The social housing sector has proved critical in providing support to communities during the Coronavirus crisis, argues Lisa Boothroyd, Welfare Benefits Team Leader at Cobalt Housing. But only through significant government investment can the sector continue to meet the needs of residents…
Our homes are often the constant in life’s unpredictable journey. For many of us, a home is where we grow up and establish our identity, where we become independent, where we move in with a partner, where we create a home for a family of our own.
Regardless of our upbringing, a home should provide us with a space to make us feel safe and secure. But more than that, it should help us to live well, realise our potential, and achieve the things that are important to us. For this to happen, we need more than just bricks and mortar.
Housing associations have a duty of care to residents, and they provide much more than a home to their communities: they are a pivotal support centre that tenants turn to during times of financial hardship.
The COVID-led economic crisis has shown just how many people need support and, more worryingly, tougher times lie ahead for individuals who were already struggling before the crisis.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed that employment rates continue to fall, with 81,000 people losing employment in July alone.
Young people (aged 18-24) have been worst hit by the employment crisis, with the BBC reporting that one in every six young people is now claiming out-of-work benefits in some parts of the UK. With many young people wanting to move out of their homes, become financially independent, and start their own families, these individuals are left feeling lost…
Doing our bit
Through Cobalt Housing’s welfare benefit advice line, we have assisted over 400 of our tenants since the lockdown began in March. Many of these tenants were young, single individuals with families who were affected by the financial implications of COVID-19. It is important to our team to support those individuals to continue to become financially independent despite the ongoing crisis.
At Cobalt, we strongly believe in working with our community to effectively support our tenants, and we are grateful to have a network of community groups and partners who are always there when our tenants need extra help and support. With many young people unexpectedly having to seek benefit options, our team and local and national partners such as charity Turn2Us assisted those struggling with benefit checks, so that they can claim the support they are entitled to.
There are more tough times ahead for our communities, given the recent news the UK has tipped into the largest recession on record, which has seen GDP slump by a colossal 20.4% in the second quarter of 2020.
This crisis has highlighted the alarming issues of food poverty in neighbourhoods across the UK, with the Trussell Trust network reporting a 89% rise in food bank use since April and a 107% rise in parcels for children.
“It has been local people, helping other local people, that has truly helped to get us through these uncertain times”
The housing sector plays an important role in supporting those experiencing hardship, and as the recession continues, the social housing sector will need a boost to support community groups, which in turn will support tenants in need.
Cobalt Housing made a £6,000 contribution toward food in Croxteth, Norris Green, and Fazakerley during the coronavirus crisis, which led to over 200 tenants accessing emergency food parcels. We saw an incredible response from our local community groups and individuals who came together and supported each other, and we have seen a fantastic community spirit come to the fore. It has been local people, helping other local people, that has truly helped to get us through these uncertain times.
Significance of social housing
Social housing helps to foster a network of community support, which in turn brings added economic and social benefits to neighbourhoods. The UK government must pledge to invest in social housing, and in turn community support, within their upcoming autumn statement.
Without the invaluable support provided to people behind the scenes during the crisis, many tenants could have found themselves alone, helpless, and possibly on the streets.
Looking beyond the crisis, future economic support provided by housing associations will be crucial to helping individuals to live well within their communities.
In 2019/2020, Cobalt’s welfare benefits team opened 1,500 cases to support our tenants with discretionary housing payments, benefit forms, and appeals to ensure they receive their full benefit entitlement.
We have secured £1.63m in benefits for tenants, improving the health and wellbeing of many living in our community. Securing these funds for Cobalt tenants has ensured that people can live well with their families and makes them more financially independent.
The demand for this support will increase over the coming months and years, so investment in it is critical.
“I’m asking the Chancellor to show his commitment to tenants and communities across the UK through significant investment in social housing in his Autumn statement”
In addition, our health and wellbeing initiatives (self-run and community funded) have got tenants outside, active, and thinking about making healthy choices, supporting local NHS and, and council priorities.
Investing in the long-term futures of tenants is central to ensuring that they can grow, thrive, and live well in their homes. In 2019/2020, we invested over £9k in a crisis fund to support 42 Cobalt households, providing furniture items, gas and electric payments, and even payments for phone-top ups – things many of us take for granted when we can.
Encouraging our tenants to live well is important, but we must also ensure that tenants and their families aren’t struggling financially. Only with government backing through financial investment can social housing continue to nurture and develop the community support networks that connect neighbourhoods together.
If we want to secure a strong future for the UK and its people, we need to act now, and I’m asking the Chancellor to show his commitment to tenants and communities across the UK through significant investment in social housing in his Autumn statement.
Main image: Lisa Boothroyd, Welfare Team Leader, Cobalt Housing