Blog: Dispossession documentary misrepresents the Glasgow housing landscape

Helen Moore

Helen Moore

Following Harry Woodward’s blog on Tuesday, Helen Moore offers her reflections on Paul Sng’s documentary Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle.

As a committee member of a community controlled housing association in Glasgow I came away from the June screening and Q&A session of this film feeling both frustrated and discouraged.

The film did a good job of providing context to the questionable deals between some local authorities in London and big property developers. It also explored the consequences of these transactions, which often squeeze tenants out of their long-term homes and force them to relocate, often miles from where they’ve lived out their lives. As is always the case, these stories were made even more powerful by hearing them told, directly to camera, by people themselves.

All the more disappointing then, that when it came to the Glasgow setting, this voice was missing. Although there were a few interviews with local people, unlike in the London segment, these were not representative of tenants, and didn’t appear to draw directly upon personal experiences. This omission meant that the narrative presented around the social housing sector in Glasgow was, at best, incomplete and at worst, seriously flawed.

This partial picture of the context in Glasgow was exacerbated by two further oversights.  The first was the failure to mention that housing policy is devolved in Scotland and that the Scottish Government is supportive of the social housing sector as a whole, as is Glasgow City Council. The second was the superficial treatment given to stock transfer in the city. Indeed there was no mention of Second Stage Transfer whatsoever.

The housing association movement has played a vital role in helping to bring about physical and social regeneration in communities across Glasgow. Community controlled housing associations have over 1,000 voluntary management committee members, and the majority of these are local residents. In a film which focused on threats to the fabric of communities and how they can be destroyed by external forces, it would have been great to see this success story feature as part of the overall narrative.

This documentary could have been a useful conduit for opening a dialogue on some of the key issues around social housing. However, I think we should question the value of a film which is light on research and facts, and manages to misrepresent the housing landscape and sector in Glasgow.

No one’s claiming that Glasgow is a utopian housing world – there are clearly issues here too. But it would have been nice for committee members, housing staff, and others in the sector to have had the chance to contribute to the film and to talk candidly about some of these issues. Truly, this was a missed opportunity.

  • Helen Moore is chair of Reidvale Housing Association and acting chair of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations