Wednesday, 01 June 2016

A helping hand

Some people have accused Wandsworth Council of applying a double whammy for new council tenants… lose your job and you lose your home. This isn’t the case. What we intend to do, as part of a pilot project, is to use fixed-term tenancies to provide support for people to get into work. In return, we expect them to take up opportunities available. If, after two years, people are still unemployed and there is evidence they have refused to take up opportunities, I think it is fair to give that home to someone who is prepared to work. Just like any good pilot, we are committed to reviewing it and learning lessons before deciding to roll it out further.

We need to reset our parameters on housing policy away from tick-box qualification towards one which is focused on progression, reward for effort and mobility. Social housing should be a starting point, not an end point. We want people to get on in life, ideally moving out of social housing and freeing up stock for other people or buying the property they are in so assets can be reinvested and recycled - a dynamic housing sector, rather than a static one. We want to refocus social housing so its primary aim is to provide our low-income working residents with a local housing option. Social housing is a scarce commodity and should be used to inspire and help people to improve their lives.

If you live in communities where unemployment is seen as the norm, it is hard to break the habit. We want our estates to be thriving, mixed communities. So do the vast majority of people living on them.

Around 30 per cent of working age people on our estates claim full housing benefit, while unemployment levels stand at around 3 per cent. This picture is not unrepresentative of the rest of the country. In September there were 1,522 local job vacancies and 22,000 available in inner London. Times are hard, but opportunities are there.

How will this be applied? Let me give some examples. If people are made redundant, of course we are not going to take their home away. They will have time and support to get back on their feet. If they are trying their best to find a job, and those supporting them can evidence this, we will give them time to find work. The new policy will only be applied in the small minority of cases where there is clear evidence that people are foregoing opportunities. Those opportunities could even include taking on voluntary work where there are clear skills benefits.

Sitting on the sofa all day waiting for your benefits cheque should never be an option. Here in Wandsworth, we want to offer diverse and transformative housing solutions that support individual achievement and use social housing to give a hand-up rather than a handout.

Paul Ellis is cabinet member for housing at Wandsworth Council

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