Building opportunity: how social housing can support skills, talent and workforce development

01 December 2022

This report was produced by the Learning and Work Institute and the Institute for Employment, with support from the National Housing Federation, Communities That Work, and the National Federation of ALMOs. It uses case studies from six social landlords to draw out key lessons in how social landlords are working with residents to improve jobs, incomes and wellbeing, and identify key challenges and opportunities for the future.

For the first time in at least thirty years, the workforce has stopped growing and may be getting smaller. Now more than ever, employers and the government will need to find new ways to raise participation in the labour market, engage people further from work, and improve job retention, security and progression. As our case studies highlight, social landlords can play a key role in working to address these challenges, by supporting their residents and others in their local communities to prepare for, find, secure and progress in decent work.

Employability and social housing tenants

We know that we are facing a housing crisis in the UK. Across all tenures and income levels, there is a shortage of affordable, secure, and decent accommodation. Due to this acute shortage, social housing, the most affordable tenure available, is often only accessible to those in the most extreme housing need that cannot be met in the private rented sector or through home ownership. Overall, one in seven people of working age in England live in social housing, or around five million adults.

Tenants in social housing are more likely be facing a long-term health condition, have a disability, or be a lone parent. They may be coming from severely overcrowded housing or be on a low income. Often they have experienced homelessness. Put simply, with demand as it is, to be prioritised now as a new tenant social housing today means that you are more likely to be facing a challenging set of personal and financial circumstances. It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that often these circumstances can also act as barriers to the labour market.  

Due to these barriers, social housing tenants are twice as likely to be out of work as those in other tenures. Raising employment for people in social housing was an economic and social imperative before the pandemic, but should be a necessity now – to boost supply and help meet labour and skills shortages; to help families and communities to deal with the cost of living crisis; and to tackle inequalities between people and places.

Talking of the role of housing associations play in delivering employment support, Kate Henderson, Chief Executive at the NHF, said: 

“Social housing providers are keen to work with government to support more people to develop skills and access job opportunities. 

Housing associations already provide employment support and career advice, and they can help local partners see whether the support is reaching those that need it the most and target action where improvements are needed.

But the social housing sector can and wants to do even more to build capacity and capability, sharing practice and raising awareness of the role that social landlords can play in supporting jobs and incomes.”

Talking of the report, Stephen Evans, CEO, Learning and Work Institute said:

“Our research shows that if we want to increase employment, we need to provide more support for social housing tenants. It also shows the positive role so many social landlords are playing in providing that support already. I hope this report helps make the case for a joined-up approach to increasing employment with social landlords as key partners.”

Talking of the need for a new Plan for Jobs, Lynsey Sweeney, Managing Director of Communities that Work, said:

“We need a new plan that can invest in specialist employment support for those out of work and who want to work; broaden access to mainstream employment services; strengthen local partnerships and alignment with wider services like health, childcare and transport; and works better with employers.” 

Talking of the opportunity to support innovation, Eamon McGoldrick, Managing Director at the National Federation of ALMOs, said:

“The report shows the strong case for government to work with the social housing sector to encourage, support and fund innovative approaches to employment and skills support that can be delivered through and with social landlords.

“As a starter, there would be significant value in trialling the ‘Jobs-Plus’ model in the UK, which is a well-evidenced approach to supporting people out of work in the most disadvantaged communities, taking a place-based, joined-up and work-focused approach to engaging residents and supporting social action.”

Who to speak to

Sue Ramsden, Policy Leader