Sunday, March 30, 2008

Housing Officers: Robocop or Social Worker?

Housing officers must become more like support workers”. This is from “Inside Housing” the leading weekly “sector” magazine for those of us who work in Social Housing. On its front page this week it reveals that a summit was held with Housing Minister, Caroline Flint, Welfare reform minister (and Newham MP) Stephen Timms, “and key housing association and council chiefs”. Housing Corporation Chair, Peter Dixon presided. So all the “big guns” in social housing were present. No mention mind of any resident associations or trade union representatives being present I notice?

The wholly laudable aim of the summit was the need to tackle the “Spiralling unemployment levels in social housing”. Research was found during the course of the recent Professor John Hills review of social housing that found that more than half of all social tenants of working age were without paid work- twice the national average. The proportion of employed social tenant households fell from 47% to 32% between 1981 and 2006.

While I am certain that many housing officers would be really pleased to do anything to reduce unemployment in the estates they help manage (and in fact this would be a welcome step back towards traditional social housing values). I am rather cynical about how this idea would actually pan out in practice. This is not just simply trade unions whinging about yet another responsibility being given to already overstretched and under resourced front line housing officers (even though this is of course true). It also seemed to be somewhat contradictory to other recent announcements and government policy decisions. Some housing associations are currently considering whether or not to seek accreditation powers from the Police for housing officers to be able issue fixed penalty notices for Public Order offences and other anti-social behaviour offences. Is it possible for housing officers to have a quasi-police officer and social worker role at the same time?

The accusation is that it is too easy in such “summits” to come up with fine sounding solutions and delegate responsibility for carrying out grand announcements to already stressed out front line staff. I suspect that there needs to be a little more “joined up thinking” on this problem?

1 comment:

John Gray said...

Hi Anon
I’ve just deleted your comment (12.56 today). By all means have a go at me but don’t use inappropriate language. You know what I mean.