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Who should get priority for social housing, people in work or people in need of work?

Ed Miliband and Caroline Flint have suggested that being employed should be a factor in social housing allocations.  It has been suggested that this is an effective ‘message’ to the ‘squeezed middle’, which I commented on in a previous blog.  But, whatever the message it conveys, does it stand up as a housing policy?  
Guest blogger Sheila Spencer takes up the debate. 
There’s been some debate within the Labour Party, at senior levels, and on the pages of Inside Housing, about giving priority to people on the basis of their employment status, and it seems to me that some people are missing the point a bit.  Ed Miliband, for example, has pledged to make it easier for voluntary workers and the employed to gain council housing, to fit with the idea that the welfare state should reward those who contribute. But what about those who can’t yet contribute in this way?
I know that some councils have already adopted this policy: Manchester, for example, gives extra priority on the basis of someone in the household being in work or contributing
to their community. Manchester’s allocations policy says that the idea of this is to encourage people to access work. But the person in work has to be employed for 16 hours or more, and must have been in work for at least 9 months in the last year – so it is not
encouraging people to move into work, just giving priority to those who already have work.
It seems to me that this puts those who are out of work and without anywhere to live at a considerable disadvantage. If you are homeless, you are fairly unlikely to be able to get a job until you have an address; and if you are living in temporary accommodation, in most cases the housing and support costs stop people from being able to take on a job whilst they are living there. So this policy puts an additional barrier in the way. It’s really
a Catch 22 – you don’t have priority to get rehoused because you’re not working, but you can’t apply for work because you won’t be able to afford to have anywhere to live in the meantime.
There is one glimmer of light for people in temporary accommodation: many people are now getting involved in some way as a volunteer, as part of “meaningful activity” and tangible support to move on with their lives. But Manchester’s scheme seems to restrict the community contribution to the area you want to be housed in – expecting, I would guess, that this is as part of a neighbourhood or community group there. Again, this could exclude people who are not yet part of a community.
I prefer the schemes which give people an incentive for looking for work by awarding priority for rehousing, or priority for particular places, to those who have pledged to get into work, or training or education once they have somewhere to live, and which supports them to do so. So those who have only just got themselves into a position where they can look for work are able to do that with a steady home to live in. Isn’t that a responsible way
to look at offering social housing? And how can we justify rewarding people who take responsibility for their lives whilst excluding those at the bottom of the heap, and in effect, taking on policies which keep them there?