Policy think tank round-up

In the run up to the General Election, think tanks, NGOs, social policy bodies and political groups of all political stripes are publishing reports and research into a variety of issues.

Housing is widely expected to be a major issue in the coming election and think tanks in England are responding accordingly by publishing a slew of reports in January on various issues related to housing. Policy Network released a report on how to accelerate house building in the UK. It argues that housing policy should be directed towards reducing the levels at which residential land prices are acquired at in order to generate a transformation in the business model of building houses.

IPPR North meanwhile focused on how policy makers can bring empty homes back into use noting that there are an estimated 635,000 empty homes in England. It suggested that the existing cap on the ’empty homes council tax premium’ should be removed, effectively allowing local authorities to determine their own banded premiums charged on long-term empty dwellings as well as giving LAs greater control over the definition of ‘long-term empty’ properties.

The Social Policy in a Cold Climate (SPCC) report, a series of papers being undertaken by a team of researchers from LSE and the universities of Manchester and York, found that families with young children and the poorest in society have been hit the hardest by changes to taxes and benefits. The consequences of this for financial exclusion will no doubt be familiar to all of you working with clients in debt or on low incomes.

The effects of various Government initiatives have been prominently featured in many reports, particularly the JRF’s paper on Minimum Income Standards (MIS) which showed that the proportion of people living in households with an income below MIS increased by nearly a third between 2008/9 and 2012/13.

The impact of welfare reform was also charted by the National Housing Federation’s impact assessment of welfare reform in conjunction with the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research An on-going initiative undertaken by the Government is the ending of the ring-fence for Local Welfare Assistance worth around £120m a year. The Centre for Responsible Credit found that around half the money set aside for local welfare had been left unspent suggesting it was kept in the coffers of local authorities instead of being spent.

While many think tanks have focused on the impact of the present welfare reforms, other think tanks, such as Policy Exchange, are focusing on how to better the welfare system. Their Welfare Manifesto includes ideas such as a new unemployment insurance scheme that reflects personal contributions (like the scheme found in Germany which you can read more about here); limiting child benefit to four children and mitigating the social and well-being pitfalls of JCP sanctions by instead introducing a pre-paid benefits card where sanctions would usually be issued.

Income standards are likely to be an important election issue and this is again reflected in a body of research from various groups. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found thatBritain’s poorest families have suffered the most from the coalition’s welfare cuts and tax rises worth around an average of £1,127 a year after the implementation of reforms since 2010.

A major focus of parties of all colours is the need for greater devolution to regions in the wake of the Scottish Referendum. The Centre for Cities published a health-check of the performance of cities across the UK to see if Government policy is making a difference to the prosperity of cities across the UK.

NHC and Incommunities launch their first household store

Incommunities officially opens its first ever Smarterbuys Store this week offering essential household items at great affordable prices (30th January).

The store is based in the ground floor ‘high street’ location of City House in Bradford city centre and has been developed in partnership with the Northern Housing Consortium. It is also supported by the social purpose bank, the Charity Bank who support thousands of good causes.

Smarterbuys offers affordable credit facilities for all Incommunities’ customers and is an alternative to turning to high cost lenders and loan sharks.

It is conveniently located so customers can also access local housing services and community banking facilities provided by Bradford District Credit Union.

Local Government Minister and Keighley MP, Kris Hopkins will cut a ceremonial ribbon at the entrance to the store to mark its official opening.

It is the first time a Yorkshire and Humberside housing association has launched a Smarterbuys retail outlet for its customers.

The store sells everything from white goods such as washing machines, cookers and fridges to televisions, furniture and smaller electrical items such as laptops and tablets.

There are various affordable finance options including weekly credit payment plans as well as credit and debit card facilities.

An affordability assessment and credit check is made into all applicants to ensure they can comfortably repay any loan agreed.

Products are also available for sale to the wider public.

The store has been running since September 2014 and attracts over 800 customers a week. By the end of 2014 over 160 customers had entered into loan agreements for different items.

Geraldine Howley, Incommunities Group Chief Executive said: “We are delighted to be working with the Northern Housing Consortium and the Charity Bank to offer this new service.

“We are committed to providing responsible financial assistance and advice to our customers, many of whom face living with tight household budgets.

“This new Smarterbuys Store provides affordable options and an invaluable alternative to getting into debt with unscrupulous high-cost lenders. It is also proving a great place to go for people moving home or looking to brighten up their own home.”

Jo Boaden, Chief Executive of the Northern Housing Consortium, said:

“The opening of The Smarterbuys Store is great news for Bradford and shows that Incommunities have a real desire to make a difference to residents’ lives.

“By offering a genuine affordable alternative to high-cost lenders we can help people buy the items they need in a way that can mean they don’t have to go without other essentials or resort to loan sharks.”

Local Government Minister, Kris Hopkins, said: “I’m pleased to see Incommunities become the first housing association in the region to offer this service, right at the heart of Bradford’s city centre.

“This new initiative will enable new residents to make their property their home, and I want to see more housing associations across the country looking to see what more they can do to support their tenants.”

Customers can also shop at Smarterbuys by going online at www.incommunities.sbstore.org.

We want your help to shape the first constituency profiles of 2015

The NHC’s Constituency Profiles provide parliamentarians with regular briefings on topics relevant to the housing sector in the North. Using secondary source data to provide a picture of the local area, two editions are published every year for each Northern Parliamentary Constituency.

The first edition of the 2015 Profiles is due to be published in May. This is an opportunity for NHC members to make their local Members of Parliament aware of housing-related issues in the areas they operate, from homelessness to new house building.

If there are any issues you feel that should be covered in the next edition of the profiles, please contact Barry Turnbull, Policy Services Officer, at barry.turnbull@northern-consortium.org.uk or on 0191 566 1030.

Research and Intelligence Services

The Northern Housing Consortium has a long standing track record in undertaking research for government and our members. The Research and Intelligence service, which sits within the Policy and Public Affairs department, works on a range of both commissioned and non-commissioned research projects. We have expertise across a range of quantitative and qualitative methodologies and experience in shaping research commissions that provide housing market analysis, customer insight and satisfaction, community based research and providing strategic support to key business functions.

The team works toward providing services for members that enable them to better understand their housing markets and their residents. The tools which the team provide can assist in improving performance within member organisations as well as gaining a robust, reliable and representative knowledge of the northern housing offer and how it relates to the needs and aspirations of its residents.

The projects worked on by the team include paid research, for which members or groups of members, will commission and pay for, and wider strategic projects which will benefit a wider range of our northern members.

Commissioned Research projects include:

  • Tenant Satisfaction surveys, using STAR methodology to measure the satisfaction of tenants with their homes and neighbourhoods to enable landlords to identify improvements
  • District-wide housing market assessments, which enable authorities to better plan future housing provision
    Housing Needs Surveys, which evidences the households that are living within unsuitable accommodation and assist authorities in prioritising future spend into improving homes and developing new homes
  • Affordable accommodation studies, highlighting the level of affordable accommodation that is required and how affordability can be measured at a local level
  • Rural housing assessments, which will be used by parish councils to gain additional funding for any affordable or specialist housing
  • Homelessness Reviews, to review homelessness services and access the impact on reducing the number of homeless cases
  • BME and Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments, allowing authorities to gain a better understanding of the needs of a range of ethnic groups and recognising the cultural sensitivities surrounding these
  • Regeneration assessments and impact assessments, which allow a robust assessment of current and previous work of regeneration and investment to highlight successful and unsuccessful schemes
  • Assessment of Older Person’s accommodation, which gives a better understanding of the needs of older people in terms of accommodation and support related services
  • Housing strategies, assist members in writing housing and housing related strategies and evidencing future priorities and how these will link together
  • Mystery Shopping exercises, testing a range of landlord services to highlight any difficulties with service delivery
  • Staff Satisfaction surveys, enable organisations to improve staff moral and assist with recruitment and retention
  • Staff salary surveys, benchmarking of salaries in the sector to monitor staff pay and assist with recruitment and retention by ensuring fair pay

The NHC research services wish to enable members to work with more effective evidence to improve services and result in a greater quality of life and quality of place for residents.

For more information please contact one of the Policy and Public Affairs team on 0191 5661000 or email efficiency@northern-consortium.org.uk.

Poverty Ends Now: a children’s manifesto on poverty

Children North East and Rys Farthing from Oxford University has been co-ordinating a piece of work for the APPG All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty to produce a Children’s Manifesto and action plan on poverty.

Young people from the North East, London, Manchester, and Liverpool, who were already actively involved in tackling child poverty, came together to form a national group which they named PEN – Poverty Ends Now.

PEN are a team of 38 young people from some of the most deprived parts of England who have written and developed a manifesto and action plan against poverty. They speak in their own words about the issues affecting young people in their communities.

The group met over several residential visits to produce a six point Children’s Manifesto on Poverty which includes:

  • Every family in Britain should meet a minimum standard of living, not just surviving.
  • An equal school experience for all.
  • Affordable, decent homes for everyone.
  • Every young person should have access to three affordable, healthy meals a day.
  • For all to feel and be safe within their communities and at home.
  • Make sure all young people have affordable transport everywhere.

The manifesto has six key points which include:

  1. Decent Incomes – Liverpool: play and community discussion during National Living Wage Week
  2. Equal Schools – North East: Local evidence session in Darlington 28th November 2014
  3. Housing – London: parliamentary evidence session
  4. Food – Gateshead Youth Assembly: holiday hunger activities
  5. Feel Safe – Manchester: Walking tour and Question Time with decision makers
  6. Transport – Newcastle Youth Council: distributing discount cards across secondary schools

For further information about the North East contact Sara Bryson.

For London, Manchester, Liverpool contact Rys Farthing Barnett House Fellow at Oxford University.

For further information please visit the PEN group tumblr page.