The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Who can give the modern Cathy a home?

2nd August 2016

It’s 50 years since Ken Loach’s groundbreaking film, Cathy Come Home, documented the inhuman effects of homelessness. Without a home, as his heartbreaking film shows, families collapse, children are deprived of a stable childhood in which to thrive and individuals – Cathy herself – are put under intolerable mental and emotional strain with tragic and unjust consequences. Shamefully, this remains the case, and from a mental health perspective, the link between homelessness and mental distress is well established.

The housing farce has continued so long that we may as well accept that no one in power is able or interested in genuinely tackling it with assertive, immediate action. There is no Minister with the will, no council chief with the power and no social landlord with the money to build decent, well built, affordable homes at the scale and pace needed. Not to mention, where will the skilled construction workforce come from as we have similarly failed to deliver the volume of high level apprenticeships needed and, while we’re on the subject, who will force those private developers sneakily land-banking to build or bugger off?

Institutional investors, however, may be an unexpected saviour. Far from the glamour of ribbon-cutting government pronouncements of Soviet-style ludicrous housing targets, achieved by ridiculous deadlines – in the face of all evidence – the quietly diligent institutional investors are quietly getting on with quietly investing in all manner of infrastructure projects. Pension funds in places like the US are major players in this space, controlling billions in investments. As part of its joint health and housing programme, ResPublica is exploring if and how devolution can facilitate local authorities, and other current and former state enterprises such as universities or utilities, to back housing developments through the financial lever of pension endowments.

Private sector institutional investment would play a welcome role here too, of course. Yet, local authorities’ core role is to shape their communities for the better – to be the primary institution shaping the nature and health of the place. This role has been sorely tested with swingeing funding cuts since the austerity budgets started in 2010. In this ‘new normal’, what better way to both enable stable communities and provide a foundation for improved mental health than using those resources that are within the gift of local authorities – their pension funds – to support housing developments that can give the modern Cathy a home.

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