Joe Bradbury of Housing Association magazine asks whether we need a new approach to social housing as well as more money?

As part of the Government’s commitment to transform housebuilding, the Prime Minister recently announced £2 billion in new funding to give housing associations the long-term certainty they need to deliver tens of thousands of new affordable and social homes needed in Britain today.

Announced at the National Housing Federation Summit last month, she pledged to work in partnership with housing associations to get more people on the housing ladder and make sure those who can’t afford their own place also have a place to proudly call home.

At the summit, Theresa May urged housing associations to use their “unique status, rich history and social mission” to change the way tenants and society as a whole view social housing.

Housing Associations have been at the forefront of adopting renewable heating and sustainable building upgrades

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Assistant editor of Housing Association magazine

Tackling the stigma

The Prime Minister said “For many people, a certain stigma still clings to social housing. Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority.

“And on the outside, many people in society (including too many politicians) continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home.

“We should never see social housing as something that need simply be “good enough”, nor think that the people who live in it should be grateful for their safety net and expect no better.

“Whether it is owned and managed by local authorities, TMOs or housing associations, I want to see social housing that is so good people are proud to call it their home… Our friends and neighbours who live in social housing are not second-rate citizens.”

Media-portrayed stereotypes

A recent report revealed that 9 in 10 (91%) social housing tenants say they are portrayed negatively by the media, further exacerbating the stigma surrounding them.

The research, ‘Overcoming the Stigma of Social Housing’ (commissioned by the tenant-led campaign ‘Benefit to Society’) exposes a huge gap between perception and reality with regard to social housing tenants.

For example, Britons on average estimate that almost 1 in 4 (24%) of people living in social housing are unemployed, when in fact only 1 in 14 (7%) are.

The report also found that a decrease in numbers of social housing, together with changes in policy over many years, has led to the public considering social housing to be a ‘last resort’.

Stark contrast

But in actuality, this is in stark contrast to the experience of the majority of tenants.

The British Social Attitudes survey of 2017, carried out by The National Centre for Social Research, showed that three quarters (75%) of people who live in housing association homes think they are good places to live.

Needless to say, the stigma surrounding social housing is very real and is harming people’s lives, with many social housing tenants saying they feel judged by where they live rather than who they are.

A spokesperson for Benefit to Society, Rachel Branson, said “we welcome the announcement that Theresa May has called for end to social housing ‘stigma’ as she pledges £2bn for new homes.

“However, we need to recognise the reasons for the stigma that many social housing tenants face on a daily basis. The reduction in numbers of properties has meant that fewer people now have direct experience of social housing and increasingly it is seen as a tenure of last choice and as a safety net.

Poverty porn

Ms Branson went on: “This view of social housing has in the past been reflected in media programming, recognised in ‘poverty porn’ but through our research we know that Social housing tenants have a very different perspective and their narrative shows the value of community in their local area and of their volunteering, caring and work.

“Earlier this year the NUJ launched the Fair press guide, encouraging media outlets to consider the facts and see the real stories of people and their community to put an end to negative stereotypes of social housing tenants.

“We recognise that changing perceptions must also start within the housing sector, so far over 30 Housing providers have made a commitment to tackle stigma where they see it, challenge the behaviours and conversations of staff and stakeholders as well as the general public.

“We look forward to engaging with the government on putting an end to negative stereotypes of social housing tenants.”

In summary

Housing Associations have a central role to play in building the homes we need and challenging the attitudes that hold us back. Approximately 17% of the households in the UK are social housing.

Not only that but Housing Associations have been at the forefront of adopting renewable heating and sustainable building upgrades to help those in off-gas areas out of fuel poverty. For these landlords and these tenants, they are actually leading the way that the rest of us need to follow soon.

It's therefore time to end social housing stigma and see the people inside them for who they are; free of stereotypes.

Joe Bradbury is Assistant Editor of Housing Association Magazine.