Social housing lacks ‘X Factor’ appeal

Social housing in Ker Street, Plymouth (c) HCA

The Government’s proposed social housing reforms were published today, promising some of the most radical changes the sector has seen for a generation.

Changes to the right to lifelong tenancies, the introduction of an ‘Affordable Rent‘ model and the long-awaited reform of Council housing finance are all set out, and have been the source of debate amongst housing people in recent weeks.

I have not gone to a work-related meeting or event since the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement on 20 October where one or all of these issues haven’t been raised. This is understandable, and to be welcomed, as the proposals signify a huge shift in the way the HCA does business with its partners (and they with us). But step outside this circle and the wider country seems less informed about the proposals.

Is it because they aren’t interested? This would be odd, given the impact the proposals would have on many people’s lives.

Certainly, the journalists I have spoken to since 20 October – even those who should be ‘in the know’ – don’t often fully understand what they writing about (one stressed that I was ‘the council’ the other day). I’ve spent a lot of time briefing them recently about what the HCA’s new role could be and how we could work. Across much of the national media, including those organisations who are believed to target the working class (if I can still use that term), social housing hardly gets a look in. Grant Shapps was busy doing a round of broadcast interviews this morning, but where is the tabloid interest?

It’s easy to lament this, but it points to a trend that has been evident for years. It’s easier to tell people what they know (or ‘want to know’) rather than what they don’t know (and therefore ‘won’t be interested in’). It is also cheaper to churn out astonishing levels of banality on Cheryl Cole than spend time getting to grips with these proposals and explaining them in an accessible way.

Impressively, my policy colleagues achieved this, in a way that I understood, within a few hours (still no story on The Sun’s website by that time, but plenty on Wills and Kate).

The Government and those in the social housing sector face a tough task in ensuring the proposals are understood by the people they are intended to help.

(NB: since I wrote this piece, I’ve since seen coverage on The Mirror and Daily Mail websites. I am still happy to stand by my post).