We Are All A #BenefittoSociety

Everyone is talking about social housing at the moment, it's been a strong theme at the party conferences this autumn and rightly so. In this guest blog Claire Hughes a tenant of Soha Housing, the not-for-profit housing association talks about their new campaign #BenefittoSociety which will represent Social Housing tenants and enable them to voice their concerns.

Scroungers, Lazy Chavs, Uneducated, Immigrants!  Aka Social Housing Tenants.

We have all become familiar with newspaper stories about how the poor live in deprived areas, how crime rates are rife on council estates, of the teenage single mum raising five children on benefits and the immigrants here taking our jobs and council houses. But how much of this is true? And how much of what the media portray is a fair representation of those who live in Social Housing?

Modern-day media stereotypes. Tenants are fighting back!

Over the past few years there has been a rise in negative portrayals of social housing tenants. This has been fuelled, in particular, by the media, for example TV programmes like Benefits Street.  The portrayals of the cigarette smoking mum of 4, covered with tattoos, counting down the minutes until the “leccy” meter runs out, all the time with her snarling dog beside her, are ubiquitous.  Let’s not forget endless newspaper articles with photographs of run-down streets covered in graffiti and cars jacked-up on breeze blocks.

In this day and age, where social media has become a way of life, stereotypes about social tenants are able to gain a purchase on people’s imaginations like never before.  Now a collective of housing associations across the country, led by tenants, are challenging these ideas.

Bricks and Mortar don’t define a person!

I have always lived in social housing. Sadly, my family has recently suffered due to the increasingly acceptability of shaming tenants. My teenage daughter was bullied at secondary school because she lived on an estate, to the point she would be ashamed of bringing friends home. Parents hesitated to send their children to our local primary due to its demographics: a large proportion of students are social tenants. This is despite the school being excellent. My family, alongside hundreds of others in the UK, have been dependant on Social Security Benefits through ill health and redundancy. One might therefore assume that we fit into this stereotype, but that’s far from the truth. My two children are thriving, one is an actress and the other is the founder of an award winning charity.

Being a tenant is a privilege which allows me to provide a safe, secure environment to raise my children, with the added benefit of affordable rent.  And my family isn’t a one off! A huge percentage of tenants have extraordinary lives.  Statistically, many are retired. Only 7% are unemployed, defying the depiction of tenants being ‘unemployed scumbags’.  A huge percentage are retired, in work, or are unable to work, including those with caring responsibilities. There are also a large number of emergency service, NHS  and public service workers who live in rented or shared ownership housing, which is an umbrella scheme of social housing, allowing them to climb the housing ladder.

There are thousands of families across the UK who are pillars of their communities.
There are countless numbers of community groups and clubs led by successful professionals who contribute positively, but they are rarely praised by the media.

A Benefit to Society is a new project which will represent Social Housing tenants and enable them to voice their concerns. The media, government and social housing sector will be challenged on the way they represent Social Housing tenants. I have been part of the working and editorial group producing the Fair Press for Tenants publication, a guide recently launched at Media City. Written by tenants, to encourage fair representation, the purpose is to educate its readers to become knowledgeable about who lives in social housing and to encourage them to scrutinise the many defamatory stories which have become so common. The aim is that this guide will help to halt the shame associated with social housing and instead encourage readers to see tenants for what they are: a #benefittosociety.

It’s been a privilege not only to be involved with this project but to share and listen to stories of like-minded tenants across the UK. #fairpress has given a voice to the many , which is in my opinion as powerful as any hard hitting story you may read  in the paper. It’s a true, honest value of social housing tenants. I am sure this is just the start of a huge movement which will empower individuals to speak up and be proud of where they live and continue to add value to their neighbourhoods and local communities.

Claire Hughes
Editorial Group, Fair Press for Tenants
Soha Tenant

Claire is on Twitter at @cheekyclara, @sohahousing @2benefitsociety
Details of the campaign and the Fair Press guide are online at www.benefittosociety.co.uk/the-campaign/



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