Status update: Feeling Determined

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Note: I work in #ukhousing , all views expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent my employer. I tweet under the name @RHoneyJones

After completing her MScEcon at Cardiff University, Rachel started her career in Housing with the Vale of Glamorgan Council where she supported both the Housing Stock Transfer programme and OneVale Programme. Rachel then joined the i2i team at CIH where she held the position of i2i Coordinator for South Wales and Powys. She worked on the Caerphilly Stock transfer ballot as an independent staff consultant and delivered support for community benefits and tenant engagement across her region of work. In May 2013 Rachel joined NPT Homes to work within the Community Regeneration team, focusing on the added benefits the housing investment can make to communities. In her role as Development Officer she has written NPT Homes Community Benefits Policy and is currently focusing on major regeneration plans in priority areas. Rachel is also a Board member of Family Housing Association in Swansea

Council Homes Chat Guest Blog – Rachel Honey-Jones

Status update: Feeling Determined

The last week has been filled with emotions in both my professional and personal life – the majority have been fantastic but, as always when balancing things out, some have been not so brilliant. I followed Nick from National Housing Federation’s speech on twitter and felt motivated….this followed into the wee hours after I’d had a soap box rant. I have been trying to write this post for about 3 months and, finally, had an epiphany at silly o’clock this morning when reading a post on Facebook that one of my dear friends had put up – more on this later ….

I had a privileged upbringing aboard with self-made middle class parents. They both work in education and both have worked their way up the ladder through their careers to the top of their game. However, they were both the first people in their families to go to university. Both were Council estate born and bred. Dad is from Penlan in Swansea; one of 6 children and they all lived in a 3 bedroom council house. My grandfather was in the army during World War 2 and met my grandmother when she was evacuated from London to Swansea during the blitz. My mother also lived in a 3 bed council house in Hendy, Carmarthenshire with her parents, sister, grandmother, step-grandfather and uncle until she was 18. Everyone in both households worked from the age of at least 13 but most from about the age of 10.

I did not realise growing up the absolute devastating poverty faced by individuals in other nations; my parents reminded me frequently how fortunate I was to be from a first world country however with rose tinted glasses, it was only when revisiting the countries I grew up in did I truly understand that the lady sitting on the side of the street would not be eating today, nor would her very young baby. My extended family didn’t struggle – far from it, it was a time when families and communities pulled together and learnt to be frugal.

I suppose, due to this upbringing when I was a teenager, I was what is known as silver spooned Tory..(stay with me here!) I went to boarding school at 16 and was surrounded with some very blue affiliated individuals who had absolutely no idea of the value of money – students would drive their brand new BMWs and Mercs onto campus straight after passing their driving tests, only to write them off a few weeks later without so much as an “oh well”, knowing they’d be bought another.

If you’re rich that’s fantastic – you have worked your a** off to be a success and I applaud you for it – or it’s family wealth so someone has worked their a** off. However, PLEASE, I urge you to use this for good. Shop local, support your independent retailers; this will bring more money into YOUR local economy, which creates more jobs, more wealth for the area and everyone benefits. The local multiplier effect is amazing – if each of us spent £100 a year more on local businesses instead of national chains it would put and extra £3m a year into OUR economy….and would create thousands more jobs in return.

If you own a business then try and ensure that vacancies are advertised as widely as possible to the local community and give someone a chance – you do not know their life story or why they are currently unemployed, in a low earning job or are facing hard times- bringing up children, caring for parents, mental health issues, general bad circumstances, a domestic violence victim; the list is endless. This extract really struck a cord…..“Millions of low-paid workers are trapped in an unbreakable cycle of poverty and are even turning up at food banks in their lunch breaks asking for help to feed their families” 5.2 MILLION people or 21% of all working individuals are being paid below a living wage – forcing them to food banks. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/working-poor-trapped-in-unbreakable-cycle-of-poverty-turn-to-food-banks-in-their-lunch-breaks-9117820.html

Back to my original point. One of my oldest and dearest friends, who I have known from about the age of 6 months, lived around the corner from the house my mother grew up in. She is my age, was in the same year at school and we would spend hours and days doing everything that kids do – falling in the river, building forts, playing the price is right, making perfumes from flowers – we did it all! I only ever got to see her during school holidays when I came back to Wales but it was like I’d never left. She grew up on a Council estate; she was bullied severely at school and lost all confidence in herself. I saw one of my best friends crumble. She decided to do something about it and I witnessed one of the most amazing journeys I think I will have ever witnessed in my entire life. She is a constant inspiration to me; her determination and attitude to never give up has got her where she is today and she deserves this a thousand times over.

This friend now owns an extremely successful business; she works all of the hours god sends and cannot do enough to help her customers. She wears her heart on her sleeve and has a huge smile on her face no matter what issues she is going through. She utilises social media extensively as her products’ target market is teenage girls and she is very successful at doing this. She also asks her customers what they think of certain campaigns she plans on running and, last night, she asked what everyone thought of offering a 10% discount for those on benefits ………………………Now I’m sure you can all imagine the stereotypical comments that were being made; how dare “they”, “they” should live within their means, why should “they” get special privileges when “they” get enough and won’t get off their backsides to find a job, “they” “they” “they”– one customer even said she would boycott the shop if this campaign went ahead….but then an amazing thing happened, people were fighting back. Saying “they” were not “shirkers”, they were not work shy, they were either in low paid jobs or had personal circumstances (as I have mentioned previously) that meant they were on benefits and “they” hoped that the initial individuals never had to face the eating or heating dilemma that so many do on a daily basis.

That made me start to process my thoughts on the media’s portrayal of those on benefit with the likes of Poverty Porn that is ever so popular. Can you honestly say that you nor a member of your family has never received any form of benefit? Just to test the water here’s a quick list off the top of my head:
• Working Tax Credit
• Child Tax Credit
• Child benefit
• Maternity Grant
• Maternity Allowance / Statutory Maternity Pay
• Paternity Allowance / Statutory Paternity Pay
• Benefits for Adoption
• Guardian’s Allowance
• Child Trust Fund
• Winter Fuel Allowance
• Attendance Allowance
• Carer’s Allowance
• Disability Living Allowance
• Housing Benefit
• Income Support
• Jobseeker’s Allowance

Not all of these are means-tested. Should they be? In my humble opinion – yes, yes they should be. Why aren’t they? Well, things like the Winter Fuel Allowance would affect the stereotypically named “Grey vote” – those who have retired or are close to retirement. Why does this matter? Because that generation usually always exercises its right to vote; some would have even fought for that right during their lifetimes – why would a government shoot itself in the foot by changing any of the “Grey Vote” entitlements?

Same goes for social housing and welfare reform – it only affects those of a working age AND YET the majority of “spare bedrooms” reside in households of a retirement age. The “spare room subsidy” or “bedroom tax”, whatever you prefer to call it, has been proven through the pilots to increase rent arrears and, therefore, debt for Social Housing providers. It’s a lose- lose situation.

We CAN change this. We need to ensure that social housing is on the upcoming Government’s agenda for the national election. We need a vast increase of house building for our future generations, homes for those on low incomes and support for those not in work. We need a Right to Buy policy that works and replenishes any homes that are bought. . We need to stop the working poor and non-working poor and challenge these whenever we see them. We need a government that sees Social Housing for what it is – HOMES for PEOPLE. We need politicians who understand the complexities of everyday working life – not Eton & Oxbridge graduates making the decisions which they have no idea how they will pan out on the ground (but they sound good!). We need more politicians who are firmly embedded within grass roots if anything is going to change. Carl Sargeant, who was Minister for Housing & Regeneration until last week’s shock reshuffle, is an excellent example of the type of character we need in government. Those who actually care and understand the issues.

One main criticism I hear about the Social Housing sector is that we are insular. I agree; we’re great at talking to each other but not so great at getting those conversations outside of our sector. We need to SHOUT more about the amazing work we do. When we hear someone with an opinion that is stereotypical – challenge it and educate them on the reality rather than just nodding and allowing stereotypes to continue. It’s the only way we will prove that benefits street is the minority and that more people are on benefits than you think.

I am, first and foremost, a realist – yes, the system will be abused – we are all human and I’m not going to go onto a political theory rant but read for yourself what our forefathers – Aristotle, Hobbes, Plato et al had to say on the matter. There are some factions of society that will always find a loophole to gain from, however, you can’t base a system on this – you have to base it on those in the greatest need. There was an excellent article by Andrew Rhynam on the benefits of social housing versus the Private Rented Sector and I would urge you all to read it:
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/09/it-time-recognise-benefits-social-housing

Thank you Kylie, my oldest friend for being such an amazing and inspiring person. Thank you Nick Atkin (@nickatkin_hht) for his speech at the National Housing Federation Conference for motivating me and getting my mind focused, and finally thank you Cheryl (@Ctracy861) for reminding me why we do this.

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I vow to not get angry – just to do something about it. I hope you join me.

– Rachel

Amazing campaigns to follow on twitter:
SHOUT for Social Housing – @4socialhousing
SOCIAL HOUSING UNDER THREAT – The Campaign for Social Housing. England.
Yes to Homes – @Yestohomes
“We say Yes to Homes and want our Council, councillors and MPs to commit to delivering more of the right homes, in the right places, at the right price.”
Council Homes Chat – @Councilhomechat
Busting myths about Council Housing by providing a platform for people’s stories/experiences
#HousingDay – @HousingDay
#HousingDay celebrates the positive impact of social housing on thousands of people across the UK. Stories by #ukhousing landlords, staff & tenants. 12-11-14.

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2 thoughts on “Status update: Feeling Determined

  1. What an inspirational piece and you are so right about politicians from Eton/Oxbridge not knowing what it is like. I have long advocated that all MP’s should have to spend a few weeks of their summer break living in a high rise on benefits, then get a minimum wage job and try to live on that! They will need their all their Higher Education to try to navigate the benefit system

  2. Paul Diggory says:

    Great stuff, Rachel! Sounds like you enjoyed getting that off your chest? Really powerful read and some great links too for added value.

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