Giving someone a new home is akin to a fresh start. How that fresh start looks in a year’s time is attributed to how much support and encouragement, each individual or family receive to nurture their confidence back into working and living normally again.

For all people who have been re-homed, dignity is key and a boost of belief and self-confidence is often the difference between a positive and a negative outcome.

At More Housing we know that the effect of councils using our homes is the creation of new communities. For those communities to thrive, a number of systems need to be in place. One intrinsic factor to a person’s ongoing life and feeling of self-worth is their work life.

With hundreds of thousands of people listed as ‘economically inactive’ and a high percentage of those in social housing this is a massive issue that the government is keen to address.

With a plethora of knowledge, experience and contacts across the UK, no-one is in a better position to guide in this area than organisation, Communities that Work. Managing Director Lynsey Sweeney, took some time out from her day to speak to our writer Cherry Martin about the current situation and her hopes for 2023 …

So can you detail what Communities that Work is all about?

Essentially we exist to understand and promote to government at all tiers, the role of social housing in employment, skills and life chances. We cover everything that touches that space. Social housing is  not just about a roof over someone’s head, which of course, is the most urgent pressing need, but also the next conversation about where people go from there, to build and create sustainable livelihoods. A new home is a fresh start and a time to move on with life chances. We want to ensure people get tailored, ‘patient’  support to do just that.  We mean patient in  time, recognising that many people need encouragement and support over a long period of time to make substantial changes to their circumstances.

Quote: We’re always working towards partnership; be that funding or strategic partnership with government at all levels, and with local players and stakeholders within and beyond the social housing sector to create and publicise good quality opportunities, for people to move on.

We’re a relatively small organisation with about 100 members based across England and all listed on our website. Between them, they’ve got about 1.6 million homes. Our members are all very big compared to us, obviously, and it’s right that our members  care enough about the sector that they’re in to register with us, help lend support and test new initiatives where possible. We inspire collaborations between members and share the latest updates on our forum and regular  newsletters.

What issue within social housing acts as an unexpected barrier to people getting work?

I think the language used in job descriptions is incredibly off-putting. Sometimes the companies have tried to be so clever in how they title the role that it’s not even clear what the job role is, let alone what it entails. This is where our network is so interesting because I know from talking to our members generally, that this issue isn’t just held in my area of work, it’s nationwide. The job descriptions sometimes sound daunting because the company listing them has tried to be so comprehensive, that they end up discouraging  people to apply for them. You’ve got to remember that the confidence level of people who have struggled – maybe been homeless –  might be very low. Rebuilding a life takes time and people may  need a range of support services around them to encourage them back into a job.

What would be a good way to solve this moving forwards?

Using a video to explain the job in a minute or two would be brilliant. Easy for companies to execute and easy for people to tell if it’s right for them. We’re piloting a housing and whole person support model which has worked really well in the US cities and urban areas, called Jobs Plus. It’s peer-to-peer led and community centred. It’s got physical place, as well as an online presence and it’s a place where people in the community can just walk in, sit down and talk to someone. Inside it offers support in jobs, skills, confidence, literacy, numeracy, digital training and all supportive and progressive elements. There’s a little bit of advice from peers who’ve gone through the journey themselves too, local ambassadors for the support and service available.  Within the model, there is also protection if you’re a social renter, so if you start to earn some money you are protected so your rent doesn’t automatically go up or your benefit status doesn’t necessarily change, to give people time to adapt. If they’ve been homeless, they will have a considerable pathway ahead of them which can be overwhelming. With care and the right support they can rebuild their confidence and lives and we want to facilitate this. We’re looking for funding from housing and the DWP to run these centres, that go so far beyond just offering job searches.

So how can different companies support new communities within the social sector moving forwards?

I think it’s all about coming together and using our respective knowledge about the sector in the best possible way. There are so many organisations that can pivot to help. Shoes and food charities assist in bringing down monthly costs for example. The More Housing homes only cost less than £10 per week to run – that’s an immense pressure off the occupant to enable them to focus on building their new future. It’s about us all working together to give the best support.

Do you feel as though social housing is at a tipping point?

Social housing used to be a very quiet sector, a bit of a backwater, and it’s definitely much higher up in everyone’s agenda now. Both in terms of people’s general consciousness, the consciousness of the electorate and also in government. Years ago there never used to even be a housing minister. Now we have Michael Gove and although he is engaged in quite a lot of tough stances at the moment, he does understand social housing – he knows what it is, what it can do when it’s operating at its best and he’s generally supportive of it. Social housing – done right – is  a real force for good in this country. If it was just the private rented sector and home owners, we’d be poor as a country and vulnerable people wouldn’t be as well supported and well protected with no support for them to find new work – the private rented sector is just not going to do that.

How do you think the sector needs to evolve in the eye’s of the public?

The whole social housing sector is in the middle of cleaning up issues from the past and striving to do better in the future. It’s a powerful time. I think that as a sector we need to fess up when things are going wrong and make changes for a better future. We must ensure that people get mental support in addition to providing a roof over their head. We also want the public to trust that social housing is genuinely a positive and a secure experience that helps boost people’s lives and livelihoods.

If someone was trying to get up to speed with the issues and how they could help where would you point them?

I’d say read our latest piece! ‘Building Opportunity: How social housing can support skills, talent and workforce development’. This really sums up where we are as a social housing population, as a sector and where we need to be with government and other partners, to achieve more than ever before. We’ve executed this report in conjunction with the National Housing Federation (NHF) and the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA). It’s such an important piece of work for us, because it shows our policy direction for the years ahead and details the need for action. It’s become our manifesto when thinking ahead to party conferences and the general election.

What is Communities that Work campaigning for this year?

Well the first call we’re going to make really is the biggest one and this mostly affects treasury and DWP – we want a new plan for jobs, growth and incomes. So within the plan for jobs a couple of summers ago that Rishi as Chancellor announced, was included around a £3bn package of support. And, as often happens, it’s been underspent. About £1.5bn is going back to Treasury and we want them to refocus that money on supporting more economically inactive people into the work force again, with social housing as the essential partner.

That’s something that has been going up the news agenda over the last few weeks and months so we know as a nation it needs to happen …

Yes and it’s definitely in the government’s agenda for this year and 2024, to create a different homegrown workforce and to address economic inactivity. To do that, you need some funding and partnerships to support the framework to do it. The government knows it can’t do it on its own and that’s where we can help. We want to create a new plan with them because we know that we can reach a lot of economically inactive people through social housing, not everybody and not exclusively, but we’re genuinely an important partner and we’re in talks with the government and saying ‘we’re right there with you on this’.

Hands on the table, what would be your wish-list in who to involve in this?

No hesitation for my answer there – we want to meet Mel Stride, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to talk this through. We’ve obviously written to ministers in the DWP and we run the Secretariat for an APPG on housing and social mobility, for parliamentarians at Westminster –  they support the findings in our report and we’d like to see it go wider.  It would be amazing to get Jeremy Hunt interested, and we’re watching the Spring Budget with interest this year –  we’ll see how it goes.

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