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Allow social landlords to deliver the work programme, urges think tank

New report from Respublica calls for radical local approach to welfare reform

The 'community right to challenge' should be extended to welfare and employment services in order to save the Government's welfare reform agenda, a new report from the think tank ResPublica urges today.

Responsible Recovery: A social contract for local growth calls on policy-makers to hand power to local community intermediaries such as social landlords and voluntary organisations to determine and deliver the range of employment-related services within their communities

Launched today (Monday 4 March 2013) in Parliament, the report, supported by PlaceShapers, warns that a radical new approach to welfare reform is needed in order to address the needs of the poorest communities.To read the full report click here.

Published one week after the Public Accounts Select Committee highlighted the failure of the Work Programme to target those most vulnerable and excluded from the employment market, the ResPublica report calls for a greater and more robust localism to connect the regeneration agenda with local social value and the needs of local labour markets.

It is highly critical of previous regeneration efforts by successive governments, describing them as top-down, statist initiatives which overlook community assets and local labour markets which affect the daily lives and opportunities for residents.

The report calls upon housing associations to use their assets for wider neighbourhood benefit, engage in active partnerships around community budgeting, and support and facilitate asset transfers and devolved services, including employment and training support.

Researchers found many examples of good practice across the UK, where social landlords, community groups and local authorities work innovatively to boost the local economy and deliver social benefits. The report showcases a number of case studies from Hull, Rochdale, Peterborough, Huddersfield and Lewisham in East London.

The author of Responsible Recovery, regeneration expert Julian Dobson said: "To achieve an economic recovery which makes a difference for real people, policy makers need to consider the context of real people's lives. It is not only material assets that people need to escape poverty, but also social assets such as family, friends and neighbours; human assets such as practical skills; and public assets such as local services, infrastructure and community organisations.

"Policies such as the 'bedroom tax' which risks disrupting neighbourhoods, or the loss of affordable childcare, all make the difference for those struggling to get out of the poverty trap."

Caroline Macfarland, Managing Director of the think tank ResPublica, said: "The whole point of localism is applying local knowledge to local problems. Housing associations already play a significant role in driving forward informal local economies. They have unique knowledge of community assets, local networks and local labour markets. Government should recognise this and make sure that national initiatives aimed at reducing unemployment and tackling poverty take into account the expertise of local community organisations."

The report also recommends exemption from the 'bedroom tax' for households who are considered pillars of the local community, and calls for changes in the system so that lodgers are deemed to occupy a spare room so that there is no under-occupation penalty. It argues that local networks of social landlords could help match lodgers with spare rooms in the same way that the Homeswapper home exchange scheme is facilitated.

Responsible Recovery: A social contract for local growth makes twelve recommendations to national and local government, social landlords and community-based organisations which would engender 'a more robust economic localism' whereby policies are tailored to housing, welfare, local business needs and other forms of social support and security within communities:

  • In implementing its Universal Credit reforms, the report urges the DWP to separate the Jobcentre Plus benefit agency and employment service functions, in order to open up employment service provision to local providers. The report advocates extending the 'community right to challenge' within the Localism Act to employment support and training services.

  • The report endorses the 'Community Allowance' which would allow benefit claimants to be paid to do short term community placements without affecting their benefits. It calls for national and local policy to recognise the value of 'stepping stone' temporary or voluntary jobs in providing skills and services to the community.

  • The DWP should incentivise sub-letting of rooms in 'under-occupied' homes, by modifying the rules on lodgers so there is no benefit penalty or income tax from letting out a spare room.

  • The DCLG, DWP and local authorities should work together to offer long term 'community deals' in which local organisations can act as the budget holders and delivery agents for a wide range of central and local government services.

  • Social landlords and local authorities should invest in mechanisms which reward community action, from time banking schemes to rent reductions or bonus schemes for tenants and residents who organise or take part in voluntary activity in their communities.

  • Local community organisations and social landlords should use their procurement and contracting policies to promote social, economic and environmental value and ensure their spending benefits the localities they work in wherever possible.

  • The Homes and Communities Agency should select development partners for its affordable homes programme not only on the basis of their ability to provide value for money when building, but also on their record of creating long term social value in the neighbourhoods and communities they invest in.

The report is supported by a coalition of housing providers from across the UK which are already pioneering community-led initiatives to achieve social sustainability and local growth. These are: Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the largest housing mutual governed by staff and tenants, Cross Keys Homes in Peterborough, Trafford Housing Trust, and Placeshaper, which represents 90 housing providers nationally

Mick Leggett, Chief Executive of Cross Keys Homes, and a member of Placeshapers, said: "The ResPublica report highlights the long standing challenges of 'regeneration' and the big current issues affecting communities across the country. We welcome this report as a reminder of the importance of developing a people centred approach and of nurturing growth at a local level

"The approaches advocated in the report will reduce the risk of our more vulnerable communities being marginalised, isolated and viewed as a problem which drain resources, and help to ensure that the people living as part of these communities are valued and supported to play a key role in community and economic life."

Matthew Gardiner, Chief Executive of Trafford Housing Trust, and a member of Placeshapers, said: "Without local approaches national policy risks creating the blight of empty homes and abandoned communities which will undermine work to support local growth.

"Many housing providers rooted in the local communities already lead by example in our people-led approach to local social value, through our spending and procurement, and support for employment, training and volunteering opportunities. We understand our local markets and should be trusted to make the best use of our homes."

Gareth Swarbrick, Chief Executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing said; "This report highlights a range of innovative approaches driven from the involvement and empowerment of tenants and employees who live and work in our communities. Our established networks of community voices and tenant volunteers - who help with community projects, scrutinise services, donate time as Representatives or Board members, or simply support an older or more vulnerable neighbour - all help shape our understanding of local needs and priorities."

MEDIA ENQUIRIES TO: Daniela Puska on 07713 527 077 or

1. Embargoed copies of the full report and press/broadcast interviews with ResPublica representatives are available on request.

2. The ResPublica Trust (which operates under the trading name ResPublica) is an independent, non-partisan think tank. We focus on developing practical solutions to enduring socio-economic and cultural problems in the UK. Our practical recommendations for policy implementation seek to strengthen the links between individuals, institutions and communities that create both human and social capital.

3. Julian Dobson is a ResPublica Research Associate. He is an independent writer and researcher and director of the consultancy Urban Pollinators. He has spent many years writing on and observing community regeneration across the UK, particularly as founding editor of the regeneration magazine New Start and previously as editor of the weekly Inside Housing.

4. Trafford Housing Trust is an independent housing company set up by the government following the stock transfer of 9,000 homes under the previous ownership of Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council.

5. Cross Keys Homes is Peterborough's largest housing association - managing 10,000 properties providing homes for tenants, older people, shared owners and leaseholders.

6. Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) is a membership based provider of social housing. In March 2012, following a vote of support from tenants, it took over the ownership of the homes formerly owned by Rochdale Council. It now owns and manages around 13,750 homes in the borough.


7. Further details of the case studies cited in the report are available on request. These include:

  • Giroscope, Hull - a small housing charity operating in one of the most difficult areas of Hull, renovates empty homes with the help of volunteers to provide work experience and training for people who are struggling to find jobs. Through volunteering, people are able to prove themselves as reliable prospective tenants.

  • o Rochdale Boroughwide Housing - a tenant and employee-led mutual housing provider, works with local residents to identify the main needs and opportunities within each neighbourhood, with tenants helping to create action plans and monitoring how well they are put into effect.

  • Lostock, Trafford - the 80 home estate includes a multi-purpose community centre in the Manchester suburb, and encourages residents to use their skills and talents to help other in their community. Forever Manchester then backs local people's ideas with 'Cash4Graft' rewards for voluntary work to help make the ideas happen.

  • Fresh Horizons, Huddersfield - a social enterprise in Huddersfield which employs nearly 70 people, almost all recruited from the local area to provide public services within the communities they serve.<br />o Incredible Edible, Peterborough - based on the pilot project in Yorkshire, Cross Keys Homes in Peterborough are inviting residents to take ownership of local spaces to grow and harvest fruit and vegetables - instead of decorative shrubs and bushes - to build networks and links with the wider community.

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