Behind the Facade: L&Q, the G15, and the Fractured Reality of UK’s Social Housing
by Carl Davis
In the intricate tapestry of the UK’s social housing landscape, few threads stand out as starkly as L&Q housing association.
Boasting a rich history and grand ambitions, the association is today a microcosm of the very challenges that have come to define the sector. Beyond its public relations prowess lies a nuanced tale — one of genuine struggle, corporate manoeuvring, and leadership contradictions.
L&Q’s Polished Façade and the Reality Beneath
L&Q has long championed itself as the gold standard in resident-centric operations. Publications, campaigns, and rainbow draped media outings laud its supposed strides and advancement in resident involvement and equality, diversity and inclusion.
Most recently, L&Q launched ‘A Partnership of Equals, Resident Involvement for better Relationships, Culture and Service’ (May 2023). The report introduced a ‘Resident involvement reframed as volunteering’ model. However, ground realities often tell a story starkly contrasting the sunny picture painted by the association.
The Tale of the Disabled Tenant: A Microcosm of Wider Failings
A particularly poignant instance shedding light on L&Q’s operational chasms is the tale of a disabled resident. For over four arduous years, this resident, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, endured a brutal battle for basic dignity – reasonable adjustments to accommodate their disability.
Intent on ensuring that no one else suffered in the manner he had, this resident channelled his pain and trauma into constructive input that appeared to be welcomed. The aim was to assist L&Q in reviewing their unfit for purpose ‘Reasonable Adjustment’ handling policy.
However, the association’s response was far from commendable. Instead of embracing this opportunity for genuine transformation and partnership with residents, L&Q astonishingly reneged on the resolution agreement as soon as the resident withdrew his complaint from the Ombudsman. In doing so, L&Q cast a dark shadow over its proclaimed values.
This solitary episode, though deeply troubling, encapsulates the association’s broader struggles with upholding its foundational ethos and laid bare the yawning gap between L&Q’s public commitments and its real actions. The resident, after offering an avenue for understanding, forgiveness and learning, was once again left in the cold.
The Power Dynamics: Tokenism over Genuine Empowerment
A deeper dive into L&Q’s operational playbook exposes inherent power imbalances. The so-called volunteer model, while sounding democratic, is marred with inequities. Volunteers, often residents with lived experiences, find themselves laden with responsibilities. Conversely, L&Q’s obligations remain frustratingly undefined.
The association’s claims of resident participation further unravel in practice. Tokenism trumps genuine involvement, and the association’s framework delineates the very boundaries residents can influence, stifling organic, resident-driven change. Volunteers signing up for, and being inducted into, the resident involvement scheme are told this agreement is in honour only. It forewarns of other agreements dishonourably unkept.
A Sector in Flux: Commercialization and Ethical Drift
Any illusions about the state of social housing in the UK were shattered with the releasation of the Housing Ombudsman’s Special investigation into L&Q. The drift in L&Q’s operations cannot be viewed in isolation; it mirrors the larger commercialization of the social housing sector.
L&Q, born out of a profound societal commitment, increasingly exhibits tendencies typical of profit-chasing enterprises. This shift is alarming not merely for its operational repercussions but for the profound moral drift it represents.
Loud calls for systemic overhauls, even from political figureheads like Michael Gove, underscore the gravity of the issue. L&Q’s stance, however, remains defiant, characterized by broken promises, unlistening-and-heavy handed. It continues to dismiss genuine concerns for suffering the association has inflicted.
The Rise of Activism: The Struggle for Genuine Reform
Yet, all is not lost. A burgeoning resident activism wave, buoyed by entities like SHAC, challenges the status quo. Collective protests, demonstrations, and calls for reform by individuals and groups on- and off-line are growing.
The unfurling movement underscores the depth of disillusionment, the days of the bullying social housing executives are numbered. Both L&Q and the Housing Ombudsman, however, exhibit inertia in addressing these cries for change.
The Leadership Enigma: Contradictions Personified
Perhaps the most perplexing facet of this narrative are the presence of sector leaders like Fiona Fletcher-Smith (L&Q), Richard Hill (One Housing Group), and Clare Miller (Clarion) as part of the ‘G15’ group of housing associations. Presented as a force for good, this collective is in fact increasingly driven by commercial pursuits over community welfare.
The G15 pays lip service to equality, diversity and inclusion
The chasm between the corporate posturing of the eleven housing associations in the G15 group, and the genuine struggles of the residents is impossible to ignore. Fiona Fletcher-Smith, oft-criticized as one of England’s most reviled associations, is the current G15 Chair.
How have the heads of associations marred by repeated criticisms and a troubling track record continued unabated in their positions of power? This leadership dichotomy is not merely symbolic; it represents the sector’s most depressing and pressing challenges.
Navigating the Contradictions
The social housing sector in the UK stands at a precipice. Its rich legacy and troubling present, exemplifies the sector’s challenges. The juxtaposition raises uncomfortable questions about power dynamics, leadership fitness, and the future of social housing in the country.
A genuine reckoning is overdue. The sector’s stakeholders, from individual residents to the larger community, deserve transparency, accountability, and, most importantly, a return to the foundational ethos that birthed entities like L&Q.