Communities is something of a tired, and at times difficult word, especially when it emerges from the mouths of politicians. But consider what it means to you. Take a mental image of a community - it probably involves houses, but it’s also people. It’s the green and commercial spaces around the houses. It’s some form of friction between the people – social friction – both good and bad. It’s the services provided to the people who are in those houses. Your image possibly goes beyond just houses and encompasses other forms of accommodation – sheltered schemes, flats, people outside the houses looking in. All of these things go towards making up a community.
Why is this distinction between houses and communities important to me? Well, because I think it points towards a hugely misunderstood aspect of Housing Associations’ work. We’re moving into an era of housing where the simple provision of housing will be delivered by an array of sources. Any one can provide housing and the Government is committed to supporting those who do it at the lowest cost. If we don’t understand precisely what a Housing Association does then I think we run the risk of leaving a lot of the work of creating communities undone.
I mentioned as part of a recent post about the National Housing Federation "Neighbourhood Audit", that we are undertaking once more. The previous Neighbourhood Audit revealed that the work that Housing Associations undertake benefits one in every ten people in Britain, with over £430 million being invested into communities! This review was last undertaken in 2008 and so it will be interesting to see how this has changed since the last time.
We have recently completed our own audit and the figures make for shocking reading (shocking in a good way, I believe). Here are some of the headline figures:
- Total spend on Safety and Cohesion in our communities: £189,087
- Total spend on Education and Skills in our communities: £47,259
- Total spend on Employment and Enterprise in our communities: £294,149
- Total spend on Environment and Liveability in our communities: £287,495
- Total spend on Well Being in our communities: £58,377
- Total spend on poverty and inclusion in our communities: £37,857
The complete spend for a year’s worth of investment adds up to £964,339.59 per year. That’s an astronomical sum when you consider that it equates to nearly 3% of our annual revenue. I think it’s essential we blow our own trumpet particularly loudly on this point, because when you compare it to other companies’ spend on Corporate Social Responsibility and how loud they shout about their work in communities, what Housing Associations do is well out in front and yet you don't hear a peep about it. Perhaps unsurprisingly the documented CSR spend of other firms is hard to find, but one example for comparison would be Nike who allegedly spend $25 million on CSR and have revenue in the same year of $19 billion – equating to just 0.13% of revenue.
Housing Associations should emphasise just how much work they are doing with their communities because "its what we do". As an industry there’s absolutely no harm in explaining to people the full extent of the work that we do. Especially when you consider that several studies have shown how important social responsibility is to both employees and customers. For instance this American survey suggested that 34% of employees would take a pay cut to work with a socially-responsible firm. Not only that but 70% of consumers would pay a premium on products from a socially-responsible company.
Before anyone worries, we’re not going to be putting up rents or asking our staff to take a pay cut, because we invest heavily in our communities, but it’s strange to think that there is a whole side to the housing industry that doesn't get talked about enough. Hiding your light under a bushel is all very laudable but the housing sector has no such reason to adopt such modesty. When cuts assail us and competition is increasing it’s vital that all are aware of the full extent of our work, so that customers, employees, ministers and even ourselves can see that beyond the deceptive names, the housing sector is also about investing in communities.
I’d like to end the blog today with a challenge – how can we create an industry-by-industry index to show the total social value created (call it CSR if you like) and if we had one, is there another sector out there that would rank higher than Housing Associations?