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Bitter Sweet Charity

By Carl Davis

In the Islamic tradition there is a saying that when it comes to charity “the left hand shouldn’t know what the right is doing”. It means that good deeds and acts of charity should be carried out discreetly for the sole benefit of the intended beneficiaries, not the moral aggrandisement or any public perception to the advantage of the giver.

Almost all housing associations are also registered charities, but the ethical concept is completely lost on the largest, like L&Q, Clarion, One Housing, and Hyde, whose every other social media post fanfares some beneficent act of corporate selflessness on their part.

Comms teams churn out content attaching their brands to the promotion and advancement of every good cause going. They seek to present charity as remedy to every social ill, and create the impression that they are community focused, socially responsible oganisations.

In the world of housing association landlords however, there are no discreet random acts of charity or kindness. Their efforts are instead meticulously, corporately calculated, and carefully packaged for public consumption.

A Useful Tool

Nothing is given or championed that doesn’t serve the narrow interest of the organisation first. These huge, multi-billion pound and supposedly ‘social’ landlords cynically exploit the very concept of charity.

Charitable status after all is a useful tool. It helps offset tax bills, and distracts from acknowledging failings in the delivery of core business; homes, services, employment.

Housing associations were set up to provide and maintain safe, affordable homes people want to live in, and offer housing support services. They pledged to treat tenants, residents, customers and workers with decency. But this is something many of these huge organisations seem unwilling or unable to do.

Peabody homes developed in the 1880s (right)

The Easy Path to Glory?

Clarion: See Us, Hear Us

How much easier for Clarion to use social media channels to highlight its self proclaimed philanthropic achievements in community building during the pandemic than to address the shabby slum landlord-like behaviour exposed by ITV Housing Stories.

How much easier the expansion-obsessed L&Q found it to talk up a paltry donation to a local community initiative than to meaningfully address the deliberate systemic neglect of its properties over the last decade or so, and the accompanying disdain and lack of empathy for its own tenants, residents, and customers.

L&Q: Fix Our Broken Homes

How much easier, more convenient, and frankly more profitable it is for the big, remote, social landlords to benevolently donate the income received from long-suffering and voiceless tenants to some trending good cause, than to address a long list of corporate failings.

Small charitable donations allow social landlords registered as charities to overlay deep-rooted customer dissatisfaction, criticism, and dissent, with glowing accounts of corporate magnanimity.

Self-Projected Heroism

But what about social tenants themselves? They don’t benefit from the major providers’ claims of secular sainthood, or the charitable use of their rent money or the self-projected heroism of the relentless narcissistic awards ceremonies.

Indeed, a recent report by Dr Amanze Ejiogu and Dr Mercy Denedo found that social housing and those who live in it continues to be heavily stigmatised. It is fair to ask therefore what the giants of the sector are doing to tackle this stigma and discrimination. Not very much it seems. Even post Grenfell.

Protesting the UK Housing Awards 2019

Under the guise of charitable works, the larger housing associations are throwing masses of money and resources into pushing their own commercial brands, enhancing their own esteem. They are not pushing the concept of safe, well maintained and truly affordable social. They are not providing the the public housing needed, free from stigma, to end homelessness and ensure everyone has a decent home to live in and call their own.

So tenants are beginning to organise. They are forming new groups across estates, tenures, and regions. They are forging new links with like-minded campaigners. They are equipping themselves to tackle the deep-rooted power imbalance and stigma in the social housing sector. They are withholding rents and service charges until landlords sit up and take notice.

SHAC and other housing groups will be holding a protest outside the UK Housing ASHAC and other housing groups will be holding a protest outside the UK Housing Awards ceremony at the O2 Intercontinental Hotel on the 25th November. We assemble from 5pm outside North Greenwich Tube Station.

Join us for our protest in November. At the UK Housing Awards, as executives dressed for a ball focussed on praising themselves and sharing trophies, SHAC and its members will be making sure they know we are no longer tolerating their shoddy services and substandard housing.

24 August 2021

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

2 thoughts on “Bitter Sweet Charity”

  1. Tenants and residents should have more of a say in their housing association’s promotional and marketing decisions, content and spend as this relentless cynical commercial exploitation of charitable activity is increasing the landlord -tenant power imbalance and perpetuating rather than challenging the stigmatization of social housing and those who live in it.

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