Nine in 10 social housing tenants say they are portrayed negatively by media

New report reveals a huge gap between perception and reality with regard to social housing tenants.


Nine in 10 (91%) social housing tenants say they are portrayed negatively by the media, a new report  reveals.

Commissioned by the tenant-led campaign ‘Benefit to Society’, the report exposes a huge gap between perception and reality with regard to social housing tenants.

The research, ‘Overcoming the Stigma of Social Housing’, is published as social housing tenants launch a campaign to tackle negative stereotypes.

Now, the campaign calls on journalists, politicians and housing professionals to stop stigmatising people living in social housing.

It is led by tenants and staff from thirty housing organisations, including housing associations, ALMOs, councils, tenant organisations and trade bodies.

New data shows that the British public overestimate the number of social housing tenants who are unemployed by three times.

To the report, this reinforces the fact that unjust and unfair, negative stereotypes of people in social housing do exist. 

Britons on average estimate that almost one in four (24%) of people living in social housing are unemployed, when in fact one in 14 (7%) are.

Following the Grenfell disaster, many, including the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, said the concerns of people in social housing are too often ignored and tenants are seen “less as people…and more as problems that needed to be managed.”

Tenants say they want to “set the record straight”.

The report also finds that a decrease in numbers of social housing, together with changes in policy over many years, has led to the public considering social housing to be a ‘last resort’.

But this is in stark contrast to the experience of the majority of tenants.

The British Social Attitudes survey of 2017, carried out by The National Centre for Social Research, shows that three quarters (75%) of people who live in housing association homes think they are good places to live.

This stigma is harming people’s lives,. with many social housing tenants saying they feel judged by where they live rather than who they are.

Carole Burchett, a retired senior archives assistant for the BBC who lives in Soha Housing, a housing association in Oxfordshire says: “I can’t understand why it’s acceptable for the media and politicians to present tenants as constantly taking something from society – it’s just not true.

“I’ve worked all my life and always lived in social housing with all kinds of different people, many are working, retired or volunteers and many others are caring for loved ones.

“I feel very strongly that we must do something to challenge this constant attack.

“When I tell people where I live their expression changes, friends and relatives say to my face ‘we don’t want any social housing here, we don’t want those sort of people nearby’ even though they know where I live.

“This campaign is about setting the record straight.”

Professor Anne Powers, professor of social policy at LSE and author of the report says: “Social housing is a huge and undervalued asset.

“I have worked all my adult life with low income communities and social housing residents who fight to make where they live better.

“Tenants value their homes, their communities and their landlords. They make huge contributions to society – often through small, community level activities.

“The challenge is that the gap in society has grown too wide.

“I hope this work will show how much we stand to gain by revaluing social housing and thereby closing the gap.”

Leslie Channon, campaign organiser, tenant and director of Tpas, tenant engagement experts, says:  “This research shows that people in social housing feel isolated and looked down on simply because of where they live.

“It’s no surprise this is what the public think when we constantly see social housing portrayed in the media as somewhere to avoid, made of crumbling estates, riddled with crime, drugs and dangerous dogs. Politicians do little better with their language of ‘sink estates’.”

“The reality is there are almost 10 million households living in social housing in Britain and most are in work or retired, living in a home they are proud of.

“That’s why we’re launching a campaign to challenge the stigma and discrimination.”

Today 120 people meet with their local MPs in parliament to call on politicians to back the campaign and ensure tenants receive fair press.

A social media campaign, promoting real stories and facts about social housing will run for two weeks from 28 February, and campaigners say they aim to change the narrative around living in social housing.

The Benefit to Society campaign also calls on journalists to follow their tenant written guide when writing about social housing which includes tips such as:

  • Don’t only listen to the landlords
  • Don’t only visit communities once
  • Don’t interview tenants any differently to how you would a homeowner
  • Take respectful photos, not ones that reinforce stereotypes.