Tackling Perceptions

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Marty Downey 22 years old from Northern Ireland, Co Down, Magheralin, about to start my final year of Housing Management at UUJ having almost finished a 15 month placement with South Liverpool Homes and hopefully will be seeking full time work in housing in May 2015, optimistic that my views will be shared by others and spark some debate on pressing housing issues. Please feel free to contact me.

Twitter -@MartyD21
Email -Downey-M5@email.ulster.ac.uk or m.downey@hotmail.co.uk

With two years of my undergraduate Housing Management course and a 12 month placement, which turned into 15 months along the way with South Liverpool Homes under my belt, I am still on training wheels so to speak in terms of housing. However with so many positive experiences, along with meeting many passionate people in the sector I felt I could convey some of my observations in-spite of recent media portrayals of the social tenants and indeed social housing providers.

First of all I think that the general public and the current government at their own peril, severely underestimate the role that most housing associations perform for the most vulnerable people in society. Front line staff for associations up and down the United Kingdom will testify that when many of these people have issues be they trivial or of the highest importance they contact their housing providers first and foremost. Providers are sign posting these tenants, offering advice and truly going above and beyond. The same goes for the loneliest people on the fringes of society who depend and cherish the services and contact that many associations offer ‘as standard’, including; Benefit advice, help with debt, schemes for children, utility bill help, computer classes, and food bank vouchers just to name a few. This is indeed a far cry from the depictions constantly cast out by the media time and time again. One group of people that the current government neglects are those working class families just above the threshold of state help yet fall desperately short of attaining an affordable mortgage, if not for social housing many of these people would be pushed into the private rented sector which is not always affordable, however this is argument for another day. In short many associations are carrying out work that is really going unnoticed at a governmental level, anti-social behaviour and supported housing for those who need it including things like furniture packages affordable options along with adult and child safeguarding I would include on this list.

In regards to how many of these television programs represent social tenants I would​ like to think most people could look past this complete and utter misrepresentation. These production companies and tabloids are first and foremost in the entertainment business and with technological advances along with almost everyone having the internet in their pockets, unfortunately mean these people must constantly find new ways to shock yet intrigue to capture viewers. This is where the folly of these programs takes shape as many of those given a spotlight are highly individual case of people in real need who do not directly benefit from the way they are depicted. Worst of all is the potential backlash this leaves other tenants open to in social housing, it is unfair on them to have to deal with passive judgment based on a handful of families put under what effectively is the entertainment industry’s blurred microscope.

Social housing in my opinion is the most underrated area of welfare and somewhat of a social backbone in the United Kingdom for many reasons, it is the most malleable resource of the public sector constantly flexing to the changes around, be it ground-breaking welfare reforms or some trivial matters that arise day to day, the good organisations seem to take all of this in their stride. The reason behind this is that housing is driven by some extremely passionate individuals and leaders that can be found in most social housing providers from the bottom up. I think those of us currently within housing owe it to ourselves, our continued good work and our tenants not to let an untrue typecast even attempt to define us. Thankfully positive and innovative responses such as Council Homes Chat which is characteristic of true housing professionals rising to yet another challenge posed to our tenants and our services.

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