By Carl Davis
Carl Davis reviews the report on challenging the stigmatization of social housing tenants in England, by Amanze Ejiogu and Mercy Denedo.
The report sets out to fill the knowledge gap around the stigmatisation of social housing, and explain how and why people are judged negatively and even actively discriminated against simply because they rent their home from a social landlord.
Ejiogu and Denedo offer a deeper understanding of how those involved in the social housing sector in England (including tenants, politicians, and landlords) contribute to the construction of stigma. Their research also draws out how tenants and other actors experience this stigma, explaining its impact and the ways that social housing stigma is now being challenged.
The Ideological Shift
After the election of the Thatcher government in 1979, the establishment forced through an ideological shift which promoted home ownership. Key developments such as giving tenants the ‘Right to Buy’ their council home, and imposition of constraints on building publicly subsidised housing to those in greatest need over decades, has continued into the austerity of the present day. These factors have helped fuel the housing crisis now facing the working class in Britain.
To undertake this research, the authors reviewed various material, including research by organisations and groups challenging the stigmatization of social housing on social media. They also interviewed people from a broad range of backgrounds, from social housing tenants, to social landlords, and religious leaders.
As a result of their thorough research, the report is peppered with insightful quotes of the everyday realities of living with social housing stigma. Even more depressingly are the accounts from people who should know better attempting to justify it.
There are of course different ways to identify and difine social housing stigma. The report goes to some lengths in an effort to tease out its specific nature and complexity. This largely manifests as a generalised disapproval, dislike, distrust, fear, and revulsion towards those who live in social housing.
It can be found amongst social housing staff at the highest levels of housing associations, through to their contractors. Council officers and councillors are not immune to displaying this trait, and it was found amongst professional services such as GPs and the police. It affects communities with tensions between private homeowners and social tenants, or even the tenants and leaseholders of the same housing association.
Stigmatisation is then perpetuated in wider society through the media, reinforcing other forms of stigma and discrimination around issues like disability, sex, gender race and class.
Ejiogu and Denedo set out their findings and conclusions, and draw out policy implications for tackling social housing stigma. They conclude with a set of consultation questions along with a framework for a wider consultation process.
The publication of this report is clearly timely in terms of the disrespectful and stigmatizing attitudes by social housing providers. The exposure of Clarion and L&Q by ITV’s investigations into living conditions and attitudes in social housing was simply an illustration of a much deeper and broader problem.
Not Welcome Here
One section in the report is particularly illustrative, and quotes directly from a social landlord. The landlord explains that a brand new block of flats was built, and that around 90% of allocations were people with mental health problems.
He says “those windows and everything are being smashed out. Only for us to realise that the council has put all mental health tenants in there and we don’t provide support. Most of them are not known to the mental health team. Most of them are not engaging so they’ve closed their case.”
Someone from a neighbouring property went to the paper with a story summarised as “how dare you come and build a house here and put people with mental health in it.”
I gather people think I’m too provocative. Re-read that and reflect on why.
Raising Fundamental Questions
The concluding consultation section from the report is well worth a read. The authors call for an honest and spirited engagement by all stakeholders in the social housing sector, including but not limited to the government, politicians, the media, housing providers and tenants.
The consultation opens with some fundamental questions on the purpose of social housing, whether access to affordable housing should be recognized as a human right, who should have access to it. It challenges us to put a stop to the use of stigmatizing language and rhetoric in relation to social housing.
The report is certainly a welcome contribution to an important discussion, and highlights some critical points for all involved in the social housing sector. It is an accessible read, and the authors welcome thoughts and responses.
15 July 2021