10 April, 2008
In January this year, Caroline Flint's suggested reforms in the housing sector to engender a 'something for something' foundation sparked uproar amongst commentators when it was revealed that part of her plans would require tenants to sign up to 'commitment contractors', obliging them to seek employment.
This sparked national debate in which the government faced accusations of being ill-informed and out of touch with the harsh realities that many social families face in today's economic climate.
However, the Chair of the policy group tasked with assessing the feasibility of the Ms Flint's proposals has come forward and announced that the government must move away from its plans to introduce housing sanctions that would use the threat of eviction to compel tenants to seek employment.
Jane Slowey has defended her decision to chair the 'incentive and obligations' policy group, set up by the Housing Minister last month, by insisting that she wants to ensure any debate is not polarized in a way that doesn't reflect the reality of what she's seen to work.
Ms Slowey's support for the idea of committing young people, through their tenancy agreement, to engage with support staff as part of an assisted development scheme, is clear to see through her work as chief executive of The Foyer Federation. An umbrella group which supports young people with their housing needs.
However, she is quick to point out that what may work for one group of people may not necessarily translate into success for another group of people. She is uncertain as to whether it could work more broadly – a primary example being the problems that it could create for families with children.
In light of this Ms Slowey has announced that she would use her position to steer the government away from these controversial plans.
'Foyers rarely evict people for non-engagement because if you get the deal right in the first place, most young people want to get out of the situation they're in if they've been homeless or at risk of homelessness.'
Ms Slowey has criticised the 'crude' language adopted by the government in describing the proposed sanctions to social housing and the wrong message that it emits. She maintains that the wording that the government used effectively stated that "if you don't commit to training, you'll lose your tenancy". This is a brand of punishment that Ms Slowey is keen to avoid, insisting that it makes the assumption that people in social housing don't want to better themselves.
The policy group will meet three times between now and the end of June, before presenting their findings and recommendations, however the words of Ms Slowey will be welcomed music to the ears of social tenants. Whether the findings will precipitate a U-turn in the Housing Minister's policy remains to be seen, however social tenants will take heart in learning that they have a new 'representative' fighting their corner.