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Musical beds

I’ve spoken at a few housing conferences now. Perhaps they like the way I remind them that housing associations are social enterprises. They certainly are perfectly positioned to play a significant role as all strive to rebuild damaged communities.

You see of all the agencies working to combat worklessness and other social ills, these guys already provide the homes they live in. They are trusted, have a working relationship and are inevitably one of the first ports of call when advice or help is needed. Add the fact that they’re largely untarnished by the negative publicity ‘enjoyed’ (or perhaps endured) by many public and private sector providers and you begin to see the opportunity.

But the relationship between tenant and social landlord is under threat. You see in its quest to make limited benefits budgets go further, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is getting twitchy about covering the rent for bedrooms they deem not to be needed. If you’re on benefits and in a three-bedroom house, perhaps as a couple with two boys under 16, in the DWP’s eyes the lads should not need their own rooms.

Never mind the need for somewhere quiet to do school homework. Or indeed the natural desire of all adolescents for privacy. Only when the oldest hits 16 can they have their own room. It all links back to the DWP fear that they’re funding a million empty bedrooms when five million folk are on the waiting list for accommodation.

I recall a while ago reading somewhere the new idea that social housing should not be allocated for life, but merely as long as you need it. When the kids leave home, you can move out of your three bed semi into a single bedroomed flat and so on. It conjures a vision of ‘musical beds’, with social networks and the journey to work ever changing as folk move around in tune with their family situation.

Add into the mix those unfortunate Londoners being shipped up north to cheaper accommodation by some London boroughs and you destroy any opportunity for social landlords to do more than simply provide housing.

The irony of course is that to feel secure in one’s home, with neighbours you know in a place you relate to are essential precursors to getting a job. If you feel displaced and disconnected your self-esteem, confidence and perhaps even mental health will suffer.

Is anybody looking at the whole family when doing these budget saving calculations? Are health, education, housing and employment budgets ever blended to create the best result for both the individual and the state? Surely we have the technology, but do we have the will?

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