David Robinson - The Big Society, Localism & Housing Policy

Social Housing and the Coalition Government:
Catching up on Conditionality
David Robinson
25 October 2013
Queen's University, Belfast
ESRC Seminar Series - Localism, Welfare Reform and Tenure
Restructuring in the UK
• focus = access to social housing in England
• conditionality provides a useful lens through which to
view social housing reform
• helps to understand the direction of travel and size of
• exposes the recalibration of rights and responsibilities
• reveals social housing to be playing 'catch-up' with
other aspects of the welfare state
• introducing conditionality
• conditionality and the wobbly pillar of social housing
• social housing - catching up on conditionality
Introducing Conditionality
Forms of Conditionality
Activation agenda
• welfare entitlements conditional on satisfying standards of
• recognises new politics of welfare which aims to utilise welfare
system as a lever for changing behaviour / responsibilisation
• focus of much contemporary research
Administrative conditions
• often taken for granted, but also important
• benefits always dependent upon satisfying conditions of
qualification and entitlement criteria
• change in qualification and entitlement criteria integral to new
welfare regime
Levels and Levers of Conditionality (Clasen and Clegg, 2007)
Level of
1. Category
2. Circumstance
3. Conduct
Levers of
Category definitions
Eligibility and entitlement
Membership of a defined
category of support.
Socially constructed and
politically managed.
Established through
some measurement of
rights and needs. Can
involve screening in the
poorest and most needy
or screening out the
richest and least needy.
Relevant after
eligibility has been
established. Serve to
regulate ongoing
receipt of the benefit.
Conditionality and Welfare State Change
the principle of conditionality = central to welfare in the UK (Dwyer, 2004)
challenge to post-war idea of a welfare state based on principle of
universal entitlement derived from citizenship
policies promoting unconditional entitlement to public welfare seen as
entrenching welfare dependency
emphasis = enforcement of greater conditionality and the reduction or
outright removal of rights in a bid to break the dependency on welfare
provisions which is perceived to cause 'the poor' to be in such dire
circumstances (Levitas, 1998)
a policy framework is invoked in which issues of inequality and
disadvantage are addressed through a process of responsibilisation
reluctant individuals forced into activity by benefit sanctions
Conditionality and the Wobbly Pillar
of Social Housing
Conditionality and Social Housing
• "conditionality is now a key feature of contemporary social
housing policy in the UK" Dwyer (2004)
• conduct as the focus of policy and analysis (activation
• linking rights to specific behavioural responsibilities
o probationary tenancies
o exclusion of nuisance neighbours
o pursuit of ASBOs by landlords
• nature and magnitude of reform has not mirrored changes to other
social protection arrangements (cf unemployment protection)
• residualised and stigmatised....but social tenancy not caught in the
web of welfare dependency (until recently)
ambiguous status of housing on margins of welfare state (Harloe, 1995)
housing as a fixed asset
disparate sector...complex central-local dynamic
shifting balance between supply and demand
sanctity of the home
housing as foundation and facilitator
• housing playing 'catch-up'...
• via the Localism Act 2011:
o adjustments to status and origin of applicants
o tightening eligibility and entitlement
o extending emphasis on activation
• causal story tapping into dominant tropes of the new
welfare paradigm
Catching up on Conditionality
The Revisionist Causal Story
Tapping into Familiar Tropes
• focus on individual shortcomings and behavioural deficiencies
• social exclusion of social tenants constructed as a condition - an
outcome - synonymous with welfare dependency
• structural factors neglected in favour of the demonisation of
social housing as factor underpinning the reproduction of poverty
• greater conditionality and the reduction of rights in a bid to break
dependency on social housing
• tackling inequality and disadvantage amongst social tenants
through responsibilisation
The three criticisms of social housing
1. Creates dependency
social housing creates dependency on the state and undercuts personal
tenants have no experience of the consequences of their behaviour or
financial actions
2. Thwarts social mobility
social tenancy = one of the few assets tenants possess - cling to it with grim
residential and social mobility thwarted
poor people concentrated on social housing estates - few +ve role models
living in "dead-end ghettos", tenants and families become "trapped into a
vicious cycle of deprivation and corresponding poor educational attainment
and ill health" (Public Services Improvement Policy Group, 2007: 122).
The three criticisms (cont.)
3. Fails to serve as an effective support mechanism
a scarce resource allocated on a secure, long-term basis, based on
assessment of need at one particular moment in a person's life
little opportunity to take account of changes in a tenant's situation
sector 'silted up' with households whose needs may no longer warrant
the support of social housing
people in 'genuine need' struggle to access the sector
waiting list grows
The Ambition of Reform
• 'an opportunity to radically transform the social tenant into a
competitive, independent, self responsible and morally autonomous
• to create a more flexible, responsive and effective social housing sector
• which serves as a springboard for social mobility
• a "dynamic resource, helping people to get on their feet and on with
their lives", which provides a "temporary home before private renting,
moving on when possible to shared equity, or outright ownership"
(Stroud, 2010, p7) - a pathway to self-sufficiency
The rationale engrained
need for action to “tackle the effect that long-term residence in social
housing has on the prospects of …. tenants" and to ensure they "are not
trapped into a cycle of deprivation with no ‘exit’ opportunities.” (The
Conservative Party, 2010: 7 & 19).
liberate tenants from this 'trap' and recast social housing as a "stepping
stone to owner occupancy” (The Conservative Party, 2010: 19).
“There is a question mark about whether, in future, we should be asking
when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period? Because maybe
in five or ten years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and
you won’t need that home, you will be able to go into the private
sector.”(David Cameron quoted in Wintour, 2010).
social housing is "a byword for failure" offering a "home for life in a dead
end street" ...[need to] "restore pride to social housing, so that a social
tenancy is once again seen as a launchpad to fulfil aspirations" (Minister for
Housing quoted in DCLG, 2011)
Catching up on Conditionality
lack of evidence; confusing correlation and causation
BUT causal story 'sounds right'
legitimate basis for government to invoke power to 'fix' the problem via
radical reform under the guise of localism (Robinson, 2013)
The Localism Act 2011
DCLG (2012) Allocation of social housing guidance
DCLG (2013) Providing social housing for local people. Strengthening
statutory guidance on social housing allocations
Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (2013-14)
Level of
1. Category
Levers and
Category definitions - membership of a defined category of support
since 2010
Localism Act 2011:
 LAs have the power to prescribe, by class, the only applicants entitled to be allocated
social housing. Provides scope to adopt restrictive policies around the definition of
qualifying persons.
 LAs still able to refuse to consider applications on the basis of past behaviour but now
free to define this behaviour
 LAs free to define qualifying persons as those with a local connection (previously, could
only have regard to local connection when determining priority). BUT must not disqualify
certain serving or former members of the armed forces on residency grounds.
Tightening criteria; extending opportunities for 'deserving' groups
DCLG (2012) Allocation of Housing Guidance:
 LAs should avoid setting qualification criteria that disqualify groups of people likely to
have reasonable preference, but can adopt criteria that disqualify individuals who
satisfy reasonable preference criteria
Providing social housing for local people (October 2012):
 proposal will oblige local authorities to require people to have lived in the area for at least
2 years before being considered for social housing.
Level of
2. Circumstance
Levers and
Eligibility and entitlement criteria - measurement of rights and needs
since 2010
Localism Act 2011:
• allocation schemes must continue to grant reasonable preference to certain categories
• LAs can end homelessness duty with an offer of PRS without applicant's consent
• LAs can take factors in account when determining priority between applicants in
reasonable preference e.g. greater priority to 'model tenants', people benefiting the
community or with local connection
• eligibility to be considered at the time of the application and when considering an
• landlords granted right to award fixed term ('flexible') tenancies. Normally for a minimum
of five years, but can be granted for as little as two years. At the end of the fixed period
landlord may decide to offer another fixed-term tenancy, offer a secure tenancy or not
renew the tenancy. The decision to renew a tenancy will be informed by a review of the
tenant's situation. Eligibility to a tenancy can therefore be time limited.
Focus on the 'deserving' (conduct) ; time limiting access
DCLG (2012) Allocation of Housing Guidance:
 LAs to consider how to use allocation policies to support households who 'want to
work', as well as those contributing to their community in other ways
 LAs encourage to take account of the needs of all serving or former service personnel
 LAs should not be allocating social housing to people who already own their own homes
Level of
3. Conduct
Levers and
Behavioural requirements - regulating ongoing receipt of benefit
since 2010
DCLG (2012) Allocation of Housing Guidance:
Increasing focus on membership of paid labour market
LAs should consider how best to make use of flexible tenancies to support households
in low paid work, and incentivise others to take up employment opportunities.
the decision to renew a flexible tenancy can be informed by the tenant's behaviour. In
addition to issues of anti-social behaviour, this might include whether the tenant has
utilised help and assistance designed to support them to move closer the labour market
and to seek and secure work
The Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14
new ground for possession for use against secure tenants in social housing. Court has
to grant an order for eviction if notice requirements fulfilled and one of a number of
conditions is met, linked to tenant behaviour.
new provisions enable a landlord to seek possession where a tenant (or a person living in
or visiting) is guilty of conduct likely to cause nuisance or annoyance to the landlord
new discretionary ground for possession to enable landlord to seek possession where
tenant or person living with them convicted of offence committed at the scene of a riot
anywhere in the UK
Closing Thoughts
Trends in conditionality
tightening qualification criteria
serving other policy priorities e.g. moral panic around migration
increasing focus on 'deserving' classes (local people, military personnel,
people in work, people contributing to community etc.)
weakening the link between eligibility and need
time limiting eligibility
ratcheting up control and activation
"disciplining subordinate populations for failure to integrate into low wage
labour market" (Flint, 2009)
Some research questions
• a causal story that resonates, but is it valid?
• the central-local dynamic under localism... the centre's
irresistible temptation to meddle?
• the deserving v. need conundrum - where are we now?
• the emergent geography of conditionality?
• the impact of creeping conditionality?
• the fairness of conditionality?
Conditionality as an organising framework
Monitoring variations in levels and levers can help....
• understand the direction and scope of change within
contemporary social housing reform
• tease out logics and patterns that might otherwise be missed
• situate reform within wider transformations in social
• understand the shifting balance of rights and responsibilities
• provide a basis for comparative analysis re: trends in social
housing reform across the UK....and beyond
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DCLG (2011). Grant Shapps: New rules will help end prejudices about social housing. London: Department for
Communities and Local Government. Available from: http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/2033451.
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