The three by-elections last month gave a real sense that election fever is brewing. Plans and preparations are being put in place for an election that polling suggests is going to deliver the greatest chance of a change in government since 2010. At Manchester’s Housing conference back in June, many of the conversations both on stage and around the fringes sensed the possibility of change in the air, and what that may mean for the housing sector. It was notable that the speech by the shadow housing minister was met with at least as much anticipation and interest as the speech from the current incumbent.
As election fever mounts, political debate is likely to be dominated by the cost-of-living, the NHS and immigration: other topics may struggle to get much of an airing. However, we all know that housing is interlinked with all three of these issues, and from the struggles facing private renters trying to find anywhere affordable to live through to homeowners facing eye-watering hikes in their mortgage repayments, housing is rarely far from the news. Social housing is often part of the conversation – and widely acknowledged as part of the solution. However, it seems increasingly when social housing makes the news it is another case of failure to live up to its promise.
As CIH president Lara Oyedele put it at Housing 2023, the reputation of the sector “lies somewhere between estate agents and politicians”. With an election looming the social housing sector needs to make a positive case for itself. This has to go beyond a narrative – the focus should start with getting the basics right, and acknowledging where that hasn’t happened and how things will change. The first TSM results will likely land ahead of any election – what impact will they have on politicians setting their agendas for the next government term?
While there might be understandable focus on repairing the reputation of the sector, attention should also be fixed on what happens post-election and preparedness for any change. Anyone who was working in housing around the 2010 election will recall the avalanche of policy changes that followed: from radical notions that were never implemented (anyone remember ‘pay to stay’?) through to those which have had a profound and lasting impact like the introduction of Affordable Rent.
One thing that sticks in my mind from that time was how poorly prepared the social housing sector was to understand the impact of these policy changes – we simply didn’t have the insight into our residents, their lives and needs, to fully understand how changes such as the ‘bedroom tax’ or the introduction of Universal Credit would actually affect them (and in turn, how housing providers needed to respond). Over a decade later, improvements have certainly been made: business intelligence and customer insight are more embedded parts of how many associations operate and how decisions are taken. But there is still a long way to go, and with the possibility of political change on the horizon, it is a timely moment to make sure your understanding of your customers is as strong as it can be. At IFF we’re always happy to talk to you about the opportunities to increase your customer insight – just get in touch!