The latest English Housing Survey has stirred up more controversy about the social housing sector’s role and reputation, as well as how its tenants perceive their landlords. Vinny Roche looks at what lessons can be learned
It’s official – tenants in the private rented sector are more satisfied with their homes than their social housing counterparts are. So says the government’s recently published 2018/19 English Housing Survey.
There’s not much between them – 84% for the private sector, 81% for social – and you know what they say about lies, damn lies and statistics. But to dismiss this as such would be wrong, in addition to being foolish.
The government uses the annual survey to assess current housing conditions, along with the circumstances of householders, and crucially to inform its future policies. The survey has been reporting higher satisfaction levels in the private rented sector for accommodation and also repair services for the past 10 years, so, if ever there was a need to dig a bit further, it’s here.
The surveys over the past decade, which included owner-occupiers, tell us you are more likely to be satisfied with your housing if you are older, white or of Indian origin, employed, or retired; black and lone parent households, along with those experiencing overcrowding, are significantly less satisfied.
So, there’s nothing completely unexpected there, but what is the story behind the figures and why does this matter?It matters because housing shapes peoples’ lives. Just because something has always been like this, it doesn’t mean it has to stay like this.
To make the improvement yes, we need to build more homes, but we also need increased and more intelligent investment in our existing homes, along with a better understanding of our tenants.
“It’s about us making social housing tenants proud to be just that. Transforming social housing tenancies into prized possessions. Knowing they have a landlord that provides great homes, great services and one that cares about them”
Our country should be proud that we have approximately 12 million people living in 4.5 million social homes. But we know that a significant number of these households live in poverty, and there will be those who require support from local authorities and health services stretched to breaking point. We also have tenants who want and are financially able to move into homeownership. In simple “satisfaction” terms, tenants don’t all need or want the same thing.
Social housing has the opportunity and I would argue the obligation to be held in the same regard as our National Health Service. We can be an institution that marks our country out as great, that reduces society’s increasing inequalities and in doing so unites us as a people. That’s how important social housing is.
We know that we have work to do. Back in 2018, the government’s green paper A ‘New Deal’ for Social Housing discussed the stigma attached to being a social housing tenant. The COVID-19 recession will increase the pressures, with our current and prospective tenants needing us more than ever. For a significant number, the homes and services we provide are an opportunity to live a normal life rather than just exist.
So, this isn’t about chasing percentage points on the English Housing Survey. It’s about us making social housing tenants proud to be just that – transforming social housing tenancies into prized possessions, with tenants knowing they have landlords that provide great homes and great services and that care about them.
To do that, we not only have to tell our story better, we have to up our game. The call for step-changed increased investment in social housing can only succeed when our own tenants are shouting from the rooftops about how great social housing is.
“The survey numbers are not wrong, but we have to be able to tell and evidence the story behind them to ensure those we need to influence draw the right conclusions”
The numbers are not everything, but they do matter. For some time now, the government’s housing priority has been homeownership. If you want to fund homeownership over social housing, you don’t have to delve too long in the English Housing Survey to find a few numbers that will support your case. If you want to say the private rented sector is better than social housing, just go to the English Housing Survey.
The survey numbers are not wrong, but we have to be able to tell and evidence the story behind them to ensure those we need to influence draw the right conclusions. That story is of our properties and the lives of our tenants, and the more knowledge and understanding we have of this story, the better our homes and services will become. Then the numbers just look after themselves.
Vinny Roche, former chief executive, First Choice Homes Oldham