sun 09/08/2020

DVD: Dispossession - The Great Social Housing Swindle | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Dispossession - The Great Social Housing Swindle

DVD: Dispossession - The Great Social Housing Swindle

Polemic documentary about the systematic dismantlement of council-subsidised accommodation

Or, perhaps, "WHAAAAAT????"

In the week that the police announced the final Grenfell Tower fire death toll, this is a timely release. Paul Sng’s 82-minute documentary, narrated by the actress Maxine Peake, is a serious investigation into the state of social housing in the UK, most especially the way it’s being co-opted into the private sector to make as much money as possible for corporate free market ideologues and those trailing in their wake.

Sng, along with his cinematographer Nick Ward and editor Josh Alward, have made a small budget go a long way, utilising striking imagery of urban desolation, intercut with old, black and white photographs of areas such as the Gorbals in Glasgow and Nottingham’s St Ann’s Estate, alongside simple, well-chosen graphics comparing the money being offered to buy people out with the profits on the cards for “management companies”.

Dispossession begins with the huge council housing boom kick-started by Clement Atlee’s post-war Labour government. It tells us that by the beginning of the Eighties 42 percent of the population lived in social housing while today that figure is less than eight percent, with 1.4 million people on waiting lists for council homes. It goes on to point out how Margaret Thatcher’s hugely popular policy of offering the right to buy council properties was really the start of the rot. Very little of that money fed back into building new social housing. The body of the film then utilises the examples of multiple estates and high-rise properties across Britain that have been systematically run down through lack of investment, then bought out by private investors.

Among the notable villains are Tory-“advising” estate agent giants Savills, with their transparently disgraceful plan to remove the tenants of the successful, albeit rundown, Cressingham Gardens Estate near Brixton. The residents have got together and fought, all but proving on paper, with evidence, that demolishing their homes would destroy a 40-year-old community, benefitting no one but rich people trying to make themselves richer. It's a particularly callous and ruthless version of gentrification. An elderly female resident, very definitely someone’s gran, proclaims, near tears, “To the last breath of my body, I will fight them.” It’s difficult to fathom a reason, unless unscrupulous money-suckling wealth accumulation has suddenly become morally viable, how anyone could possibly side against her. Dispossession is rich in such information, riling the viewer up with a sense of righteous fury.

Sng was responsible for the 2015 documentary Invisible Britain, about the career and politics of laptop punk-poets Sleaford Mods. Dispossession could do with some of that film’s fire and energy for, while it’s an important polemic, it would be better suited as a late-evening BBC Four programme rather than a DVD on the commercial market. Nevertheless, Sng succeeds in laying out his shocking information in a clear and erudite fashion, making this an essential watch for those interested in understanding how their country, their very birthright, is being sold out from under them.

The only extra material on the DVD is a couple of trailers.

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle

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