As we head into 2022 amid a backdrop of economic uncertainty, new-year optimism, like many other things, appears in short supply. Lynsey Sweeney, MD of Communities that Work, explains what housing providers can do to support those communities coming under increasing financial strain
The onset of any new year should bring with it a sense of promise – a feeling of hope and optimism of what might lie ahead.
But this year, that optimism feels stretched, as we start 2022 with soaring inflation, rising energy costs, increasing food prices, all combined with so-say record employment figures that belie the real truth: less people in the workforce to fill jobs, average earnings falling as inflation overtook pay growth, more people categorised as ‘economically inactive’, and doubt over the number of people in good quality, permanent jobs.
At the time of writing, inflation had peaked for the first time in a generation, with widespread increases in the costs of most goods and services. The inflation jump will worsen the cost-of-living crisis already crushing so many household incomes across the UK – and, as ever, will hit our poorest households the hardest, pushing more people into daily life poverty and leaving them more at risk of being left behind in the extraordinary jobs recovery.
And unless the chancellor caves to pressure from within some corners of his party, new tax increases will kick in later in the spring – a bitter start to the season of new beginnings and growth.
It’s well documented that housing providers play a unique role in society – as lifetime custodians of the places we help to build we foster long-term relationships with both our residents and our wider communities. We understand the neighbourhoods, the local social dynamics, as well as our residents and their needs. We’re local trusted partners in some of the most marginalised and deprived communities. The sector knows it doesn’t get everything right 100% of the time, but it confronts this honestly and makes changes swiftly.
In employment support, the sector has provided excellent support for tenants and residents for many years and continues to build on this track record. We’re in it for the long term and the sector makes good on its commitments to people, households, and communities.
In 2022, this vital role of housing providers is more critical than ever. This role extends to far more than merely providing places for people to call home: we are the UK’s second biggest investor in employment support, behind the Department for Work and Pensions, helping tenants access meaningful employment opportunities and to progress in work.
Our most recent Member Survey, launched in 2021, showed that housing associations are the second biggest investor in employment support after the Department for Work and Pensions, contributing an estimated £76m in employment support services for their residents and communities in 2019-20. In the same fiscal year, the 60 largest housing associations alone contributed more than £100m in community investment.
Unlocking the future
With even more challenging times ahead, it is imperative the social housing sector continues to be a positive force for change. We need to maintain our commitment to and investment in employment support, giving people the tools they need to overcome barriers and make a success of life.
To do so, we need to ensure we are around the table and that our voice is heard as 2022’s busy policy agenda moves forward. In the Levelling Up White Paper and the Social Housing Regulation Bill, we see two of the key policies that will impact both the housing and employment sectors this year. We continue to await details on the framework for the UK’s post-Brexit Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) and we continue to urge the Government to involve social housing as key players – as investment partners – from the outset of the Fund.
“With even more challenging times ahead, it is imperative the social housing sector continues to be a positive force for change”
Levelling up and UKSPF are once-in-a-lifetime chances for the government to invest in our communities and to provide opportunities where they are most needed. European funding, ESF et al, did make a difference and did protect important social policies across the UK. But this funding didn’t reach everyone, and it wasn’t readily recognised by many communities as the driver for social changes that they wanted to see.
UKSPF has a chance to reach people in a different way, in a more directly democratic and accountable way and to be shaped optimally for local communities by local partners. Social housing is essential in local UKSPF structures and must be given the space to work with ‘lead authorities’ in line with the UKSPF Framework and the Levelling Up White Paper.
It is vital that a more effective and less bureaucratic UKSPF is developed in a way that can support levelling up and ensure that no communities are left behind in the UK’s journey to growth as we work to build back better from COVID and tackle inequality.
The Social Housing and UKSPF Commission is calling on the government to leverage the power and value of housing providers to maximise the impact that UKSPF can have, by working with housing providers to design the UKSPF and with four key steps to success.
- Set up UKSPF for success from the start
- Ringfence UKSPF funding for housing providers
- Put housing providers at the heart of UKSPF delivery
- Cut the red tape
These developments could – and should – enable social housing services and job opportunities to continue to reach those most in need, to help more people through the most difficult of times and to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.
We are the community anchors who connect with vulnerable and hard-to-reach people every day. Our support strengthens people and places and grows local economies based on specific resident and local community needs, connecting people with employment and skills opportunities in response to local labour markets and setting them on the path to meaningful work and sustainable career progression. We can ensure that no one is left behind in the bid to level up the UK.
Communities that Work works in partnership with a range of stakeholders to build influence around the housing and employment agenda.
Image: Lynsey Sweeney, managing director, Communities that Work
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