Just say yes

By James Williams, Head of Social Impact - on 30/10/2018

Most people reading this will know that the government is currently consulting on its Green Paper entitled A new deal for social housing.

As well as questioning how the negative stigma of being a social housing tenant should be tackled, the Green Paper also asks whether landlords should report on their social value. In my view stigma and reporting of social value are connected. By improving our social value reporting we can improve services and reduce stigma as well.

From my experience of working in the sector, the stigma social housing tenants face is a very real issue which is often unjustified. It is not unusual for prejudices to be held against social housing tenants by employers, by landlords themselves, by people in the media and from people living in private sector housing.

Of course, there are problems in some communities of social housing residents, just as there are in communities of homeowners, whether rich or poor.

But the stigmatisation never reflects the positive community-led activities that happen on a daily basis thanks to social housing residents, from children’s clubs and credit unions to jobs clubs and youth groups.

Every one of these projects changes lives for the better and demonstrates that stigmatised views of tenants and certain communities are unjustified. When I worked for a housing association, more often than not, I felt humbled by the time and effort people made to change their communities for the better, without financial or personal gain.

I recognise that some staff working in housing associations deal with demanding situations that can expose them to frustration and sometimes aggression. Consequently, their views of people living in social housing can be negative. It is, however, imperative to remember that these negative events are atypical of everyone in a community, and they should not be used as an excuse for tarring everyone with the same brush.

Over the years, I’ve seen perceptions and neighbourhoods change for the better. It is possible to change how a locality and people are perceived.

Changes can happen when housing association staff develop an understanding of the customers they serve. Having tenants work for housing associations helps. Similarly, formal and informal ways of not just getting tenant feedback but also acting on it, helps to remind, celebrate and observe the positives which exist in people and places.

More often than not, however, positive stories don’t get told. Partly this is because of the nature of the media. Partly it’s because of people’s natural modesty. But it’s also partly because we’re not always aware that there are ways of communicating and celebrating improvements in wellbeing.

If landlords are as serious about deepening our commitment to tenants, then understanding how we improve wellbeing and report these improvements is crucial. Reporting wellbeing through social value information is one simple way in which stigma around social housing and tenants can be reduced. A growing number of housing associations, community groups and councils understand this.

Four years ago, the UK social value bank was developed by HACT and Simetrica. It’s freely available to social housing providers and small community organisations. It offers an easy to use tool to understand social value. It demonstrates how improving the physical quality of the environment, providing services for the homeless, specialist supported housing services, improving mental health and employment/training services all impact on wellbeing.

If we can measure and understand how we are helping to improve wellbeing, then we have a chance to explain to others that their perceptions about social housing are inaccurate.

Critically, at the same time, the social value bank evaluates landlord services in a person-centred way which relies on asking people what difference something is making to their lives. This sits squarely with the government’s objective of encouraging landlords to listen to residents. It also helps to build a culture of accountability and respect.

Measuring and evaluating landlord services in this way will help us to challenge basic false assumptions which at times can underpin a perceived lack of respect and courtesy as referenced in the Green Paper.

The social value bank provides a ready-made solution to addressing the types of feelings cited in the Green Paper that tenants are made to feel less of a person than someone who owns their house.

If every landlord was to measure their activities using the social value bank it would be a great start to demonstrating to tenants, to the organisations themselves and to the outside world all the excellent work being done. It is also the start of a process where services can be improved, and tenants will feel more respected.

The social value bank is currently well used by community investment, resident involvement and tenancy sustainment teams across the UK. The Green Paper points out that there are staff who are very tenant and community minded working in great community development and tenancy services teams. They encourage and support community involvement, considering the all round wellbeing of all tenants and their properties.

The use of the social value bank is by no means restricted to these teams. Measuring the all round wellbeing impact of all the services in a housing association is possible and desirable. The bank includes outcome measures for anti-social behaviour, financial inclusion, asset management, development and neighbourhood management teams.

By using the social value bank, organisations can start to change the way they think about their business by putting wellbeing first. Ultimately, this will improve relationships with tenants. It will help to start to tackle the stigma associated with social housing tenants by an improved understanding and reporting of the positive impact which is generated throughout the country on a daily basis.

So, in answer to the two questions posed in the Green Paper:

What evidence is there of the impact of the important role that many landlords are playing beyond their key responsibilities?

There have been over 12,000 downloads of the social value bank since it was launched almost five years ago. There is an enormous and growing amount of information of what landlords are doing using wellbeing valuation. This information is being used to drive service improvement, aid understanding and challenge negative perceptions. It is incorporated into annual reports, social accounts, funding bids, value for money statements, procurement guidelines and press releases.

Should landlords report on the social value they deliver?

Requiring landlords to report on the wellbeing of tenants is fundamental to reducing stigma and improving relationships with tenants and better delivery of services. Landlords should be required in the future to report on the social value they deliver.

For more information on the social value bank, how it has been used and ideas on how to respond to issues raised on social value reporting in the Green Paper please contact James Williams : 0207 250 8500

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Social Value

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