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The latest housing initiative: Brokenshire bids to boost ‘garden communities’
The social housing green paper’s section on stigma takes some beating as an example of being able to look but not see.
It has many commendable things to say about how social housing residents are stigmatised, and why this ought to stop.
As one anonymously quoted resident says: “[My main concern is] the perception of council tenants as benefit scroungers when there are many tenants who are hardworking, honest people.”
It shrinks though from substantial conclusions on how these perceptions should be changed, or who should change them.
While the green paper’s heart is clearly in the right place on this issue, its head - if not in the wrong place – is at the least oddly absent.
There is a bold declaration: “This government is determined to tackle such prejudice to ensure that the positive contribution that social housing residents make to their communities, and to society as a whole, is recognised.”
The only concrete idea advanced though is ‘a best neighbourhood competition’, where the document lamely asks: “How could we support or deliver [it]?”
The intention is to use this competition to “celebrate the role of residents in shaping fantastic places by recognising the best neighbourhoods”.
And this could be done by “investment to support successful initiatives to grow, or funding for an event or a street party to bring people together across housing tenures and generate a sense of pride”.
This suggests firstly that little money will go into this, and secondly that ministers fondly remember people in terraced streets at royal jubilees waving Union Jacks while seated at trestle tables eating unfeasible numbers of sausage rolls and think something similar would keep tenants of today happy.
There are also plenty of anonymously quoted complaints about housing staff who speak to residents “in a condescending manner”. One complainant said: “I work full time but the council assume all council tenants don’t work and are available to sit around for all day appointments.”
Councils can no doubt do much to improve things here.
But the green paper cites the nub of the problem while lacking ideas for effective action. It says: “Residents told us that for decades politicians and the media have contributed to the problem with some of the negative language they have used, which can have a lasting impact on how social housing and its residents are perceived.”
Ministers cannot do much about the media, but search the green paper and there is nothing about any commitment by them to talk positively about social housing from now on or influence others to do so too.
They clearly recognise the problem, but shrink from finding solutions except to roll out the sausage rolls. And how condescending is that?
By Mark Smulian, reporter
Fighting stigma with sausages