Blog Post

How we talk about homes matters

Knowing how to communicate effectively and having the right framing strategies at our fingertips can help us win support for new affordable and decent homes. In this article, Natalie Tate, Project Lead for Talking about Housing at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, presents the toolkit recommendations developed by FrameWorks UK with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation.

Knowing how to communicate effectively and having the right framing strategies at our fingertips can help us win support for new affordable and decent homes. In this article, Natalie Tate, Project Lead for Talking about Housing at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, presents the toolkit recommendations developed by FrameWorks UK with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation. Using these recommendations to help us talk about our homes will build support for solutions among the public and with stakeholder audiences, such as local branches and planning committees.

 The way campaigners and communicators talk about homes matters. We need to build support from the public for the changes that are necessary in our housing system. 

A proven framing strategy is available to anyone who wants to make the most of their voice when they’re talking to the public. It can help you tell a story that shifts thinking towards seeing homes as the foundation of a decent life. The recommendations are based on evidence – tested and verified through rigorous research and analysis by FrameWorks UK. This included interviews, survey experiments with a nationally representative sample, and peer-discourse sessions (a type of focus group). In total, over 7,000 people from across the UK were included in this research. You can learn more about the research and methods here.

People in the UK recognise the housing crisis. Even if they’re not experiencing the lack of decent affordable homes themselves, many people know someone who is negatively impacted, and it’s an issue that’s widely reported in the media.

So, what’s getting in the way of action? Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation teamed up with FrameWorks UK to understand how people in the UK think about homes – what mindsets are acting as obstacles to progress, and how we can prime more helpful ways of thinking by making choices about how we frame our communications.

We’ve been working together to reveal and share the best ways to frame our communications about homes, in ways that diminish fatalism, build understanding and activate a ‘can-do’ attitude.

How people think about homes

To persuade people that everyone can and should have a decent, affordable home, we must shift the dominant narrative away from property and wealth. Instead we need to move people to thinking immediately and primarily about homes as benefitting our mental and physical health, providing the foundation that we all need to thrive in our lives.

One of the big challenges we face as communicators is that although people see there’s unequal access to homes and that poor quality exists, they don’t know why these problems have come about and therefore they can’t picture how, or even if, they could be fixed. It’s our job is to build efficacy by explaining solutions, as well as helping people understand how we got here and who needs to take responsibility.

By using the right framing, we can help people to believe that change is possible and that it is worth calling for, moving them away from thinking that the problem is simply too big, or the system is too complicated to redesign.

Our recommendations to shift mindsets

Our top tips and examples for writing and talking about homes are:

  • Talk about homes as a source of health and wellbeing to build understanding of why access to decent and affordable homes matters.
    e.g. ‘Our homes are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. If our homes are poorly maintained, with problems like damp and mould, it’s putting our physical health at risk, as well as weighing us down with stress and worry.’
  • Describe homes as the ‘foundation’ for people’s lives, as an effective way to build understanding that decent quality homes are essential for us all.
    e.g.:New social rent homes will provide a firm foundation for families living in Swansea.’
  • Invoke people’s sense of moral responsibility to build collective concern and make the case for making decent and affordable housing available to everyone.
    e.g.:‘As a caring and responsible society, we need to do the right thing and make sure that everyone has a decent home they can afford.’

Using these evidence-led framing principles to communicate about decent and affordable homes will help us to all have more impactful, productive conversations, whether that’s when we’re talking to a public audience in our work or to our friends and family.

Find out more

The Nationwide Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and FrameWorks UK want to enable anyone with a passion for improving our housing system to play their part in changing the narrative and building deeper public support for systemic solutions. We’ve created a suite of helpful and easy to use resources that can support anyone who wants to talk about homes in a way that’s proven to work.

The Talking about Housing project is co-funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation, in partnership with FrameWorks UK. Natalie Tate is the strategic project lead, supporting voices advocating for the availability of more decent and affordable homes to apply the framing recommendations in their work.

One reply on “How we talk about homes matters”

A few weeks into my ‘retirement’ and I am developing an ‘outside looking in’ view on the profession that paid my wages for 44 years. I was always able to do this, but right now I’m able to do so even moreso, with no baggage attached.

It is not a pretty picture.

This article illustrates one important point – is it right that in 2024 landlords need researchers to explain to them how to communicate with their tenants ? More widely, while the author makes some good points there is also some naivety in play. At central government level, and as the revolving door of Housing Ministers proves, housing is not a top priority. It grabs headlines when landlords kill their tenants, Grenfell and Rochdale being the most newsworthy recent examples. The hard fact is in the UK most people are adequately housed, and as Thatcher killed off any sense of community or neighbourliness very few of us truly care how other people are coping. This has been the culture of the UK since May 1979 with a few blips against that trend in the late 90s.

So, what’s to be done ?

Firstly, language matters. House building is mostly realised through borrowing, but for most of the public borrowing is a negative word. In truth what we are doing is investing in assets that are likely to have a ‘life’ of at least 150 years. So, let’s talk about investing rather than borrowing.

Secondly, the social housing sector needs to take a very hard look at itself. But, no one within the sector has any reason or incentive to do this. Can it be right, can it make sense, for there to be around 1000 housing associations operating across the UK, all delivering the same basic services ? That’s an awful lot of board members, staff teams, offices, legal structures, finance arrangements, etc. – and duplication only means two things – more confusion, and higher costs.

Thirdly, related to the point above, and a question I have wrestled with for years. Are housing associations the best vehicle for developing new homes ? In the past, with decent public subsidies in place to underwrite development, more of a case could be made and at that time private developers could not access those subsidies. But that game has changed. Associations now have to go ‘to the market’, where they will be competing with the large developers. If push comes to shove there will only be one winner. Two related points here. Development is usually the area where housing associations compete most aggressively, but there are significant costs associated in competing and, as ever, as always, the tenants pick up the tab. Also, a deep question – is it realistic for associations to be good at both management ( the people side of the business ) and development ( the process side ) ?

Looking to the future I can see no alternative than for a radical rationalisation of the housing association sector, with no more than two or three providers in each region. This would create huge savings in costs, drive down duplication, deliver better services to tenants, and allow for an overdue overhaul of regulation.

As ever, much to do, and for those people without a home today and tonight the work cannot begin too soon.

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