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Can the housing sector help boost social mobility?

25/08/2011


Abigail Davies, Assistant Director of Policy and Practice, discusses how housing policy can help – or hinder – social mobility.

During the month when social divisions have been in the media spotlight, I've been considering how housing policy can help – or hinder – social mobility.

Why now? The Department for Communities and Local Government is working on a national housing strategy which will focus on supporting economic growth and social mobility. The role given to housing in the social mobility white paper seemed a little thin, and the Chartered Institute of Housing would like to see a wider range of policies acknowledged and supported in the housing strategy.

The government defines social mobility in terms of the ability to participate and succeed in the economy. It wants to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to access professional or managerial jobs and to increase their income. Accepting this definition for now, there is much that national housing policy can contribute.

I asked the housing community to help me draw up a list of the ways housing can support a social mobility agenda. With a bit of support from Twitter followers @ajsewell85, @ClaireGodwin1, @PaulBromford and @kevingulliver, I've come up with the following list of national housing policy commitments that could boost social mobility, and some broad ideas for the types of intervention that could deliver the commitments. The suggestions are wide-ranging, and I hope the government will add some of them to its thinking on the issue.

Social mobility – what can housing do to help?

Improve housing affordability in or near economically successful areas

Promote access to assets for non-owners, including a range of equity stakes

Allow people on the margins of the labour market to live near it by amending housing benefit policy and creating "getting on" tenancies

Improve physical mobility in all tenures

Improve stability for tenants in the private rented sector using long-term investors, and offering clarity on the likely length of occupancy for renters

Promote access to ownership for people without parental support

Ensure adequate provision of supported housing for young and vulnerable people

Integrate housing benefit and other benefits to support moves into work

Recognise the extent and impact of poor affordability on working households – and intervene

Ensure good quality of housing to promote good physical and mental health through private sector renewal funding

Reduce overcrowding through mobility projects to promote health and educational success

Avoid the concentration of new sub-market housing in deprived areas

Expect a Total Place approach from social housing providers (investment in wider community, beyond housing, and in staff).

I do want to come back to the definition of social mobility. It would be worth considering ways to improve people's social standing, not just their economic performance; not everyone can have a well-paid job, but anybody can be well-respected within their community or area of interest.

Being valued and recognised, having some kind of status, is good for individuals. The government values voluntary activity, public participation, and community leadership (which can bring this status) because it is good for society. So if we broaden social mobility to include improving people's social standing, could housing policy help? Tenant participation and activism, leasehold enfranchisement, residents' associations, and neighbourhood planning all have a part to play.

These ideas are a starting block and I'll be refining and adding detail to the suggested policy commitments and interventions before we discuss them with the government. But I want to ensure that as many housing professionals as possible have contributed to the discussion. If you've got ideas to add – or there are ones you would like to see removed – or you have examples of best practice to illustrate the point, I'd like to hear from you. Please post a comment below, or email me with your thoughts.

Follow Abi on Twitter at @AbiDaviesCIH


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