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Stigma and Social Housing in England

by Mercy Denedo (Durham University) & Amanze Ejiogu (University of Leicester)

Everyday in England, people are judged negatively and even actively discriminated against because they rent their home from a social landlord. While it is hard to fathom why such stigmatization occurs, it is the reality faced by many people and their families who are living in socially rented accommodation in England. Although there is undeniable evidence of stigmatization of social housing, research on social housing stigma has been scant. In this report, we explored how stigma is constructed, how it is experienced, and what is being done to challenge/address it by diverse stakeholders in the housing sector.

This report points at social housing stigma being much more complex than is usually assumed because it intersects with other stigmas such as poverty stigma, crime stigma, mental health and disabilities, and race and immigration stigma. Several of these intersections are direct results of the residualization of social housing. In addition, it shows geographic and generational variations in the intensity of stigma in England. Social housing residents are shown to experience stigma in a variety of ways ranging from their interactions with their housing providers, local councils and their contractors, neighbours, the police, GPs, at work, at school, with potential employers etc. We provide evidence of these and other forms of stigmatization including postcode stigmatization and segregation through the use of poor doors in this report. Being stigmatised in this way has practical consequences for social housing residents because it affects their everyday realities, the quality of their life, and their life chances.

In this report, we highlight that the government has consistently approached social housing stigma as an issue to be tackled through the planning system and that this approach has not been effective in combating social housing stigma. We also show that there is a growing awareness amongst housing associations and local councils of the contribution of their policies and practices to the stigmatization of their tenants. Several of them have taken steps to retrain their staff and make staff more aware of stigmatizing behaviours and practices. Besides, retraining staff, housing associations and local councils also have redesigned procedures to give their residents a voice in the development of policy and in service delivery. However, these measures have had very limited success. Efforts to challenge social housing stigma have coalesced around approaches of rebranding social housing and presenting alternative narratives of who the social housing tenant is and what life in social housing is really like to change societal perception and the media narratives on social housing.

The recommendations from this report require the government to adopt a rights-based approach to housing. This rights-based approach to housing will make access to affordable housing a fundamental human right and will enable people to stop using stigmatizing language and rhetoric to describe social housing and to engage with social housing residents. It will enable the government and other stakeholders to recognise/understand the intersection of social housing stigma with other stigmas and develop effective and holistic policy measures to challenge/address the stigma affecting the everyday realities, the quality of life, and the life chances of social housing residents.

Consultation questions

We believe that for this to happen, everyone needs to play their parts. There is a need for honest conversations and spirited engagement around this issue by all stakeholders in the social housing sector including but not limited to the government, politicians, the media, housing providers and tenants.

At the end, we open up this conversation with the following set of consultation questions on page 59:

1. What should the purpose of social housing be?

2. Should access to affordable housing be recognized as a fundamental human right and who should have access to it?

3. How can we encourage politicians to limit/stop their use of stigmatizing language and rhetoric in relation to social housing?

4. How can we encourage the media to be more balanced and fairer in their reporting of social housing?

5. How can we create a stronger and more effective tenant voice at the local and national levels?

6. How can we make social housing providers more accountable to tenants?

7. How can we build a sustainable and inclusive social housing system devoid of stigma?

We encourage debate on the consultation questions within organisations, at conferences and events, with government and other stakeholders, indeed in any forum where debate is possible. However, we would like your thoughts and responses on these consultation questions to be send to us via stigmaconsultation@gmail.com.

Inputs from the consultation questions will be published in a report format to engage with the necessary stakeholders. For confidentiality purpose, the identities of the contributors to these consultation questions will not be disclosed except where we are explicitly requested to disclose.

Closing date for the submissions of consultation inputs is the 31 October 2021.

Enquiries can be made to Dr. Mercy Denedo and Dr. Amanze Ejiogu via mercy.e.denedo@durham.ac.uk or stigmaconsultation@gmail.com

Stigma and Social Housing report