Policy briefing - Worklessness and social housing

By: Francesca Albanese  Published: November 2008


The Hills Review of social housing found that nearly one-third of the nine million people not in work in England were resident in the social rented sector. This briefing looks at the reasons behind this high rate of worklessness, considers government initiatives to combat such worklessness, and puts forward options for reform.

Summary

The Government’s idea of commitment contracts for social housing tenants follows in the footsteps of other workfare proposals. The concept raises key questions, such as the relationship between benefit sanctions and housing sanctions, the potential impact on tenure rights, and the practicalities of what would happen if tenants lost their home due to their work-seeking status.

Working Neighbourhood pilots clearly demonstrate the added value of individual-focused support with job-related costs for work seekers. Housing providers can play a key role in providing such support, but these schemes are not available for many social housing tenants.

In addition to the complex nature of the benefits system, the way in which housing benefit interacts with other benefits and tax credits, and the system’s response to temporary spells in and out of work, means that in practice, work doesn’t pay for many. Those in temporary accommodation are particularly likely to suffer from work disincentives due to higher rent levels.

A shortage of accessible and sustainable job opportunities, failing schools, lack of adequate childcare provision, postcode discrimination by employers, and poor availability of transport also provide barriers to work. These are strongly linked to the significant overlap between high social housing levels and concentrations of deprivation.

Recent research found no evidence that social housing represents a deterrent to work. This casts strong doubt on the use of policy measures to tackle a ‘culture of worklessness’. Rather, social housing provides a secure and affordable home from which moves into work are easier.

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