“Affordable” as the new “sustainable” – words mean whatever the powerful want them to mean.

I just sent this letter to the Manchester Evening News. If they publish it, I will add a photo of it in t’paper.

Update – they published it! 4th June 2021…

WE live in Alice’s wonderland, where our lords and masters tell us six impossible things before breakfast and expect us to believe them.I was at the first meeting of the new Manchester Council Executive today (once I could get into the locked Public Gallery). 

I heard Pat Karney say that Manchester City Council had a record on delivery of affordable housing that it could be proud of. I heard other Councillors making ritual incantations of this word “affordable.”

It seems “affordable” is going to be the new “sustainable” – a vague feel-good buzzword that is never defined and used to block both scrutiny and real action. Your report Steve Robson wrote about the Ancoats (“Council’s new ‘affordable’ apartments in Ancoats could cost up to £1,000 a month,” 29 May.) Humpty Dumpty would be proud.

For readers who don’t remember the classic exchange between him and Alice, here it is – “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

Dr Marc Hudson
editor Manchester Climate Monthly


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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2 Responses to “Affordable” as the new “sustainable” – words mean whatever the powerful want them to mean.

  1. Tracy says:

    Hi Marc,

    I don’t normally defend MCC but in this case, I think Pat Karney was probably using the term ‘affordable’ in its received sense in the housing field. To whit:
    ‘Affordable housing for rent: meets all of the following conditions: (a) the rent is set in
    accordance with the Government’s rent policy for Social Rent or Affordable Rent, or is
    at least 20% below local market rents (including service charges where applicable); (b)
    the landlord is a registered provider, except where it is included as part of a Build to
    Rent scheme (in which case the landlord need not be a registered provider); and (c) it
    includes provisions to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households, or
    for the subsidy to be recycled for alternative affordable housing provision.’ Annex 2 of https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/810197/NPPF_Feb_2019_revised.pdf

    There is a big push from all the GM housing providers to try and build new homes, whilst also acknowledging that these might not actually be affordable to many. Housing Associations would love to build more houses at social rent levels (ie what neoliberals would consider ridiculously low) but the grant money just isn’t there any more because Tories. I seem to remember that the variouis councils were trying to find brownfield sites where possible for new builds.

    Whether these new homes will be truly sustainable of course remains to be seen. They have to be built to a certain standard and to a certain energy efficiency. I’m on the Board of Mosscare St Vincent’s HA which is how I know this stuff. I can’t remember the exact details of the legal standards but it will be on Google somewhere. I know MSV is trying to build in carbon neutrality and sustainability where possible.

    But as you and I both know, if the Government were truly serious about tackling homelessness and climate change, there’d be more money made available for sustainable climate-friendly housing and building materials.

    • Thanks for the comment and the context. I’m under the impression that MCC has never volunteered a definition of affordable. Do you know if it has? If not, I’ll submit a FOIA to them

      Best wishes


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