landscaping and pedestrianized areas.
"We only have one fifth of the social housing that we had in the 80s because they’ve all been sold off to private owners and haven’t been replaced which means we now have millions of people and young families without a decent home and that’s a scandal."
WOTV: Why is good social housing so important?
GC: "It’s the foundation for everything. If you have a stable, secure and affordable home over your head, the benefits to your family are massive in terms of your health, happiness, general wellbeing, your kids’ education, your work, the whole lot.
"You look at the opposite end of the spectrum, if you feel like the system is against you all the time, if you’re living in really substandard accommodation, it affects your health, the health and education of your kids. To put it very simply if your home isn’t secure, nothing else is. Designing great social housing is not rocket science. It’s quite straightforward as long as you’ve got the right team together."
WOTV: What’s going wrong in the UK right now?
GC: "The UK is the fifth richest economy in the world and yet we can’t provide decent homes for our population. What on earth is our government doing? Theresa May brought out a white paper in 2018 that said that the housing system was fundamentally broken. They know it so do something about it!
"Have the balls to do something radical, just like Addison did in 1919 when council houses were first created, and just like the Government did in the 1950s after the Second World War at a time of national crisis. Housing has become a political football in this country with years and years of inaction"
WOTV: Tell us about some of the people you meet in the programme who are victims of the housing crisis?
GC: "One was Mark who was such a lovely guy. He had a business working as a market trader and he’s a real grafter, him and his wife. They lost their council home and were being moved from place to place, living in the most horrendous conditions, in hostels with cockroaches, mice and rats. At one point they were sleeping in their car in an Asda carpark with their children. It got so bad his daughter wanted take her own life.
"It breaks my heart. And he’s still not out of it yet, he’s in a better position but he’s still not out of it. We’ve got 100,000 kids in the UK living in temporary accommodation, moving around from B&B to B&B."
WOTV: In the programme you visit council accommodation that was built in the 60s and 70s that has got it right. Tell us about that?
GC: "Yes, one place I go to is Dawson’s Heights in South East London which was built in 1968 as council flats and is a great example of really well designed council accomodation. I meet Kate McIntosh the architect who back then as a young 20 year-old, designed this fantastic space with decent sized rooms, fantastic green areas and communal spaces with separate areas for cars.
"Sadly, like all these council houses and flats, most of them have been sold off to private owners which all started with Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy' policy back in the 80s."
WOTV: You also visit Vienna where fantastic social housing is provided. What are they doing that the UK isn’t?
GC: "It puts the UK to shame. It’s the polar opposite of the horrendous state of Britain. Over there you’ve got a society that really cares, a State that has a long term strategic approach to building State-owned housing, controlled rent which means it’s all very affordable. It’s a home for life.
"I visited two council estates in Vienna, one was built in the 1970s and one is a new build. They’ve got swimming pools, tennis courts, cinemas, schools, crèches and childcare. They’ve created entire communities where people and generations live harmoniously together and have great facilities at their disposal – and this is social housing provided by the State."
WOTV: In contrast, we see in the programme UK councils building homes out of things like shipping containers. Tell us about that?
GC: "It’s a quick fix. I feel bad for that particular council because it’s an emergency for them. They’re basically building something as quickly as possible but it can’t just be a numbers game. We have to have a long-term approach to do it high quality like they have in Vienna. When I see some of the stuff being built here I think, ‘Really? Is that genuinely the best we can do in the 21st century?’ It’s like putting a sticking plaster over a really, really bad wound."
WOTV: Tell us about your plan for Manchester to co-ordinate and oversee the building of a new social housing estate?
GC: "I’ve been working on this for a long time, to find a suitable site and to get planning permission and the funding together. The goal is to demonstrate how we can build good quality affordable council housing fit for the 21st century.
"But this isn’t just about Manchester. I want to do this nationwide. Every council in Britain should be stepping up the plate and doing this but they’re not going to be able to unless central government get their act together.
"The housing statistics are the worst they’ve ever been, the affordability is the worst it’s ever been, the number of homeless people is the worse it’s ever been. As a nation we should be coming together and saying, this just isn’t right, it’s a moral outrage.
"I feel honoured that I’m able to make this programme and bring attention to it but at the same time it breaks my heart because the point is I shouldn’t have to be making it. The system is unfair, it’s broken, it’s a national scandal and it has to change."
George Clarke's Council House Scandal starts on Wednesday 31 July on C4 at 9pm #councilhouse100
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