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Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle (2017)

‘Elephant Park’, 2017 formerly the Heygate Estate. Photograph by Matt Page.

Since its inception in the early twentieth century, the position of social housing in Britain has been transformed. Whereas in the post-war period home ownership with state support was aspirational, today it is regarded as freeloading and a target for populist contempt. Housing estates were once loci of opportunity and community, but they are now frequently described as ‘sink estates’ – wastelands, suffocating due to deprivation.

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle, directed by Paul Sng and narrated by Maxine Peake, is a new documentary film about the state of social housing in Britain. It is an ambitious project which provides a nuanced discussion of the Housing Crisis and its impact on social housing; exploring the original ambitions for state-supported housing through to the fraught relationship between individuals, the state and private companies today.

The film discusses how government policy (such as the Right to Buy Scheme in the 1980s and the 2016 Housing and Planning Act); the impact of privatisation; regeneration; the issue of so-called ‘managed decline’; and gentrification/hyper-commodification, have significantly contributed to a paradigm shift in the perception of the purpose of social housing. The impact of this social-political landscape is communicated through interviews with campaigners, politicians, academics, architects, urban planners and residents, and the film presents a cogent—if a little drawn-out—picture of the problems social housing faces.

Dispossession has no pretensions about trying to posit a solution to the Housing Crisis, but it does offer a worthwhile elaboration of the problem on a national scale. Its sophisticated balancing of the emotional responses of residents and erudite economic and sociological examination, makes it a compelling study of the politics of social housing. The film reminds us that social housing should not be regarded as a cause of the housing crisis, rather as part of the solution.

This article was first published in SEE:ONE, The Courtauldian’s printed publication. You can find the full first issue of SEE here:

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