It is a pleasure to be here in Manchester for the Chartered Institute of Housing’s conference in its centenary year.
Over the last 100 years, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has been at the forefront of campaigning for and creating better homes and better lives for families across the UK.
Your ambition to improve people’s lives and situations is one that is fundamental to welfare reform.
When I spoke at your conference 4 years ago, I stressed the importance of the social housing sector to the success of welfare reform, and in particular to support people at the heart of your organisations – tenants.
The welfare reforms we have delivered have been made with one purpose in mind: to get Britain back to work. We know that work is the best route out of poverty.
Our reforms have sought to renew incentives to get a job and help people overcome the barriers they face.
And our reforms are working. Since 2010, there are:
- 764,000 fewer workless households
- 36,000 fewer households where no member has ever worked
- 449,000 fewer children living in workless households
This is the fruit of our welfare reform: people re-engaging with the labour market and transforming their own and their family’s lives.
Alongside this ambition, however, we recognise the importance of protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
We have and are developing provisions to do this fairly in our housing reforms, through the benefit cap and in Universal Credit.
Today I want to talk to you about these protections. And I also want to talk to you about how much I value the work you have done and that we continue to do together.
I have huge admiration for the work that the supported housing sector does. I also recognise the complexity of the sector, and the diversity of the services being delivered.
I understand the concerns that many of you had following last year’s announcement that the local housing allowance caps would be extended to the social rented sector.
That is why in March we put in place a one year deferral to the policy for supported housing.
The supported housing sector is vital to the delivery of so many of the government’s policy objectives – not only in my own area of work and pensions. It plays a crucial role in ensuring:
- that those with learning difficulties can live as independent a life as possible
- that vulnerable elderly people have somewhere to grow old safely
- and that care leavers can make the transition to self-reliance
For hundreds of thousands of people across the country – from those with mental health conditions, to ex-offenders, to those escaping domestic violence – the importance of supported housing cannot be overestimated.
What is important now is that we make decisions on the future of the sector based on the best available evidence.
And that we ensure support is focused on the most vulnerable, with appropriate safeguards.
So that we can get the best provision possible, such as that provided by Riverside, Nacro, Anchor Trust and Richmond Fellowship here in Manchester – which provide support to rough sleepers, people addicted to alcohol, older people and those with mental health problems respectively.
We recognise that the vast majority of providers deliver a genuine and valuable service, however, on the rare occasions where it does exist, we want to root out sub-standard treatment that does the most vulnerable of people in our society a great disservice.
The need for long term reform in this sector was well established before the Local Housing Allowance caps announcement.
The roll out of Universal Credit already meant we needed to think about how funding for supported housing is best delivered in the future.
That is why my department – jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government, who you will hear from later today – commissioned a supported housing evidence review, nearly 2 years ago.
This will tell us much more about the shape, scale and cost of the sector. And it is the first such evidence review in over 20 years.
The review is now nearing its end and we hope to be able to publish it shortly.
This is of course an issue that affects many parts of government and our colleagues in the devolved administrations. I am working with a broad range of ministerial colleagues to find the policy solution to this issue.
An important part of this policy work is talking to you, the sector. You are not just a vital sector but a diverse one.
That makes it even more essential that we engage extensively with you ahead of bringing forward any proposals. So we fully understand how the system works at present on the ground.
As part of the evidence and policy reviews, we have spoken with over two hundred stakeholders from all nations of Britain. This includes local authority commissioners, providers of supported housing, charities, sector membership organisations and individuals themselves living in supported housing.
The insights and expertise that all these groups have brought to both the evidence review and the policy thinking have been immensely valuable. And we are continuing to listen.
For me, answering the question of long term reform also offers us an opportunity to think about how this crucial sector operates. For example:
- What can we do to ensure that quality and an outcomes focus are at the heart of what we do?
- How can we ensure that the system allows for and indeed drives innovation to build on what we know already works?
We all know these are not simple questions. That is why we are working quickly to understand what the evidence is telling us.
Building on this review, we will work with you to put in place appropriate protections. So that those who need supported accommodation – often the most vulnerable in our society – have appropriate and sustainable housing.
Now let me turn to the benefit cap. We introduced the benefit cap to incentivise work, and that is exactly what we are seeing.
Our research has shown that capped households are 41% more likely to enter work than similar uncapped households.
The benefit cap has been in place for 3 years and of the 73,000 households who have been capped, around 53,000 households are no longer subject to it. Nearly 22,000 of these households have moved into work.
The benefit cap is helping families to make positive behavioural changes. It is strengthening work incentives in the benefit system, and improving life chances.
The lower and tiered cap coming in this autumn is a key part of our commitment to reduce long-term welfare dependency.
My department is already proactively supporting people who will be affected by the new cap.
We have written to local authorities and to people likely to be affected so that we can advise them of the support available. Support to move into work, as well as budgeting and housing assistance.
There is a close partnership between jobcentres and local authorities focused on helping those affected by the benefit cap move into employment – and away from benefit dependency.
This includes conducting home visits for the most vulnerable – in some cases jointly with housing associations.
This activity will give people time to explore and take up support before the new cap comes in.
Along with this support, we are continuing to provide funding for Discretionary Housing Payments and have committed to £870 million over this Parliament.
This is for local authorities to be able to provide additional financial support for those who need it most.
Along with our desire to support the most vulnerable to move in to employment, we also recognise and value the work that carers and guardians do across the country.
That is why we have created new exemptions from the benefit cap for households entitled to Carer’s Allowance or Guardian’s Allowance. And these will take effect later this year.
The roll-out of Universal Credit is a good example of government and the housing sector working together effectively.
We have delivered welfare reform and together we have been able to make a positive difference to people’s lives.
We have been continuing to improve the Universal Credit service and in particular our relationships with local authorities, landlords and housing representative groups.
Taking on your feedback, we have developed a number of measures to make Universal Credit better for the sector and better for tenants.
To name a few:
we have enabled social landlords to be notified when their tenants make a claim to Universal Credit, so that they can apply for Alternative Payment Arrangements for tenants in arrears
we have implemented an escalation line for landlords to contact the Universal Credit service centre to minimise the risk of evictions
we have published a landlord support pack on GOV.UK to help landlords prepare their organisation, staff and tenants for Universal Credit
Our Trusted Partner pilot is a further demonstration of our partnership working. We have worked with social landlords to allow them to identify tenants who would be unlikely to pay their rent when they started receiving Universal Credit. They were able to recommend that these tenants instead had an Alternative Payment Arrangement.
However, the support did not end with putting in place a different method of payment. These landlords worked with their tenants to provide on-going support, so that in time, their tenants could pay their rent independently.
Early evidence has shown positive outcomes and we will continue to review this over the coming months.
We are not content with stopping here but we are intent on supporting the most vulnerable of claimants.
Our aim is to support the needs of anyone whose conditions are stopping them from finding and staying in work.
Our work coaches now have the flexibility to tailor support for individuals in difficult circumstances. For example, they can remove work search requirements from people facing homelessness to allow them to sort out their housing situation.
We know that for some people, managing their Universal Credit claim online and budgeting their award effectively may be difficult.
That is why we have developed Universal Support to help people by improving their financial and digital capability. This is done through budgeting support and assistance with digital services, delivered by local partners.
Universal Support is already transforming the way jobcentres work as part of their local communities. They are now more effective in tackling the barriers that harder to help people face in getting into sustainable employment.
When I visit jobcentres across the country – from Southampton, to Grantham – what strikes me is the genuine enthusiasm of work coaches.
Because of Universal Credit, for the first time they feel that the welfare system is coherent. And that they can help people to lead independent, fulfilling lives.
Universal Support will take this even further, ensuring that we can truly help those who are the hardest to help.
We are now considering how to expand Universal Support to cover a wide range of complex barriers. These are the barriers that ultimately lead to worklessness and poor life chances – including addiction, problem debt, homelessness, lack of basic skills and a history of offending.
Expanded Universal Support aims to address these barriers by encouraging a system of joined-up services at a local level.
For example the Working Well pilot here in Greater Manchester. Local services are working together to address people’s barriers to employment. They are tackling people’s health, housing and debt issues and providing employment and skills support. Because of this joined up approach, over 230 people of the hardest to help have been supported into employment.
Through such locally designed and integrated services, we can better meet the needs of people with complex and multiple barriers. And help them into sustained employment.
What has struck me over the last 6 years, is that despite the scale of our welfare reforms, the housing sector has adapted in the interests of their tenants.
Many housing providers have looked at their social obligations and have stepped up to support their tenants.
They have identified the skills that their tenants are missing and developed ways to fill this. Whether that’s through helping tenants with budgeting support or providing employability courses, these initiatives are helping people to lead independent and fulfilling lives.
I do not underestimate the commitment of you and your staff to achieve this goal. Nor do I underestimate the cultural and organisational change that many of you have invested in.
I was very impressed by a visit I made to Bromford social housing in the Midlands. Through their “Bromford Deal” tenants make a commitment to invest in their own development in return for being a Bromford tenant.
Bromford are using their relationship with tenants to get them ready for the world of work and away from benefit dependency.
And there are many more examples.
From the YMCA, which awards points towards moving into a self-contained flat for engaging with education, training and employment.
To St Basils in the West Midlands, which is incentivising training with housing, working in partnership with the local NHS.
Indeed, according to the National Housing Federation, over a third of housing associations offer employment and skills services – with more planning to do so.
Our ambition is to transform people’s lives by giving them the tools, incentives and support they need to get into work and stay in work.
By doing this we are determined to move our country to a lower welfare society, where those who need support get it. And where we protect the most vulnerable.
We have worked tirelessly to improve the economy, increase employment opportunities for all and achieve lasting welfare reform.
Today we can see the results:
- with the employment rate at a record high
- with the number workless households in the social sector down from a peak of 49% in 2010, to 39% last year
- with Universal Credit continuing to pull people out of benefit dependency and out of poverty traps
We all have our part to play in this. And I am very encouraged by the support and resources that housing associations and other partners here today are providing for tenants.
From supported housing, to the benefit cap, to Universal Credit, and now to Universal Support – we have shown we can work together to ensure that we protect and support vulnerable people.
As the CIH celebrates its achievements over the last 100 years – and looks ahead to shaping the future of housing – I look forward to working with you to realise the vision of improving housing and improving people’s lives.