Anger at 'find work' ultimatum for tenants

A minister was today accused of risking a "return to the workhouse" after saying the unemployed should have to seek work or lose their council homes.

Housing minister Caroline Flint said there was clear evidence that there are many long-term unemployed in social housing who may be able to find employment with the right support.

And she suggested that new council tenants who can work could have to sign "commitment contracts", agreeing to actively seek employment.

Housing charities criticised the idea.

Shelter chief executive Adam Sampson said: "The Government wants to return Britain's unemployed to the workhouse by throwing them onto the streets.

"What is being proposed would destroy families and communities and add to the thousands who are already homeless.

"We accept there's a problem with some unemployed people shying away from work, but the Government must find other ways to tackle the issue like revamping the housing benefit system."

Alan Walter, chairman of the Defend Council Housing pressure group, said: "This is obviously part of a long-running strategy to try and stigmatise council housing as housing of last resort.

"It runs alongside continuing blackmail on tenants and councils to privatise council homes, asset stripping public land for private development and forcing people into the private market."

Leslie Morphy, chief executive at Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, said: "Social housing now contains some of the most vulnerable people in society.

"Our experience at Crisis shows that encouragement and enablement - and not threats - are the way to help homeless and vulnerable people to build independent lives."

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents England's housing associations, said: "Such a policy would be unfair and impossible to enforce.

"Many of the jobs open to people, especially at the lower skills end, are insecure or temporary. Also, people with health problems, such as mental health issues, may find there are periods when they cannot keep up their job.

"Instead of taking a punitive approach, the Government should build upon the successful employment schemes already being run by housing associations around the country."

In her speech to the Fabian Society in London, Ms Flint said: "Council and social housing must continue to support the most vulnerable in society, but it should also be a springboard to opportunity, not just a safety net."

Ms Flint called for a national debate on breaking the link between social housing and unemployment following a dramatic fall in the number of council tenants in work over the past 25 years.

She also set out proposals to build more affordable homes for first-time buyers and families and for council tenants to be given the right to claim compensation when services fall short.

The jobseeking contracts could be extended to existing tenants in a move which would affect up to a million people.

As well as actively searching for work, the documents would require signatories to undertake skills checks to ensure that they are equipping themselves for potential jobs.

The suggestion comes as statistics reveal the number of unemployed council tenants has risen by 20 per cent to 55 per cent since 1981.

Ms Flint will said: "The link between social housing and worklessness is stark. I am concerned about what has been called a collapse in the number of people in council housing in work over the past 25 years.

"Council housing was originally somewhere which brought together people from different social backgrounds and professions but this has declined. We need to think radically and start a national debate about whether we can reverse this trend, and have strong, diverse estates with a mix of people."

She went on: "We all agree that social housing is about more than bricks and mortar - more than handing over the keys and leaving tenants to get on with it for the next thirty years. And it isn't so many years ago that a council house was something to prize.

"I believe that we can recapture that sense of pride, creating a culture within social housing that promotes opportunity and social mobility, inspiring people to take control of their own lives.

"We are winning the argument but I want to try to establish a national consensus that building more homes - including more social and affordable housing - is absolutely the right thing to do. That will remain my first priority, and I intend to make sure that the momentum continues to build over the coming months."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The right to a home is a fundamental right that should not be linked to employment status.

"A family already struggling on a low income should not face added insecurity and stress over their home because of unemployment.

"The Government would do better to give proper resources to the tried and tested methods of getting people into work rather than seeking unproven and harmful shortcuts."

Respect MP George Galloway said the minister's statement amounted to a "despicable attack" on the poorest and most vulnerable.

"It is for the Department for Work and Pensions to determine whether or not someone can work. Caroline Flint is threatening to throw people out on to the streets. This will do nothing to solve the housing crisis in my constituency and across Britain."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThe ZX Spectrum is going back on sale - with all your favourite retro games
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk