The Dreaded ‘S’ Word – Stigma

Jane Morris, Member of Chorus Homes Scrutiny, and Independent Complaints Panel writes for Tenant View about Stigma and how it affects her as a Social Housing tenant. 

Both the Government’s Social Housing Green Paper – A New Deal for Social Housing, published on 14 August 2018 and the National Housing Federation “Together with Tenants” initiative talk about the ‘S’ word – Stigma and how to overcome it. But exactly how do we tackle stigma and celebrate thriving communities?

My husband and I experienced this stigma first-hand at an 80th Birthday Party for a dear friend over a weekend in July.

When asked at a party ‘Hello, who are you, and how do you know Bill? I never introduce myself as
‘Hi. I’m Jane and I live in social housing’ just as I would never say ‘Hi I’m Jane and I live in a privately-owned home’ as it makes no sense, but equally I am not ashamed of where I live.

We didn’t know anyone at the party but were getting on famously with all we spoke to until lunch was served, and a couple joined us, and it became apparent that the gentleman (I use the term loosely) was rather a self-opinionated man.

We live in the quiet and small village of Kimbolton in Cambridgeshire, as tenants of Chorus Homes, and one of the things that brings people to Kimbolton is its excellent Public School. We have lived here for 7 years and have made many friends and have always been made to feel welcome by everybody – social housing or not.

However, over the course of a conversation at that party, which ranged over many topics, none of which initiated any response other than disagreement from said gentleman, it soon became clear that this gentleman felt that the village “isn’t the place for those social housing people”, and those existing houses “should make way for new build” and “why did they ever put those people in a village like Kimbolton where they plainly don’t belong”?

Needless to say, I was left somewhat speechless!! It reminded me of when my husband and I first moved here, having lost our home due to a particularly nasty fraud case (which we are still actively fighting), and came to view with our ‘invisible hoodies’ on so as not to be seen - yes because of the stigma.

Ever since moving in I have been a very active participant of every involvement panel I could in order to understand and champion Social Housing and hoping one day to remove that dreaded “S” word – STIGMA.

But how you change men like this I really don’t know – I just know I really don’t want to meet him again, and Yes, only as he was leaving so as not to spoil my friend’s celebrations, I did challenge him quite strongly – all to no avail…

Tenants do not need reminding of how stigma affects lives, It's the judgemental people who have been led to believe that social housing tenants are ALL like the people of Channel 5 Benefits Street and second-class citizens.

One of the ways of removing this Stigma is if successive Governments stop the belief that home ownership is the only thing people aspire to, and to also help get this view out of the media.

Governments have been pushing for home ownership since the ‘right to buy’ and lead us to believe that your status relies solely on owning your own home, that your life is better, your chances of a job are better.

But actually, having been there for many years, most homeowners never own their home and are under constant stress about the possibility of losing it, in the event of a defaulted mortgage.
I, for one, have no interest in getting into a mortgage debt again, that makes your home insecure. But I do know the lenders, and our economy, like it, as it looks good on paper.

Does anyone remember the days of council houses? When most young people automatically put their name down for a house in the village or town where they lived?

Once they moved in a lot stayed or moved to another area by swapping homes if their job moved. Some bought through ‘right to buy’ and some bought privately but at no time was there the same stigma there is today with “Social Housing” – who knows perhaps it is all in a name…

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