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Legal Responses to COVID-19 – Justice and Social Responsibility
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The effects of COVID-19 are visited disproportionately on the already disadvantaged.

This important text maps out ways in which those already disadvantaged have been affected by legal responses to COVID-19. Contributors tackle issues including virtual trials, adult social care, racism, tax and spending, education and more. They reflect on the implications of COVID-19 and express concerns with policy and practice developments and with the neutral version of the law and the economy which has taken root.

Drawing on diverse resources, this text offers an account of the damage caused by legal responses to the pandemic and demonstrates how the future response can be positive and productive.

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Housing policy into the new millennium
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While the future shape and direction of housing policy is uncertain, the process of transformation looks set to continue. A wide range of housing policy initiatives emerged during the first term of the New Labour government and 2000 saw the publication of the first major policy statement on housing for over 10 years - the government’s much anticipated Housing Green Paper.

This book makes a distinctive and innovative contribution to the debate. Bringing together leading scholars from the fields of housing law and housing policy, it aims to engage with the central concerns of policy and to demonstrate that the parallel debates of housing studies and socio-legal studies can be strengthened by a fuller exchange of ideas.

Each chapter examines a key theme in contemporary housing policy and seeks to locate policy in relation to broader theoretical debates about the provision of social welfare.

Two steps forward is essential reading for academics, students and policy makers with an interest in housing policy and law, as well as students on wider social policy, public administration, policy and management courses.

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I have spent more time wondering about how to start this chapter on ‘governing’ during the pandemic than actually writing it. Perhaps it could start with the almost daily shock felt in reading headlines and tweets linking Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) contracts and key personnel with the ruling party. Or we might start with the shift in the way of legislating which, on analyses from both the left and the right, has undermined the rule of law and the accountability of the Executive. What was said – rhetorically – about the ‘elected dictatorship’ or the ‘new despotism’ has given way to fresh realizations about its existence; perhaps the question is not, ‘who governs Britain?’, but how is Britain governed? Legislation, and secondary legislation, have combined with other forms of what Robert Megarry termed (in 1944) ‘administrative quasi-legislation’1; or, government by media briefing; or, in 240 characters, by tweet, exemplified by a tweet by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government telling us that he was stopping evictions.

Another way to start this chapter might have been with a recognition of how things have changed over time. Since the invention of the Code of Guidance by the promulgation of the Highway Code, and successive forms of government by guidance, practice, circular, or letter (all of which seem rather quaint now), governments have used these forms as obtaining self-government by consent. As Ganz suggested (1987: 98), it is an empirical question whether government by consent in this way is effective.

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Despite incessant and occasionally intense political debate about the allocation of council housing, there has been a remarkable degree of consensus between the political parties about the basic principles which should underlie it. These basic principles have been evident pretty much since the evolution of council housing in the early 20th century. These basic principles are as follows: the allocation of council housing is supposed to have been based on the concept of ‘housing need’; certain pre-determined categories of households have been regarded (since the 1935 Housing Act, if not before) as being in greater housing need than others and are, therefore, entitled to ‘reasonable preference’ in the queue; there should be no ‘perverse incentives’ on households to (ab-)use the routes into council housing; certain persons are not, or should not be, entitled to council housing. These basic principles were particularly predominant in an era in which demand for council housing outstripped its supply – indeed, the principles were demanded by such an equation. During the 1990s, the principal question on which political parties disagreed was whether those households found to be statutorily homeless by local authorities should have a ‘reasonable preference’. Nobody denied their housing need. Rather the concern was that there should be no ‘perverse incentive’ to become homeless. The rules of allocation were therefore altered, which was the subject of controversy.

By contrast with this broad political consensus, the public debate about council housing allocation has centred around questions of what might be termed ‘morality’. This reflects a broader public debate about welfare entitlements, and the historic divide between those deserving of assistance and those undeserving of it.

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During troubled times, events that captivate for a minute may quickly be replaced by other, even more troubling developments, and perhaps forgotten. Nonetheless, the quote at the start of this chapter, coupled with Emily Maitlis’ now famous Newsnight speech about how COVID-19 is “not a great leveller”1 offer a metaphor for what the contributors to this book are arguing – the different effects of, and responses to, COVID-19; the fragmentation of the global, and anxieties about the local scale. At heart, we are concerned with the idea of the public, and the presentation of the public as a homogenous community equally affected by COVID-19. Just like the supposed equal effects of the rule of law, we know that the idea and constitution of the public as well as the rule of law are riven with inequalities. We know that class, gender, race and wealth are cleavages in the supposed homogeneity of the public. And we know that the effects of COVID-19 are visited disproportionately on the already disadvantaged.

Despite – and, perhaps, because of – the economic packages in place to support businesses and others during the pandemic, there are anxieties over how the coming economic crisis caused by the resultant swollen sovereign debt will affect the public. After the last great economic crisis following the bank and market meltdown in 2007–08, austerity measures were put in place. What might be termed ‘austerity law’ emerged as the need to repay sovereign debt dominated discussions of the economy.

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A key motivation behind this book was two parallel observations. On the one hand, the substance of much of housing studies is influenced by housing law, but this aspect is rarely explored by authors from the housing studies tradition. On the other hand, the substance of housing law is influenced by broader social, economic and housing policy changes, but this aspect is rarely explored by authors from the housing law tradition. Despite the considerable overlap between the interests of the two subjects, they have rarely come into contact with each other. The current re-invigoration of debate around housing policy provided an ideal opportunity to bring the two traditions together.

The primary purpose of this book was to provide a dual set of critiques of central elements of New Labour housing policy. Housing studies and socio-legal studies academics have provided their verdicts on this policy and in the process shed light on some of the key preoccupations of their subject areas. Our desire throughout this project has been to explore the possibilities for greater collaborative work in the future. In conclusion, rather than reprising the commentary on housing policy, we concentrate on this second aspect of the book. What we wish to do is reflect on the focus and approaches adopted by our contributors. In addition, we set out what we perceive to be some interesting joint futures.

Before doing so we should recognise that the contributions to this volume do not exhaust the scope of either subject area in terms of either research questions or approaches.

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There has been an exponential growth in policy debate and development related to, and concerning, housing since the New Labour administration came to power in 1997. Testament to this are the various reports from the Social Exclusion Unit and its Policy ActionTeams, Consultation Papers on topics ranging from cowboy builders through to reforms to local authority housing finance, requirements to set up Tenant Participation Compacts, and the publication in 2000 of the first English Green Paper on housing for 23 years. Following a period in which housing academics had been relatively negative regarding the prospects for housing policy – some were even asking whether it had a future – it has moved closer to the heart of policy. This higher priority has been accompanied by a modest increase in central government funding.

This book examines some of the central themes of this panoply of reports and policy statements. We focus on eight issues of contemporary policy concern: housing transfers; housing standards; social housing allocation; tenant participation; anti-social behaviour; Best Value; social sector rent policies; and Housing Benefit and personal subsidy. This is our first aim. Our second aim is to bring an extra dimension to the discussion by pairing writers from the field of housing studies, on the one hand, and socio-legal studies, on the other, and asking them to provide a perspective on a particular policy theme. Not only does this provide two different interpretations of the relevant developments, but we believe that it also highlights the potential for greater collaboration and cross-boundary exchange between the two subject areas.

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This chapter talks about the epistemic support of ASB. It attempts to define ASB, while stating that obscurity is an important tool of governance. The main theme of this chapter is the role of vernacular and technical language in building and legitimising intervention. The discussion extends the governing coalition of ASB to incorporate housing professionals and different housing management mechanisms, which are increasingly arranged beyond the social housing tenure and the judiciary. The chapter shows that these two are able to provide an ‘interpretative ventriloquism’, which reinforces the predominant political and social ‘common-sense’ discourse around ASB.

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