A new report exploring the impact of COVID-19 on employment support delivered by the social housing sector has found that 94% of housing associations reported an increase in the number of residents facing economic hardship since March 2020.
This suggests that those who were financially vulnerable before the pandemic hit are being hit hard, and falling further behind.
While job support schemes and benefit increases have been put in place by the government in response to the pandemic, data suggests these initiatives are not enough to protect all those who need them most.
Analysis of the survey results found:
- 88% of housing associations reported an increase in the number of tenants reaching out for support with their finances since March 2020
- 81% of housing associations have seen the number of tenants reaching out for rent support increase since March 2020
- 69% of housing associations reported an increase the number of tenants reaching out for employment support since March 2020
- 66% of housing associations have seen the number of tenants on housing benefit increase since March 2020
The report also revealed that, despite the national challenges, the social housing sector’s investment in employment support remains strong, with an estimated £76m in community investment provided by housing associations in the 2019-20 financial year.
The findings mark a £6m increase since 2018, when the sector was estimated to have invested £70m.
All respondents to the survey were forced to suspend face-to-face employment support services for residents during the pandemic, but over time, 94% said they were able to adapt to provide online support.
The survey results showed that:
- 97% of respondents said that, prior to COVID-19, employment support services were provided to residents and communities face-to-face, with employment workers and trainers delivering support in person
- When the first national lockdown hit in March 2020, 100% of respondents providing face-to-face employment support had to cancel these services
- 94% of respondents were able to use technology to continue to provide residents with remote support sessions, virtual training or e-learning – while just 6% said they were unable to do so
While housing associations have been able to adapt services and move face-to-face contact to digital and telephone-based support, respondents noted that community based, face-to-face support was still important when reaching out to more vulnerable and disadvantaged households.
Several respondents noted that customers frequently face challenges in accessing digital support – such as lack of digital access and low understanding of digital tools, highlighting the pervasiveness of digital exclusion.
Moreover, the report concluded that some respondents’ inability to use technology to continue providing services further emphasises the exclusion risks that arise from a heavy reliance on digital delivery.
The report was produced by Communities that Work, the only national housing industry body dedicated solely to the employment agenda.
The organisation received contributions from 32 housing associations, who collectively own and manage more than one million social housing homes across England and Wales.
Lord Kerslake, chair of Peabody and former head of the Civil Service, commented on the report’s findings, saying: “This report emphasises that the support services provided by the social housing sector have an absolutely critical role in helping those hardest hit by the pandemic and in the recovery.
“While the £76m community investment from the sector is significant, the relationships housing providers build with residents and local partners is invaluable in creating opportunities and helping people secure employment.
“Using the remaining ESF Match funds to amplify the sector’s value and its ability to invest back into local communities can help make the social housing sector a catalyst for economic recovery.”
Lynsey Sweeney, managing director of Communities that Work, said: “With 94% of HAs seeing an increase in the number of residents facing economic hardship and an increase in demand for support services across the board, this report makes clear how vital the social housing sector’s estimated £76m contribution is to helping people achieve employment and a sound financial footing.
“What’s critical about the sector’s support is that it drives economic growth by including the vulnerable, and addressing local labour market needs.
“More could be done now with better use of ESF Match funds, held in reserve, to support those most in need of employment support.
“This kind of smart, inclusive growth is fundamental to our economic rebuilding.”
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “In this challenging climate, housing associations recognise the vital importance of supporting their residents holistically and remain committed to investing in their communities.
“They continue working closely with local partners to provide employment opportunities, training, advice, and guidance to help people back into work.
“With the number of residents requiring this kind of support increasing by 94% since the pandemic, we urge the government to use the upcoming budget announcement to ensure funding certainty for employment programmes and services and put housing at the heart of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund pilots.”
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