2015 has been a rollercoaster year of highs and lows for me as a social housing tenant.
In January I entered my final semester of my master’s degree in Housing Practice at the University of Westminster. Having been studying since my youngest was 8-months old I could finally see a life beyond motherhood, scrutiny and studies. In early March the Homes for Britain’s Betsy-the-Bus visited Witney, West Oxfordshire. It was exciting for my boys and me to have the relay baton visit us at our Cottsway home and attend the Homes for Britain rally in Witney – hosted by Cottsway Housing Association.
I was also fortunate to attend the Homes for Britain Housing Rally, in London, 17th March 2015. I felt like I was part of and witness to a significant time of change within the sector – I was a part of the ‘rally cry’ and there seemed to be a united positivity permeating the air. It felt like I was in the middle of history being made.
Then the election happened!
No one anticipated or imagined the outcome. The pollster’s predictions were extraordinarily wrong and I felt as if the housing sector took a sharp intake of breath in anticipation of what was to happen next.
Against this new political backdrop, my dissertational research began. I wanted to research the benefits to residents from being involved with their landlord. The Amicus Horizon DCLG report and the Tenants Leading Change report had recently been published, both of which had made a strong business case for landlords to involve residents throughout all aspects of the business to help shape and streamline services. After my experience with Cottsway’s Resident Scrutiny Panel and the myriad of benefits I have gained through my involvement I wanted to know if other involved residents had experienced the same benefits or if I was an anomaly. I am currently writing a 6-page brief for publication on my research findings for both TPAS & HQN, and I am looking forward to speaking on my research at the TPAS AGM in London, in December.
Shortly before my dissertation deadline August 12th I received a letter from the Job Centre Plus (JCP) for an appointment on August 13th. The jubilation of my MA accomplishment was quickly overshadowed by my fear of benefit sanctions if I didn’t find work right away. I didn’t have a moment to take a breath when I was thrust into the reality of what so many others on benefits have been experiencing – ardently looking for work enveloped in the fear of the threat of benefits being sanction if unsuccessful. The usual 6-month review had now turned into every 3 months.
The reality of looking for work as a single mother, living in social housing and desperately wanting to come off of benefits, is hard.
Trying to balance the desire for a career, a need to work, with the reality and demands of being a lone parent – all the while feeling the breath of the government looking over my shoulder thinking I should be doing better and the fear of being sanctioned. Osborne’s summer budget – cutting working tax credits and the pay-to-stay penalty if I earn more than £30,000.00 per year – has made me question what have I worked this hard for?
My life goal was not to be a single mum, living in social housing and on benefits. However I refused to allow my new situation to be my forever reality.
I found my passion through my RSP involvement and studying for my MA. The quandary that I now find myself in, with the governmental legislation, is I cannot receive more than £20,000.00 in benefits per year, however; once I start work I am penalised with a reduction in working tax credits, and furthermore; if I earn more than £30,000.00, I will be penalised once again having to ‘pay-to-stay’ in my home with a market rent. I happen to live in one of the most affluent areas outside of London and my rent would increase by several hundred pounds per month. This begs the question why would I spend £850 plus a month on rent when I could exercise my ‘right-to-buy’ which (after some preliminary research) could potentially reduce my market-rent significantly. This makes no sense to me! If these measures become a reality I would have no other choice but to invoke my ‘right-to-buy’. The government asserts it wants to encourage and reward ‘hard working’ citizens, however; its policies revealed in the budget do not align with this proclamation.
I am grateful for my home and being provided with a safe place for me the raise my boys. I have been working hard to better my circumstances for my children and I feel now I am ready to re-enter the work place I find myself in a catch-22 with the moving goal posts of housing policy.
I am passionate about housing and the work we do in our sector and I want to be able to give back without being penalised for it.