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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Is social housing welfare?


Abigail Davies, Assistant Director of Policy and Practice, asks is Social Housing Welfare?

Blog authored by Abigail Davies, Assistant Director of Policy and Practice


I’ve been getting increasingly uncomfortable about the growing strength of the idea that social housing is welfare.

Seeing social housing as part of the welfare state is fine. This puts it alongside the NHS and education - valued national services that matter to everyone and can be used by everyone.

But accepting that social housing is welfare is problematic.

In recent months we’ve seen increased public hostility towards benefit recipients, who are perceived as undeserving, irresponsible, scrounging. Public feeling that tenants shouldn’t be helped to live in expensive areas or properties is the start of a similar disdain for social tenants. This can only lead to discord in neighbourhoods when they most need to pull together, or at least be stable.

You can’t claim welfare when you don’t financially need it. Seeing wealthy people pay social rents whilst others struggle is galling, but it’s a bit of a side issue. If it’s a problem, put the rent up, don’t ask them to leave. Policing ongoing eligibility to retain only people in most need would undermine housing professionals’ roles. Moving from the person who can help make life better to the person who can take homes away when things look up would damage personal relationships and blow the ‘community anchor’ approach out of the water.

Maybe an increased expectation that people will use their time in social housing to change their lives could motivate tenants. But where would the help to make this expectation realistic come from, especially as funding for support services is being cut?

Most social tenants don’t lack aspiration anyway. The housing market doesn’t work well for lower income households, so unless the housing market can be made to work for everyone we will need social housing.

The social consequences of a widespread belief that social housing is welfare are not desirable. Nor are the political ones: how can we ever make the case for social housing to the public and politicians if we are seen as a sector committed to making the lives of the worthless easier whilst others struggle? I’d like us all to push back, using our experience to illustrate the place social housing and its tenants can and should have in society.

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