Paul Sng’s 2017 documentary Dispossession is a detailed study of the increasingly urgent social housing crisis in the United Kingdom. It provides an unflinching account of the policies and concealed ideologies that led to the statistic that last year a mere 8% of the population had access to social housing, whilst 1.4 million remain on the waiting list.
Dispossession begins by clearly tracing the history of social housing in the UK. From the post war 1950’s boom under the Attlee government, to the introduction of Thatcher’s incredibly popular 1980’s ‘right to buy’ policy. Sng finds in the disastrous effects of this policy a genesis point, from which he charts decades of neglect as both Labour and Conservative governments fail to replenish the 2.2 million council homes that were incorporated into the private sphere. Arriving in the present day, Sng uses our consciousness of social housing’s history to survey the profound effects of this legacy of neglect.
The film’s scope is expansive, outlining the destructive effects of permitting ‘free market economies to rule the housing market’ through the testimony of professors, historians, housing campaigners, politicians, journalists and residents. By interconnecting these accounts only with repeated still images of social housing Sng fashions a form that is itself intensely thought provoking. Sng allows an awareness of the physicality of the buildings to contribute to his portrayal of the crisis and its causes. The viewers’ repeated confrontation with images of social housing that appear consistently stagnant and decaying inspires an interrogation of the social meanings inherent within these structures. These buildings appear as relics from the past, acting as the literal embodiment of the ‘managed decline’ of their occupants. The sheer volume of images Sng includes spanning recognisable social housing in London, Nottingham, Leeds, Glasgow and beyond, creates an uncomfortable proximity between the viewer and their pre-existing relationship to the highly visible evidence of the housing crisis. This issue Sng suggests surrounds us. It is a humanitarian crisis residing on our collective doorstep.
The definition of ‘swindle’ is ‘the use of deception to deprive someone of money or possession.’ To understand the social housing crisis as a swindle is to cut to the core of Dispossession. Sng exposes the myriad deceptions at the centre of social housing policy, as councils become property developers and the Conservative government employs Savills as their housing policy consultant. Deception is so pervasive that the status of language can no longer be trusted as ‘regeneration’ in fact means ‘demolition’, and ‘affordable housing’ costs not 1/3 of your income but 80%. To characterise the social housing crisis as a ‘swindle’ is to understand the fragmentation of communities, the systematic removal of human agency and dignity as a calculated human cost in the pursuit of capital. It is to see this crisis as ‘conscious social cleansing.’
The cumulative emotional effect Dispossession has on the viewer is in direct contrast to the skilful and balanced way it draws its argument. Dispossession coolly holds a mirror to British society and finds something truly grotesque. Anger comes not from a distorted image but from a confrontation with true reflection. Unfortunately, I can cite numerous reasons why this film is so incredibly important. You need only look to increasing homelessness, to the blackened shell of Grenfell Tower, or to a generation where home ownership is near impossible. The social housing crisis is an issue that effects all of us and makes Dispossession essential viewing.
Where can you find it?
You can rent it on Amazon or iTunes for 99p.
More like this?
Brexitannia: A film concerning another ‘swindle’ of sorts. This interestingly simple and effective film hears why people up and down the country voted as they did in the 2016 referendum.