Kate Henderson explains how the National Housing Federation has been organising to meet the challenges of coronavirus.
The past two weeks have presented society with challenges at a scale and severity many of us never thought we’d see. The ferocious spread of coronavirus has demanded that we all rapidly adapt to the most difficult period in recent history.
And our sector is right on the frontline, supporting six million residents through this unprecedented time. Many of the people we house and provide care for will need help with basic provisions while remaining inside, as mandated by the government. Other residents will be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of an economic downturn.
In the immediate days after the scale of the crisis became apparent in the UK, the National Housing Federation (NHF) set up a range of new ways to rapidly respond to developments. In the first instance, the team consulted with our members. We set up a number of online forums so that you can easily communicate with each other and the NHF – sharing concerns and challenges as well as things that are working well.
Members are at the heart of everything we do and the extensive feedback we’ve received over the past fortnight means we now understand that your priorities over the coming months are to be able to keep delivering essential care and support to residents, help any residents that are struggling financially, and ensure residents remain safe in their homes.
“We can best support you by facilitating conversations between organisations, engaging with national stakeholders on behalf of the whole sector and speaking out for housing associations and their residents”
All of this work needs to happen against an incredibly unstable backdrop. When your own staff need to readjust to working from home where possible, get the protection they need if they’re in direct contact with residents, and many may also be off work ill themselves.
In the coming days and weeks we are clear that we can best support you by facilitating conversations between organisations, engaging with national stakeholders on behalf of the whole sector and speaking out for housing associations and their residents.
There will be hard times ahead.
That’s why it’s been so heartening to hear examples of housing associations across the country stepping up to offer extra support to residents. Their priorities have been to quickly adapt to ensure core critical services, such as emergency repair works, are being delivered.
Many are also creating hardship funds and finding innovative ways to help those in self-isolation. The housing association staff responsible for delivering these extra services – on top of the amazing work they already do – will be critical for communities and the most vulnerable during this crisis.
This week I spoke to Number 10, raising our immediate concern that these roles need to be recognised as essential by the government, so that housing staff can continue providing care, carrying out emergency repairs and building safety work. It has been positive to see further clarity on this over the past couple of days.
We also remain in conversation with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury to set out housing associations’ role in tackling the crisis.
As we enter this public health crisis, and period of economic uncertainty, our social purpose is more evident than ever before. We have reassured residents that they have our support and will not need to fear eviction because of this pandemic. We did not need to wait for legislation before making these commitments – we and our members are ready to play our part helping the most vulnerable in society.
However, we also know housing associations need more stability to do this. It is clear that it will be challenging to help our residents stay in their homes without support from the welfare system. The welfare system was established to prevent people falling into poverty and being made homeless. It must be able to deliver on this founding principle in the coming days, weeks and months.
We welcomed the extra £20 per week from 6 April for people on Universal Credit, and will continue to work with the DWP to ensure that the welfare system adequately protects people’s incomes. We have called on the department to ensure that new claims and getting money to people on time is prioritised above all else – and have offered our support with this work.
This crisis is far from over, and the challenges it will present to society with will run far and deep. We will continue to work with our members and ensure that both the critical work they’re doing and the challenges they’re facing are heard in government. Now more than ever is a time for society to work together and protect one another.
While none of us know how long this will go on for or know what kind of long-term impact it will have on the shape of this country, I do know that housing associations’ priorities will remain the same: committed as always to playing their part, working together to help the country get through challenges, and ultimately making sure that the most vulnerable in our society have somewhere safe, affordable and stable to live.
Kate Henderson, chief executive, National Housing Federation
Source: Kate Henderson