Hidden heroes: social housing workers

COVID-19 has thrown the UK economy into panic. There have been around 1.4 million new Universal Credit claims since mid-March and an ONS survey showed that around 30% of businesses reduced employment and/or hours for their workers during the second half of March.

Some people will have enough savings or secure income to navigate through these times but the likelihood is, this won’t be the case for many people – particularly those living in social housing properties across the UK. So, social housing providers are playing a key role in protecting some of the UK’s most vulnerable – now more than ever. But just how are tenants being impacted and how are social housing professionals helping?

Digital exclusion

One issue that is having significant impact given the current crisis is digital exclusion, something that tends to be more of a barrier for many social housing tenants. For example, consider internet access. For most, it’s a necessity that we take for granted. For others, it’s an added expense that bank balances would not thank us for. In fact, according to the ONS, in 2018 10% of the adult population were non-internet users, making it a larger problem than most would realise. Further to this, the 2017 consumer digital index, highlighted that more than 3.1m people in the UK lack basic digital skills. Of these, more than 63% are social housing tenants.

Digital exclusion in social housing effectively means exclusion from modern life. Fundamentally, if you can’t get access to current public health information you can’t follow government guidance. If you can’t get on the internet, you can’t order food, you can’t apply for credit card payment breaks, you can’t see family or friends, you can’t home-school children easily. The list goes on. So, for those residents that don’t have internet or the devices required to access it, social housing providers are having to find alternative ways to support them – whether that’s via telephone, or undertaking face to face welfare checks and visits to these more vulnerable customers.

Supporting the vulnerable

Social housing providers don’t just provide four walls and a roof. They create a community with a built-in support system for their customers - something that is particularly crucial for vulnerable people. In a ‘normal’ world, these vulnerable members of society would have home visits from social housing provers to ensure they were safe, comfortable and looked after. And whilst this is still happening to a certain degree, the lockdown and self-isolation means that this level of care has been significantly impacted and those that are out doing routine welfare checks, delivering food or conducting maintenance and repairs are putting their lives on the line every single day. 

Now, let’s take into consideration the amount of vulnerable people living in social housing. English government statistics indicate that 27% of social housing tenants in England are over 65 – well above the national average of 18%, indicating that a fair number of residents will require support during these times.  


Tackling domestic abuse during COVID-19

In addition to the above, domestic abuse helplines have seen a 25% increase in calls during the COVID-19 lockdown – something that is a particular problem in social housing developments. Without access to the internet, those suffering from domestic abuse would be unaware of the additional support and funding that can be provided to them to ensure their safety. This leads social housing providers to step in once again. Last week, Rebecca Vagi, whole housing approach programme manager at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, said: “For people experiencing domestic abuse, the home is often the most dangerous place. This reality is even starker in the wake of coronavirus.

“Housing providers have unique access to people’s homes and are ideally placed to spot the signs of domestic abuse and help people out while delivering food parcels, carrying out routine welfare checks, and carrying out essential repairs during lockdown.”

Let’s support our social housing providers

At Refresh, we’re lucky enough to have worked with some brilliant social housing provides over the past decade, so it’s only right that we recognise them during this hugely busy and stressful period. Without social housing providers, Coronavirus could have an even bleaker impact on the lives of those in social housing developments across the UK without the support and dedication of these key workers.

Every Thursday night at 8pm, the British public stands in gardens, windows and balconies to clap, cheer and bang pans for the NHS, and rightly so. But let’s also clap for the forgotten frontline workers who are being pulled upon by their customers more than ever and put their lives on the line every day for their customers: social housing professionals.

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