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New approach

Recognising the importance of people having a stake in their communities is good, but the real trick is delivering this, says Stuart Macdonald

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One of the key points in the interim report from the riots, communities and victims panel, published on Monday, was that people who feel they have a stake in society are far more likely to act to ensure that society is a good one.

What the interim report doesn’t do is fully explore how to ensure as many people as possible feel they have this elusive ‘stake’.

Darra Singh, the panel’s chair and former chief executive of Asra Housing Association in London, promises this will be the focus of the second stage of the report, which will be published in March. Given his background he should know that housing providers have much to offer in this area, so the fact ‘housing’ is mentioned just 10 times in his initial report (four of which are in Mr Singh’s biography) does not bode well.

As our own Riot Report - produced in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation - will demonstrate, social landlords of all shapes and sizes are investing to build stronger communities through training, activities for young people and employment opportunities. We will ensure Mr Singh has plenty of examples.

As we highlight in our residents special this week, there is still more that social landlords can do, however. It may provoke controversy but a number of English councils have begun allocating homes on the basis of ‘community contribution’ as well as housing need. As Manchester Council’s Paul Beardmore says: ‘Council housing is for people who work’, not just those in housing need. Wandsworth Council in south London plans to take this a step further by giving jobseekers a home for two years during which time they must find work. If they don’t, they’re back on the housing waiting list.

These approaches, while perhaps severe, are certainly innovative and, if successful, should encourage that elusive sense of having a stake in a community. The problem comes, however, when people need to pay affordable rents of up to 80 per cent of market rates once they are in employment and are only given short-term tenancies. Those are pretty powerful disincentives to becoming economically active and ones which must be overcome.

Stuart Macdonald is editor of Inside Housing

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