Housing and the media
Sarah Webb, Chief Executive, discusses the relationship between the housing sector and the media
Being the headline story on the BBC 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news programmes at the end of last month was great (albeit a bit scary) but this story was the exception that proves the rule – ‘housing’ is not a popular topic for the media.
Mark Easton (the BBC Home Editor) did a great speech for us at the Presidential Dinner in February but his message wasn’t particularly encouraging – the public don’t get the housing crisis – in fact they don’t get housing full stop – and he didn’t see that much prospect of that changing in the near future.
So why is this and what can we do about it? Well it’s a numbers game at heart. The sad fact is that most people in this country own their own home and so are primarily interested in stories about house price rises. Even those who are struggling to pay their mortgage are still only interested to hear if their home is now worth more than it was. In this regard we will always struggle to beat the NHS and education to the top of the media priority list because most people in the UK still use the NHS and still send their kids to state schools. And even those who don’t – and who have chosen to buy into private health care and/or public schools - still feel that the NHS and state schools are important and that everyone should have access to great services. This contrasts sharply with housing where somehow if you are renting you are a second-class citizen who hasn’t managed to be successful enough to own – just watch Shameless for a few minutes!
And, as if all that wasn’t bad enough – some elements of the media also choose to focus any housing stories they do run on either ‘benefit scroungers’ or ‘migrants stealing houses from local people’. Neither story has any basis in reality – certainly not at any scale – but both appeal to people who are struggling to find somewhere decent and affordable to live.
The voices of those people on the waiting list for a rented home, of those living in severely overcrowded conditions with other households because they can’t get a mortgage, of those who can’t afford to eat after they have paid their mortgage, of those who are ill because their home is cold, damp and unsafe – even of those who have lost their job working for a house builder or maintenance contractor because there is no work for them anymore – none of these voices are being heard and we all have to try and rectify this.
Chris Moss – the guy responsible for branding Virgin, Orange and 118 118 amongst other successes - is coming to the CIH Annual Conference at Harrogate in June to help us think about how to get our message across beyond the confines of our own sector. I hope he can help us because there has never been a greater need to get the media, the public and the politicians to understand the severity of the housing crisis our country faces.