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 over 8 million people in the UK are experiencing some form of housing need.
Dispossession begins by clearly tracing the history of social housing in the UK. From the post war 1950’s boom, to the introduction of Thatcher’s 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 2017, 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. The viewers’ repeated confrontation with images of social housing that appear stagnant and decaying inspires an interrogation of the social meanings inherent within these structures. 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 -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. Dispossession coolly holds a mirror to British society and finds something truly grotesque in its reflection.
Where can you find it?
Available on Amazon and google for about a £