Three of our residents defy social housing stereotypes

30 June 2015

By Jane Edmonds, our Assistant Director of Individual and Community Empowerment 

With so much negative media coverage about people living in social housing and on benefits, the real challenges that people face in their lives still remain often untold stories.

This month I met with three of our residents to share their story and offer an alternative view.

Andrew is one of our residents from Bath. Aged 54, Andrew found himself out of work last year.

He’d been running his own business but due to serious ill health, which resulted in emergency surgery and three further operations, Andrew was deemed unable to work and had to shut up shop.

Andrew was very keen to get back to work and as soon as his doctor declared him fit enough, Andrew started looking for employment in earnest.

“I’m a really active person,” He told me, “I didn’t just want to be sitting around, but I felt that my age might be holding me back, even though I’ve so much experience”.

Andrew applied for many jobs, without success.

Then, Andrew’s wife spotted an article about our Into Work Team in one of our magazines. Andrew got in touch.

“I spoke to Sarah, one of your Career Advisors”, he told me. “She came to see me within a few weeks. We talked about the routes I’d been taking to look for work and she agreed that I had been doing all the right things.

Our Into Work Team offers support to residents with everything from CV writing, to interview techniques and job hunting. Sarah carried out a skills assessment with Andrew to look at his employment history and identify his transferable skills.

“Sarah asked about my employment background and the industries I’d considered. Then we spoke about James and Deni.”

James and Deni Usher are two of our residents in Bristol. James is disabled and uses a motorised wheelchair, and Deni is his wife and full time carer.

The couple, both actively involved in their local community, had been receiving help from Tina, one of our Individual Empowerment Officers.

Our Individual Empowerment Team supports residents with anything from managing their money and benefits to improving their health and wellbeing. In James and Deni’s case, they needed support to make modifications at home, to help James get around more easily.

Deni explained, “When Tina came to see us to find out what changes we needed, she also asked us some other questions to find out more about our personal situation.  

“We mentioned that we were short of practical support at home, and had been looking for several months for an additional support worker to help us. We emailed Tina a copy of the job description for the role.”

Deni and James told me that as they had been looking for help for so long, without success, they didn’t feel they would ever be able to get all the at-home support they needed.

The financial impact of the Bedroom Tax, coupled with the end of the Independent Living Fund have been making things more stressful.

“But Tina made a note of our need”, Deni told me, “and before we knew it, she’d spoken to Sarah and put us directly in touch with her. Sarah told us she might have someone to fill the role, and it turned out to be Andrew.”

Andrew is now employed for a minimum of 24 hours a week, funded by the Independent Living Fund, to provide James and Deni with driving services and to support them with administrative tasks and other domestic help.

All three are now more positive about their futures.

“Andrew is helping us, that’s plain to see.” James told me. “But we’re also helping Andrew too. We’ve been the answer to each other’s needs and it feels like we’ve known each other for years.”

Andrew nodded in agreement. “These guys are an inspiration to me”, he said. “I've had a really tough couple of years myself, and to see how Deni and James have coped with everything in their own lives has been really eye-opening.”

“After applying for that many jobs, and not hearing back from so many of them, your confidence really takes a knocking. But securing this role has helped my confidence massively." 

The Independent Living Fund ended this month, and James and Deni’s support needs and funding will be reviewed soon too.

I really hope that Andrew will be able to keep his job supporting James and Deni as, without that service, the couple would really struggle with the day-to-day and to maintain their full independence. 

This story unquestionably challenges the stigma so often attached to tenants in social housing; the stereotypes of laziness, scrounging and work avoidance. 

In reality, affordable homes are going to those who truly need it. Many of our residents have struggled to make ends meet due to financial hardship, despite being in employment. Many are disabled, or carers, like James and Deni. Others, like Andrew, find themselves without a job, and try their hardest to get back into work.  

And these experiences are set against a bigger picture of debt, social isolation and reliance on food banks amongst the most vulnerable in our society.

In the face of this, stories like this one should take centre stage, to show the resilience and determination of our tenants, and the vital role that housing associations play in supporting people in difficult circumstances.

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