Social Housing: Not a cure-all
On Monday morning Demos held a seminar with experts from the social housing sector, where we discussed the findings of our ongoing research into early intervention and preventative support in social housing. At the same time, the Guardian’s housing network was hosting a live discussion where they asked: ‘Is the government asking too much of the housing sector?’
Housing has spent years struggling to be seen as an equal partner in the holy trinity of support - health, care and housing. With the door finally being opened, there is a risk that social housing providers are going to be faced with a deluge of cost shunting from health, care and other external support agencies, each facing significant budget cuts themselves, often coupled with increased demand.
With councils and government eager to piggyback on housing provider’s ‘social’ remit, it is important to define exactly what the task is that we are asking social housing providers to do. Demos’ research into social housing is attempting to do just that, going back to first principles and seeking to redefine the “social” in social housing.
At a time of increased social and economic pressures, there is a risk that social housing providers will be seen as a catch-all solution to a range of social ills. Just this weekend The Guardian published a blog arguing that ‘Housing should take the lead on digital and social inclusion’. Pointing out that around a third of the people who are not online live in social housing, the author quoted the National Housing Federation’s assertion that ‘taking responsibility for digital inclusion is in line with housing associations’ work to support social welfare.’
The question has to be asked: how much can social housing providers be asked to do? Surely Google, or BT, or one of the many other telecommunications behemoths, are just as obvious choices to push the digital inclusion agenda. If we are to harness the considerable potential of social housing to support some of our most vulnerable citizens then we must in turn support social housing providers themselves, and make sure we don’t end up overburdening them and abusing their social mission.
Demos’s forthcoming report about integrated preventative solutions for social housing customers will look at some of these issues, and attempt to suggest a route around them. The ongoing redistribution of responsibility brought about by the government’s localism agenda is a great opportunity for us to redefine the “social” in social housing. If we are to develop sustainable solutions to the many deprivations facing social housing tenants, we need to see housing as an equal partner – alongside health and social care, and with input from business and the voluntary sector – in the debate.