Another Year Over………

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So as Christmas fast approaches and another year draws to a close it’s always worthwhile using the lyrics from one of those Christmas songs you hear everywhere you go to stop for a few moments to reflect on the world around us.

For Halton Housing Trust it has been one of our best years since we were launched in December 2005.  Many of the highlights I covered in my earlier blog to coincide with our 8th birthday earlier this month.

I am continually surprised and impressed by how my colleagues are responding to the rapidly changing environment in which we operate. Our Board have also faced up to these challenges by embedding the principles outlined in Our Direction.

Our longer term plans are now underpinned through the delivery of our new £130m funding facility. This will see further investment in addition to the £115m already invested to date as well as an additional 800 much needed homes being added to our portfolio.

At a national level the economic signs are now looking more positive.  However there remain several areas where close attention still needs to be paid due to the fragility of the economic recovery. There are concerns that a housing bubble is forming in some areas of the country. This could be compounded as interest rates are predicted to increase in the New Year.

Everything in the housing garden isn’t rosy.  This has been brought into sharp focus in recent weeks through the publication of three reports.  All of these highlight the growing gap between the haves and the have nots in the UK.

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First came the JRF New Policy Institute Report  that shattered the illusion that poverty was only linked to those receiving welfare benefits. The report highlights that more than half of the 13 million people living in poverty in the UK in 2011/12 were in a working family.

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Then hot on the heels came the Second Report from the Real Life Reform Study.  I remember tweeting when the first Study was launched that if you aren’t moved by reading this report then call an ambulance as you have no heart. The second report makes for even more hard hitting reading. It is like being slapped in the face with a brick as the comments from real people trying to make the best of their lives in increasingly difficult circumstances really does hit home.  How many of us could live on a food budget of just £2.10 per day?

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Shortly afterwards the NHF published its Home Truths Report. This highlights how the headline messages on the health of the UK economy are masking a much more complex set of underlying issues. Each day an extra 310 working people are having to resort to applying for housing benefit.  Rising rents in growth areas such as London are pushing more and more working people over the edge, forcing one working person every five minutes to turn to the Government for housing benefit to keep the roof over their heads.

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Then earlier this month there was the W&P Select Committee hearing. Looking to the future PlaceShapers alongside other witnesses from the housing world made four key points:

  1. The under-occupation deduction should be based upon a ‘common sense’ bedroom standard, which allows households an additional bedroom above the standard adopted by the Government for the purposes of calculating housing benefit.
  2. All households entitled to disability benefits should be exempt from the impact of the under-occupation deduction, bringing it into line with the operation of the overall benefit cap.
  3. There needs to be a major rethink about the way direct payments of housing costs to claimants works under Universal Credit (UC).
  4. Any realistic approach to developing a workable Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA) mechanism for vulnerable tenants under Universal Credit, should be founded on the principle of two way data sharing between DWP and landlords

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If that isn’t enough evidence then also reflect on the concept of food banks. Five years ago if you had said to me I would be supporting organisations without whom people living in the UK in the 21st century would go hungry I would have laughed at you. But that is the stark reality for a rapidly increasing minority in the UK this Christmas. Food bank usage in the Liverpool City Region has increased by 50% in just the last three months.

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So what does 2014 hold in store for us? Well I’m no futurologist. However it is a fab career choice as whoever goes back to prove what you predicted 20 years ago to have been wrong?

However what is clear is that the importance of housing associations and what we do each and every day will increase still further as for many people in the communities in which we work we are now the last organisation standing. Without our help and support how many of our customers would fall through the net and their lives become even harder?

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So the housing world has changed more in the last 18 months than probably at any point in the preceding 40 years. We have been given the flexibility and freedom to do much more than we have ever been able to do before and take charge of our own destiny. We have the tools and the resources. The explosion of social media and the wider digital platforms also means we now have a much louder voice. The challenge for us all is to use all these ingredients wisely and where they produce the most impact.

17 thoughts on “Another Year Over………

  1. A very useful and comprehensive summary of the housing issues in 2013, thanks Nick. It’s been a pleasure to get to you know over the past year and I wish you and your team a very good Xmas.

    • Many thanks Anne

      Many thanks for the really kind feedback. It has been the year my social media conversations have turned into face to face relationships. It has been great to work alongside you at several conferences and looking forward to some thinkpieces in 2014

      Have a fab Christmas and New Year

      Best wishes

    • Thanks Carol and really pleased you liked it. I’m still new to this blogging thing so any feedback always gratefully received!

      Have a fab Christmas and looking forward to working with you, Neil and the Riverside Team in 2014.

      Very best wishes

  2. Well said Nick, what a pity we don’t have more people in charge of things with such a succint and comprehensive appreciation of the real life situations as they are being played out today. Have a very happy Christmas and a prosperous and sucessful New Year in 2014. Tony.

    • Thanks Tony that’s really kind of you although in fairness there are lots of people who do fit the description you outline, especially in their blogs.

      Hope you’re on the road to a full recovery and looking forward to catching up with you in 2014

      Very best wishes

      • Glad to see I’m not the only person to recognise the value of your involvement. I would say one thing on the subject of recovery, no matter how hard we try problems will always be there. Fot me the trick is to see solutions and with them a hope for the future rather than just seeing more and more problems. Once again all the best and here’s to a plethora of solutions. Tony

  3. Hard to relate to that common saying ‘the world has moved on’ given the increasing level of poverty and challenges faced by people from all walks of life up and down the country.

    Take care, have a great Christmas break and let’s keeping making a difference to those we serve in 2014!!

    Cheers Wayne

  4. This is a monster round up Nick..love your easily accessible and succinct writing…..not so sure about economic recovery though – I believe politicians are masking over 2 BIG longterm calamities: unfunded NHS promises to an ageing and less healthy population, and unfundable state & public worker pensions..add in the likely cost of these and you don’t even want to go there. Other public spending will be decimated – that’s why welfare reform has only just begun IMHO. I could of course be wrong in which case we will all live happily ever after and bring back lovely great capital spending programmes for social housing please!
    Anyhow, have a fab christmas nick xx
    best wishes, mick

    • Cheers Mick as still getting to grips with the whole blog thing. Needless to say I’ve been inspired by Paul Taylor and several other Bromford colleagues.

      Fully agree that there is a real split and some who look safe at the moment could well be caught up in what we’ve dubbed as the ‘financial tsunami’ that will hit after the next Election.

      Anyway enough doom and gloom – have a fab Christmas and very best wishes for 2014. Keep pushing those boundaries as too few people are at the moment!

      Have a good ‘un

  5. Nice one Nick. Plan on catching up on my policy reading over next month so thanks for the leads! I’m coming to the conclusion that a really big issue is articulating a compelling vision of social housing that the public can buy into and support. John Healey said as much in Guardian Network. Im not convinced the sector actually nailed ‘what’s social housing for in 21st century?’ in the wake of Hills report. Leaves the sector vulnerable to those who dont value the ‘product’, dismissing it as part of a well-meaning but failing suite of post-war welfare interventions. We cant shift Tory ideololgy – they believe what they believe – but we can offer a different story – a modern vision of the product including its integration with social mobility outcomes. Politicians are receptive if there’s votes at stake. Right, lets see what you’ve said about running……..

    • Fully agree Steve. The housing world needs to make a much clearer & stronger case for the contribution it makes, especially in the run up to the next election.

      As for the running…..will be a few blogs on this in the New Year. However I’m resisting setting any targets at this stage as #1000in2013 was hard enough! There’s no way I could keep up up with your ultra running achievements!

      Catch up soon. Keep well.

  6. Concise round up of 2013 Nick, the housing sector is facing some big challenges and no more than in social media and web based transactional communications with an ageing demographic, low paid, zero hours , part-time work force. Technology may just help with low cost £40, low spec tablets, that do the job, even libraries are now considering these as alternative means of lending books … So early adopters can reap the rewards of the learning process… While others watch and wait; on how channel shifting tenants may work ( using E tablets or or similar stuff , just to communicate web based only ) with 90%- 10% rule for new tenants communicating on web based channels rather than just phone or face to face, type of communication ( 10% may never be able to do this for various reasons) but Nick’s blog readers would know this having seen his presentations ( highly recommended ) at conferences ?
    All eyes on you then Nick with this project, that you propose for some of your tenants some time soon.

    • Thanks William for the really kind comments.

      You are right that it is a big year ahead for us all in the housing world. The opportunities and solutions to some of the challenges we face are there; we just all need to be brave enough to respond accordingly.

      Looking forward to what 2014 may bring! Looking ahead I’m relishing the prospect of working with yourself and other Riverside colleagues.

      Enjoy the rest of the festive break.

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