A matter of justice
Ahead of his session at Total Housing on 25 March, former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal OBE calls for greater leadership from housing professionals to help tackle some of our most intractable social problems.
Housing and justice may not seem the most obvious bedfellows, but I’ve always seen them as inextricably linked.
I have spent thirty years dealing with victims of crime, listening to them and acting on their concerns. Working with statutory and NGO partners, we were able to change laws and practice – and ultimately get others in power to do something.
To most people, this counts as success, but it didn’t feel that way to me. Every prosecution was a failure. We were dealing with the consequences of crimes that in most cases could, and should, have been stopped in the first place. There are many factors that contribute to criminality but one of the most obvious is the lack of a stable background - and in far too many cases this has its roots in poor housing.
Decent housing is the foundation of social mobility and strong communities. A secure home is the bedrock of people’s lives and neighbourhood stability. We know poor housing affects people’s mental health, causes lower educational attainment, greater likelihood of unemployment and poverty. And it makes you more likely to be a victim of crime. Yet, despite the fact everyone knows this, we’re still failing to get on top of a problem that’s a stain on our nation.
We need at least another 1.2million homes to accommodate everyone who currently needs a home in the UK. In the space of a hundred years, we have gone from the Addison Act, which promised good quality, affordable housing for everyone, to a complete abnegation of responsibility.
This can’t continue.
When I was a prosecutor I was constantly told certain crimes were too complicated to ever properly tackle. The best you could do was try and ‘manage’ them, which, we all know is a euphemism for sweeping things under the carpet. But we became world leaders in tackling honour-based violence, forced marriage and child sexual exploitation. We introduced the Modern Slavery Act. This was achieved with everyone in the criminal justice system working together and doing what they believed was right to make a difference.
We made people safer and now it’s time for the housing sector to work together to make people and communities more secure. We’re lagging a long way behind – and we need people to step up. Housing has many KPIs – but the only thing we don’t measure is leadership.
If I’ve learnt one thing in my career, it’s this: bureaucracy, handwringing and good intentions don’t change anything. Leaders taking responsibility is what makes the difference.
Nazir's session - the power of one - is at 1345 on 25 March at Total Housing 2020 in Brighton. For more details of the conference and to book your place, check out our events site.