We hope the great ship Cameron and all who sail in him will be watching the #HousingDay hashtag on Twitter today. With ‘austerity’ still very much the buzzword of the moment (Cameron proved you can literally say it anywhere, even in a room filled with gold and fancy wine, and it’s still true) and welfare reform bringing up the cold, soggy rear he would do well to see what the real life implications of those Westminster decisions are over the next 24 hours.
With wages falling in real terms for four years now and a chronic housing crisis (unless you’re new Housing Minister Kris Hopkins in which case, what crisis?) social housing providers are having to do more than ever to help people in their communities. From the outside housing providers can seem to do only that – provide houses. But in reality they are so much more. A good home won’t fix the fact there’s no jobs. The fact there are good jobs doesn’t mean much if you’re not academic and can’t get the required grades to finish school or get an apprenticeship to learn a trade. Having homes available on a help to buy scheme won’t help those people homeless who can’t register for benefits and help themselves out of poverty.
Someone recently told us on Twitter that there isn’t any ‘real’ poverty in the UK. That it’s all relative and calling it ‘poverty’ detracts from those people really suffering in the world. We don’t agree. Suffering is suffering. There is poverty in the UK when a child can’t have breakfast without a RT for Kellogg’s or when families are forced to rely on foodbanks to survive day-to-day. There is poverty in the UK when profits for businesses is allowed to go up whilst people struggle to heat their homes.
The core business remains houses and at any one time there are countless schemes being built around the UK. But it’s never that easy to build homes for people in a country when NIMBYism is rife and in England alone twice the land available is used for golf courses as it is for housing. We shit you not.
But housing associations offer much more than homes to their customers. They run community centres, homeless shelters, apprenticeship schemes, training and education courses, specialist care for the elderly and disabled and each one tailors these, what some would deem extra, services according to the areas they’re working in. These services don’t stop at just tenants either, more often than not anyone in the local community can take advantage of them.
Ask any housing association staff member out there on the frontline of the bedroom tax what they know about what it’s costing and the answer you’ll get back won’t be a figure. They’ll talk in terms of people. Families and individuals they may have known for years. To the associations the impact of the tax on its customers is always more than monetary. And it seems people are cottoning on to this fact – the latest poll this week from YouGov shows 45% oppose the bedroom tax. The message? The Government might be heartless but as a country we’re not okay with it.
#HousingDay is an important time for HAs. There’s a chance, with all this technology, for them to collaborate and share ideas of best practice to the benefit of their customers whilst still retaining their competitive edges (they are businesses after all). The opening up of the social housing sector in this way could also help those on the outside suffering from NIMBYism and other anti social housing afflictions see exactly what these not-for-profit organisations do and the good they can bring to existing and new communities. Transparency and wider understanding of why the sector exists, how it works and who it helps can only be a good thing for the organisations themselves, their staff and the people they house and help every day.
Cameron and his cronies be damned – social housing can, and will, weather the storm the Government has built around it.
Angharad is a former radio journalist balancing a career in PR with an insatiable writing habit that spans more topics than she can count on her smaller-than-average hands. She's passionate about the media, women's rights and politics with a love of travel, culture, entertainment and all things lifestyle on the side. Interests include prolific online shopping (bit of a reputation in the office), musicals, dinosaurs (be honest, they're awesome) and tweeting anything and everything from @Welsh_PR