When Bulls Play God

With the Housing Bill making its way through Parliament, rent cuts and a generally rough operating environment the temptation may be to cut back non-core services. But with the Tories intent on reducing state help to a couple of plasters and a turnip, helping communities and individuals (not just building homes) needs to remain a key focus.

If I only had one dollar left I would invest it in an employment advice and tenancy support service.

Bill Gates is often quoted as saying that if he only had one dollar left he would invest it in PR. If I had that dollar I would put it into an employment advice and tenancy support service and it appears many in this sector would agree. Research by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion found that 67% of housing associations either already ran, or were planning to run, a programme to support customers into work. Many seeing this as a natural extension of their role and an increasingly important priority.

The link between landlord and poverty is an interesting one, with property owners in a unique position to directly (by rent) and indirectly (by additional services) impact (if not solve) the socio-economic security of the tenant. Research on that very subject is available here and neatly highlights the approaches/strategies of the sector and the impact they may have. In addition to this report, the struggles of Gentoo and Circle, both laying off staff as the operating environment toughens, show the balancing act many are having to play.

Well paid, secure work, alongside secure housing, is by far and away the best route out of poverty.

Well paid, secure work, alongside secure housing, is by far and away the best route out of poverty. However, for many living in social housing that is either not a realistic achievement due to physical/mental health issues or because of care commitment (in and of itself an undervalued part of our welfare state). But for others, with help, guidance and sustained support it is. As the report from CESI indicates many have, or are about to, rise to the challenge. It is not uncommon for social landlords to build-in apprenticeships and training opportunities for customers/communities into contracts with 3rd party service providers. Maintenance and repairs organisations in particular. Others match fund, or directly fund specific employment training and/or soft skills courses.

So far, so noble but the issue many organisations currently have is defining the benefits for the business. I’ve never been truly convinced by social value calculations. Yes there are undoubtedly more generic benefits that can loosely be quantified but specific cost benefits to businesses are much harder to define. It often takes years for an individual/households to get over historic debt/arrears issues. Poverty is often an up and down life event, it is seldom static. Most importantly life doesn’t neatly fall into financial years for accounting purposes. That aside what should you actually measure? Arrears? Contact with the organisation? Number of repairs? Often such work throws up more questions than answers.

My fear is that without further work into this area, to provide hard and fast, quantifiable proof that employment support benefits all (the CESI report reckoned about £70million could be shaved off the benefit bill) many will simply withdraw as operating pressures squeeze budgets and organisations play safe. That would be a shame for all concerned. Especially those at the sharp end of George Osborne’s attempts at creating lower tax, lower welfare economy.

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4 thoughts on “When Bulls Play God

  1. Another excellent Blog Neil. This hits the nail right on the head and links to a point I made previously that it is so hard to quantify the true value our value add services such as employment support actually generated. Like you, I am not wholly convinced by SROI, though see its merits as a tool to compare like for like across an organisation, however I dont think the public or the Government truly believe the figures the calculations spit out.

    I made the point that if we cant prove the true value of these services, then we should focus on Build Let Manage. This would be incredibly sad as I truly believe in the value they bring, but without proving the true value, the Government have given us the very strong message that they dont want us to do this and want us to focus all available resources on building homes.

    I am far from having the answer but hope someone can crack this!

    Like

    1. Thanks Kevin. Very much in agreement. Over diversification hasn’t helped, with some overdoing the non-core aspect of their business. Would be good to look at 3rd sector charities as they do vfm analysis week in, week out. More work needed for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great blog Neil. I’ve long felt that HAs will have a great opportunity when Work Programme 2 rolls round. The infrastructure is within many housing groups to launch a real alternative to the ‘usual suspects’ of prime bidders.

    Like

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