'Social landlords should deliver the Work Programme'
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Communities, Housing, Local Government
A new report has called on policy-makers to hand power to local community intermediaries such as social landlords and voluntary organisations to determine and deliver the range of employment-related services within their communities.
Think tank ResPublica's 'Responsible Recovery: A social contract for local growth' argues that the ‘community right to challenge’ should be extended to welfare and employment services in order to "save" the Government’s welfare reform agenda.
Launched today in Parliament, the report warns that a radical new approach to welfare reform is needed in order to address the needs of the poorest communities.
Published one week after the Public Accounts Select Committee highlighted the failure of the Work Programme to target those most vulnerable and excluded from the employment market, the report calls for a greater and more robust localism to connect the regeneration agenda with local social value and the needs of local labour markets.
The report is critical of previous regeneration efforts by successive governments, describing them as top-down, statist initiatives which overlook community assets and local labour markets which affect the daily lives and opportunities for residents.
The report calls upon housing associations to use their assets for wider neighbourhood benefit, engage in active partnerships around community budgeting, and support and facilitate asset transfers and devolved services, including employment and training support.
The report's author, Julian Dobson, said: “To achieve an economic recovery which makes a difference for real people, policy makers need to consider the context of real people’s lives. It is not only material assets that people need to escape poverty, but also social assets such as family, friends and neighbours; human assets such as practical skills; and public assets such as local services, infrastructure and community organisations.
“Policies such as the bedroom tax which risks disrupting neighbourhoods, or the loss of affordable childcare, all make the difference for those struggling to get out of the poverty trap.”
Caroline Macfarland, Managing Director of ResPublica, said: “The whole point of localism is applying local knowledge to local problems. Housing associations already play a significant role in driving forward informal local economies. They have unique knowledge of community assets, local networks and local labour markets. Government should recognise this and make sure that national initiatives aimed at reducing unemployment and tackling poverty take into account the expertise of local community organisations.”
The report also recommends exemption from the bedroom tax for households who are considered pillars of the local community, and calls for changes in the system so that lodgers are deemed to occupy a spare room so that there is no under-occupation penalty.
It argues that local networks of social landlords could help match lodgers with spare rooms in the same way that the Homeswapper home exchange scheme is facilitated.
Among the recommendations the report makes to national and local government, social landlords and community-based organisations are:
• the DWP should separate the Jobcentre Plus benefit agency and employment service functions in order to open up employment service provision to local providers;
• the DWP should also incentivise sub-letting of rooms in under-occupied homes by modifying the rules on lodgers so there is no benefit penalty or income tax from letting out a spare room;
• the DCLG, DWP and councils should work together to offer long term ‘community deals’ in which local organisations can act as the budget holders and delivery agents for a wide range of central and local government services;
• social landlords and councils should invest in mechanisms which reward community action, from time banking schemes to rent reductions or bonus schemes for tenants and residents who organise or take part in voluntary activity in their communities;
• The Homes and Communities Agency should select development partners for its affordable homes programme not only on the basis of their ability to provide value for money when building, but also on their record of creating long term social value in the neighbourhoods and communities they invest in.
The report has the support of a coalition of housing providers from across the UK which are already pioneering community-led initiatives to achieve social sustainability and local growth.
These are: Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the largest housing mutual governed by staff and tenants, Cross Keys Homes in Peterborough, Trafford Housing Trust, and the Placeshapers group, which represents over 85 housing providers around the UK.
Mick Leggett, Chief Executive of Cross Keys Homes, and member of the Placeshapers group, said: “The ResPublica report highlights the long standing challenges of ‘regeneration’ and the big current issues affecting communities across the country. We welcome this report as a reminder of the importance of developing a people centred approach and of nurturing growth at a local level.
“The approaches advocated in the report will reduce the risk of our more vulnerable communities being marginalised, isolated and viewed as a problem which drain resources, and help to ensure that the people living as part of these communities are valued and supported to play a key role in community and economic life.”
Matthew Gardiner, chief executive of Trafford Housing Trust, and member of the Placeshapers group, said: “Without local approaches national policy risks creating the blight of empty homes and abandoned communities which will undermine work to support local growth.
“Many housing providers rooted in the local communities already lead by example in our people-led approach to local social value, through our spending and procurement, and support for employment, training and volunteering opportunities. We understand our local markets and should be trusted to make the best use of our homes.”
Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing said: “This report highlights a range of innovative approaches driven from the involvement and empowerment of tenants and employees who live and work in our communities. Our established networks of community voices and tenant volunteers – who help with community projects, scrutinise services, donate time as Representatives or Board members, or simply support an older or more vulnerable neighbour – all help shape our understanding of local needs and priorities.”