'I believe passionately in the value of social housing - but we could do so much more'
In our latest Rethinking social housing comment piece, Peabody chief executive Brendan Sarsfield says housing has failed to keep pace with the changing world around it.
I’m very excited that Peabody is one of the sponsors of this project.
I have been in social housing all my working life and during this long career the world has changed enormously, but I don’t think housing has kept pace. This has led to a huge disconnect between what we do and what the public, residents, politicians and other social, economic and health professionals want from us. Social housing hasn’t changed much since 1945 (which for the record was well before I started my career!) I hope this work will help articulate where we should stand in modern Britain.
However, I do think that the answer will vary across the different parts of the UK. I work in London and the South East and the problems are very distinct from the rest of the country.
Therefore, the answers must be too.
As chief executive of Peabody I think we are here to help house and support those on low incomes and the vulnerable, but others have different goals. This means that even within regions we do not have a common story to tell.
But the Grenfell tragedy has brought all of this into the open. The failure to co-ordinate and integrate housing services didn’t cause the fire, but has been left exposed in the aftermath. To serve our customers better we need a better more effective and fairer social care and economic system.
Where do we fit in?
We can’t answer this ourselves. We need to partner with residents, neighbours, the health service, the education service, economists etc and work together in a way that we haven’t seen before. Together we need to identify what role they think we should provide and develop solutions in partnership. At the heart of this is the recognition of the critical role that having a great quality affordable home plays in the nation’s health, happiness and prosperity.
With increasing pressure on public resources, we won’t be able to meet everyone's needs. But I’m sure that the process itself and the regional purposes (if that is the conclusion) will improve the clarity of what we are trying to do and how we do it.
Defining this clear purpose is going to be critical to this project’s success. I was part of the team that helped draft the brief for this project and there were as many views of what should be in the brief as there were people in the room. I am as interested in rents, service standards, how we house people etc as anyone else, but we can’t answer those questions without the touchstone of knowing what we are trying to achieve with our homes. I am convinced that in this case less is more. Let’s concentrate on answering the most difficult but simple questions.
I believe passionately in the value of social housing. I also believe passionately we could do so much more.
I hope this study helps.
Brendan Sarsfield is chief executive of Peabody - a Rethinking social housing sponsor