Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Sng makes no bones about the fact this is a campaigning film, firmly voicing an argument that home ownership is not the main thing we should be striving for - but he does manage to keep a level of political balance."

That there is a housing crisis across Britain is something almost universally acknowledged, with 1.4 million currently on waiting list for a council house and around 250,000 categorised as homeless. In the 2017 general election campaigning, Labour pledged to build 100,000 homes per year for affordable rent or sale in England, the SNP pledged 50,000 more affordable homes by 2021 in Scotland, the Lib Dems 300,000 per year, and the Conservative Party also promised to build more homes, even if its plans are thin on detail. Meanwhile, the numbers of those living in council housing have dropped from 42 per cent in the late Seventies to just eight per cent today.

Director Paul Sng, who also made the recently released Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain documentary, focuses in on the specific issues faced by those in social housing - using estates in London, Glasgow and Nottingham as case studies. It's still a sprawling subject, but he manages a decent balance between facts and figures and exploring the human side of the equation, including the way that some places become branded 'sink estates' when their residents see them as anything but, or the manner in which councils allow them to become run down as a prelude to selling the land that they sit on. He's helped by solid narration from Maxine Peak, helping to tie the strands together.

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Sng makes no bones about the fact this is a campaigning film, firmly voicing an argument that home ownership is not the main thing we should be striving for - but he does manage to keep a level of political balance. Both left and right are attacked in terms of housing sell-offs - gentrification or social cleansing, depending on your perspective. Here, he explores the way that when one estate was sold off, the 1,034 council houses gave way to 2,704 new homes but only 82 of those were available for social rent. Where, asks his film, do the people have to go, when they only receive £95,000 for their homes but would need £310,000 to buy the equivalent once the place is redeveloped? The Housing & Planning Act 2016 is particularly in his sights, as it actively pushes for home ownership, despite the fact that many simply cannot afford this option. As one contributor points out, in many places house prices are only affordable for those who earn above the average income, adding: "You cannot all have an income above the average."

In Scotland, he examines the way that cities such as Glasgow set up new organisations to manage the former 'council housing', although the film is a little weak here as it fails to mention that the SNP Government have now ended the right-to-buy to help preserve remaining stocks. More European or world context would also have strengthened his initial claim that most western societies recognise the importance of social housing, a statement that is left dangling with no evidence back-up.

The filmmaking is a workmanlike mix of talking heads and statistical graphs as he speaks to big-hitters including Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, while also talking to homeless charities and giving residents a voice. The opinions of those who live - or in many cases have been forced out - of social housing are one of the film's strengths, highlighting the way that these sell-offs can dismantle communities as well as the buildings they live in. They also note how many of the subsequent homes often stand empty, bought as investments rather than to live in. The Human Rights Act includes Protocol 1: which "protects your right to enjoy your property peacefully" - Sng's film offers another thing to think about when people talk about ripping it up.

The film is currently on tour. Details of screenings can be found on official site. It will be released on DVD/VOD on October 23

Reviewed on: 08 Jun 2017
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Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle packshot
An examination of Britain's housing crisis.

Director: Paul Sng

Writer: Paul Sng

Starring: Nicola Sturgeon, Peter Hitchens, Caroline Lucas, Rushanara Ali, Danny Dorling, Lisa McKenzie

Year: 2017

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


EastEnd 2017

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