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National report calls on housing sector to take action to tackle child poverty

Social landlords are well-placed to help tackle child poverty, according to a report launched today.

Published by 40,000-home Orbit, the report reveals the role of landlords in tackling poverty and focuses on practical measures that would both reduce hardship and alleviate pressures on social housing providers as businesses. With one in ten people living in a housing association home, the sector is well-placed to help the thousands of struggling families across the country.

The study and recommendations for practical actions come as recent analysis from the End Child Poverty coalition indicates more than half of all children in the UK’s very poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.

Orbit houses around 16,000 residents under the age of 16, of which an estimated 4,000 are growing up poor. Its research revealed one in 10 of its households have used foodbanks in the last year and have taken out a quick cash loan or used cash converters. More than 1,000 of its customers received money advice in the last year, almost two in five of whom are households with children.

The report is a product of Orbit’s Happy, Healthy Starts campaign, run jointly with Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). Over the last year the campaign has heard from the children and parents living in Orbit homes, through focus group sessions across its key operating areas including, Coventry, Rugby, London Borough of Bexley and Thanet. Sessions were held in Coventry’s Foleshill ward and Thanet’s Newington ward – both of which are among the 10 wards with the highest proportion of children in poverty in England.

Paul Richards, Executive Director of Customer Services at Orbit, said: “At the time of writing our report, nine children in every classroom of 30 across the country are living below the official poverty line. If we are to protect their life chances, we need to act now.    

“We are all in a position to take small, practical actions which can have a real impact, from tackling furniture poverty and helping with the crippling costs of the school day, to creating pleasant outdoor spaces for families and ensuring every household is getting the financial support they are entitled to. I hope our colleagues across the sector join our campaign to help ensure every child has a happy, healthy start in life.”

Taking action

An early success of the campaign is the landlord’s ‘Carpets and Curtains’ project. Speaking with campaign group End Furniture Poverty, it was revealed that historically across the social housing sector, less than 2% of homes are furnished. All furnishings, flooring and window coverings are usually removed from a property regardless of quality when a customer moves out and a property becomes void.

As of 1 January last year, Orbit set about changing this process and ran a 12 month pilot in one of its largest community hubs, Stratford-upon-Avon. Around 50 customers benefitted from gifted items including flooring and window coverings with the median replacement value in the region of £500.

Orbit customer, Danielle, recently moved into a three-bedroom property with 10-month old daughter Elsie and mum Jackie. Through the pilot, the family has benefitted from carpets left in the lounge, hall, stairs and two of the three bedrooms as well as a kitchen blind. In total, they are estimated to have benefitted from £1,200 of goods, making their new house, a home.

The pilot saw a positive impact on the organisation’s customer satisfaction scores, as well as void turnaround times and is now being implemented across all of its operating areas.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of CPAG, commended Orbit for its work in tackling child poverty. She said: “None of us want children to miss out. But four million of our children live in poverty now and projections suggest another million will join them by 2021. Orbit has shown that housing providers can make a demonstrable difference to families in hardship, with targeted help shaped by what tenants themselves say they need.

“We hope other housing providers will take a lead from Orbit and commit to practical action to help tenants in hardship.”   

Today’s report launch brings together housing professionals, government officials, charities and experts at a Parliamentary reception hosted by Kevin Hollinrake MP, Co-Chair of the APPG on Poverty.

Kevin Hollinrake MP, Co-Chair of the APPG on Poverty, speaking at the launch of the report, said: “Poverty is not just about low income, it’s also about access to decent housing, community amenities and social networks. I am supportive of any initiative which means families have a better standard of living.

"Orbit’s initiative to leave good quality flooring and curtains in place for new tenants is a good example of what can be done to help people on low incomes. This practical help, along with their proposals to create play areas could make all the difference for families struggling to cope. I hope other housing associations will follow suit.”                                                                 

To read the report, Providing the tools to help families thrive, click here 

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