Growing the national economy is no longer sufficient, we must interrogate where that growth is coming from, what it is based on and who is benefiting from it.
Nick Yandle is Policy Leader at the National Housing Federation
8 October 2018
Our Great Places programme is exploring what makes a place great to live in, and how housing associations can contribute and it was clear early on that it would be a complex, thought-provoking and discursive piece of work. In one sense this was to be expected, as we were proactively seeking out views and experiences relating to subjective and personal concepts, such as what makes somewhere a great place to live and what communities would like their place to be like in the future. Interestingly, our early responses were pretty consistent. People want places that are safe, inclusive and accessible, well connected and consistent with the area’s heritage and story. They want outdoor spaces and places for the community to come together and socialise, and they want young people to be able to pursue their career ambitions locally if they want to. Despite Brexit, Trump, Orban and the other high profile fractures we have seen recently, it would appear that when it comes to our hopes for where we live, there truly is more that unites than divides us. This is an important lesson to remember and is something that is at the heart of the housing association mission. As people, we want somewhere great to live, and we want our children to grow up in great places. That doesn’t vary according to wealth, income or social class and those factors should not determine who does or doesn’t have access to such places.
This understanding of how people feel about places and what their dreams and aspirations are for the future is a very important and necessary step, but it is a pretty small first step in terms of making those dreams a reality. We know that our country is riven by enormous disparities and inequalities both between and within places. We know that where a newborn baby is born in England has a disproportionate impact on its life chances and opportunities. For example, average life expectancy at birth for males in the UK is 79 but for males in Blackpool it is 74, for males in Kensington and Chelsea it is over 83. Similarly, gross disposable household income per head was £25,293 in London in 2015, compared to £16,197 in the North East and £16,935 in the East Midlands. So place matters. And despite the fact that we all want and need similar things from where we live, for many years we have systematically failed to address the drivers of regional disparity and local decline.
So the next step is to enter the big and contested space, here the questions focus on the policies and approaches that should be used to create sustainable and inclusive economic growth across the country. This is complex stuff and our early steps were aided by an excellent literature review by my colleague Bekah Ryder. The fact that the debate is being had, both nationally and locally, is incredibly welcome. It is no longer enough to point to GDP growth of 2% (we wish!) and say ‘job done’. Politicians and others have woken up to the fact that not everyone benefited from the unparalleled economic growth we experienced for decades to 2008, that many of those who were excluded felt the full force of the crash and subsequent austerity, and that their patience has well and truly worn out.
So sustainable and inclusive local economic growth is now the order of the day. Growing the national economy is no longer sufficient, we must interrogate where that growth is coming from, what it is based on and who is benefiting from it. Which brings me back to our Great Places work. Our Commission has seen incredible examples of communities working with housing associations, councils and other local institutions to address local issues and improve their places. Councils like Liverpool are thinking differently about how they intervene in the housing market, Preston is pioneering a ‘spend local’ scheme on a city-wide scale, and Lewisham has developed a ‘Lewisham Deal’ focusing on apprenticeships and procurement. Housing associations are natural partners in these projects; they are place-based, socially driven and their core product inherently supports an inclusive local economy. Over the course of this year we have set our commission an ambitious challenge, to unearth lessons, models, ideas and proposals that will build on this solid foundation and cement housing associations as key players in local economies across the country.
At the National Housing Federation, we promise to help housing associations influence devolution to create the best possible environment for social housing and your customers. The devolution hub is at the heart of how we will deliver on this.