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

Tackling stigma in social housing


Has social housing become stigmatised? Ahead of her session at Total Housing, Grand Union Housing chief executive and CIH vice president argues that a safe, secure home should be seen as a right – just as much as the right to good healthcare and an education.

I grew up in a mining town in north Nottinghamshire on a street that had both council houses and private ones. We didn’t know that there was any difference at all – the parents worked at the same places and the children went to the same schools. We all learned together, played together and socialised together. There was no stigma - we were all just people getting on with our lives. The street is still there but many of the council houses have been bought under the right to buy and socially rented homes are in the minority.

The reasons for the stigmatisation of those who live in social housing are many and complex but I believe they have their origins in the right to buy and the failure across 40 years to build enough homes. Social housing has become marginalised, allocation policies focused on those in most need, welfare reform and cuts to housing benefit have all played a part and neither the media or politicians have helped. Poverty porn TV is also a factor and a quick look at Facebook reveals any number of ‘council estate humour’ type pages which are less that complimentary about those who live in the homes we provide. The reduction in the number of social rented homes available means that fewer people have any direct experience of living in one and increasingly they are seen as a tenure of last resort.

Research by the 'See the Person' campaign revealed that the British public thought that 24 per cent of people living in social housing are unemployed when the real figure is seven per cent and yet the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2017 showed that 75 per cent of those who live in housing association homes think they are good places to live.

The government's social housing green paper had something to say about stigma too – in particular referring to the way some landlords treat their tenants – but street parties as a way of dealing with it are unlikely to be regarded as a long-term solution.

As part of my research for this I came across a thread on Mumsnet which perfectly encapsulates these opposing views, from complaints about anti-social behaviour to praising social housing for being high quality and good value for money.

Government policies have focused on home-ownership as being the tenure to aim for with products like Help to Buy being championed.

If we want to end the stigma then we have to tackle all of these – no easy task– but first we have to work to change public opinion so that social housing is welcomed and seen as a big part of the solution to the housing crisis. A safe, secure home is a right – just as much as the right to good healthcare and an education.

  • Aileen will be discussing tackling the stigma attached to social housing on day two at CIH's Total Housing event, which takes place in Brighton on 6-7 March. Find out more and book your place

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