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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

'To change attitudes to social housing we must reframe the conversation.'


Matt Kennedy, policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru, says we must reframe the conversation on social housing and tell positive stories to change public attitudes.

We’ve just kicked-off a new, shiny and exciting five-year policy project, which I like to think will be at the heart of “keeping things real” when it comes to policy-making and housing in Wales.

Working across three strands our Tyfu Tai Cymru project is looking at:

  • Building the right homes to meet demand
  • Making sure housing is always a priority for local government
  • Demonstrating housing’s role in keeping people well and healthy.

It’s a broad remit which reflects our ambition for the work to really drive meaningful changes that’ll support housing professionals in all positions across Wales. The first piece of work completed through the project asked, what do the public think about housing in Wales?

Post-Grenfell, increased media coverage of issues caused by Universal Credit, and high-profile films like I Daniel Blake, we felt it was a timely question. Working with professor Roger Scully (from the Wales Governance Centre) and YouGov we asked 1,015 people (representative sample of the Welsh population) about their views on housing. Some of the results we may have already had a sense of, whilst others, not so much.

People were asked about their priorities for the country; housing and homelessness came out as the fifth highest priority – perhaps predictably, Brexit, health, immigration and the economy took the other top spots. But housing and homelessness came above defence, education, the environment and crime. In comparison, a survey completed a couple of years ago saw housing gain 14 per cent of the public’s support, this time around that’s up at 25 per cent. A possible sign that a broader awakening to the housing crisis and the consequences seen by many people through their own difficulty in getting a home, or their children’s, or the regular sight of people sleeping on our streets translating into greater awareness.

We delved deeper asking people about government responsibilities, where 60 per cent felt one of those responsibilities should be for providing a safe, secure, affordable home. Interestingly, whilst many questions found different views expressed across tenures, age, voting preference etc. this 60 per cent cohort did not differ in the same way finding a harmonious view in favour.

We also asked who should be helped with their housing need. People sleeping rough came out top, supported by 72 per cent of people, followed by people in temporary accommodation and those sleeping in shelters, jointly on 63 per cent. Whilst people sleeping on friends sofas and those who cannot afford to leave home on 45 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. Support was generally higher among those living in social housing, or privately rented accommodation compared to home-owners.

We also presented people with specific statements, asking them to indicate their agreement, or disagreement. For these, the really interesting bit comes when you look at the data broken-down by tenure. Statements included (along with their respective results):

I would never want to live in social housing

47 per cent of home-owners; 42 per cent private renters; nine per cent social housing occupants.

I would be happy to see more social housing built near my own home

26 per cent home-owners; 38 per cent private renters; 69 per cent social housing occupants.

Social housing estates suffer from high levels of anti-social behaviour and crime

56 per cent home-owners; 58 per cent private renters; 25 per cent social housing occupants.

We can see from this that stigma still exists, as does an element of NIMBYism but an overwhelmingly positive feeling towards social housing in particular, from those living in the tenure (the people whose expertise we should all be led by). The survey paints a picture of the challenge faced in rationalising public opinion by addressing things like rough sleeping (which was well-supported) with building more social housing to meet demand, which for some people isn’t something they would want near them.

What I took away from the survey findings it that we need to continue any and all work to re-frame our housing conversations and tell the positive real-life stories that sit behind statistics like the ones peppered throughout this blog. Speaking as conduits reflecting the actual experiences of people living in the communities and being strict about how “real” the information we choose to help shape our own view as well as the views of others really is.

Memorably, David Olusoga (presenter of BBC2's “A house through time”) at this year’s CIH Cymru TAI conference said that we need to nurture the love people feel towards the NHS, for social housing. If that become the case, one can imagine how starkly some of the public attitudes would/could change.

Matt Kennedy is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru.

  • The full Public Attitudes to housing in Wales report is available here.

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