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'Social housing providers can provide much more than housing.'

An interview with Professor Michael Oxley, Director of CCHPR at the University of Cambridge

Cambridge, 11 February 2015 | Social
Professor Michael Oxley, Director CCHPR University of Cambridge
Professor Michael Oxley, Director CCHPR University of Cambridge

Housing Europe joins forces with the Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR) of the University of Cambridge carrying out a study that examines what works in tackling poverty amongst young people who do not live in the parental home, with a focus on the role that housing providers can play.

We have contacted Professor Michael Oxley, Director of CCHPR and have asked him to set the scene regarding the aim of the study. Does exclusion of young people from housing indeed create a lost generation? What can be the role of housing providers in tackling youth poverty? Is this a European or a national challenge? A preliminary discussion with one of the project leaders.

Is indeed history repeating itself and Europe is about to lose another generation following the one after World War I?

No, the scale and nature of the problem is very different now. We do however have a situation in which some young people face major problems of access to suitable and affordable housing. In some cases this is compounded by very high levels of unemployment amongst young people of working age.

Without actions by the EU and member states to improve access to affordable housing and to reduce unemployment, the uncertainty and risks for young people ultimately challenge the social stability of nations.

Although housing is widely recognised (by the UN and the EU) as a fundamental human right, why do more and more people face difficulties to access decent and affordable housing?

This short answer masks the complexities of the variations from place to place. Ultimately access to decent and affordable housing is determined by the resources available to people. This in turn is a reflection of the distributions of income and wealth within societies. To simply say that access to acceptable housing is a fundamental human right achieves very little.

If access is to be a reality, resources must be available to people so that they can rent or buy housing of a good standard in the market place or their needs must make them eligible for available social housing. Resources are not available without redistributions within societies. These redistributions require political drive and prioritisation which are in practice often missing.

Do you think young people need specific housing/support measures and why?

Young people need support that matches their needs. They should at least have access to support on the same conditions as older households. In some countries this is not the case as younger households can for example be denied access to social housing or housing benefits simply on grounds of age. If young people are to form separate independent households they must do this from their own resources, help from their families or from the state.

Independence in housing is linked to the benefits of social and economic mobility and the state may well wish to promote these benefits for the good of society as well as for young households.

Do you think that the challenge of housing for young people calls for a solution at EU level or is it an issue that should be handled by national governments and local authorities?

The EU can take measures- for example to foster economic growth- that will have impacts on underlying problems, especially high levels of youth unemployment, but the principle of subsidiarity has some merit in relation to housing. The differences in the nature of housing markets and problems from country to country and city to city mean that a variety of approaches are needed and these should be tailored to local circumstances.

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How can housing providers in Europe contribute in tackling youth poverty?

Social housing providers in particular can provide much more than housing. They can support the provision of decent neighbourhoods as well as decent housing and they can provide help, advice and “non-housing” services that are conducive to good levels of education and good job prospects as well as access to decent and affordable housing.

Could you please set the outline of this research project the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR) will be carrying out in cooperation with Housing Europe?

CCHPR has been awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. This important new research is part of the What Works in Tackling Poverty programme which is being led by the Public Policy Institute for Wales to provide vital evidence about what governments and other agencies can do to address the growing problems of in-work poverty, indebtedness and poverty experienced by young people living outside the parental home. 

As well as Housing Europe, we are working with the following organisations in order to identify effective practices in tackling poverty:

Centrepoint:  UK's leading charity for homeless young people, supporting 16-25 years olds with housing, learning, health and life skills.

The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust:  provides housing and a variety of care and support services in Yorkshire and the North East of England.

Community Housing Cymru (CHC): the representative body for housing associations and community mutuals in Wales, all not-for profit organisations.

The involvement of Housing Europe will ensure that we are looking at effective actions by actions by housing providers throughout Europe and not just by UK housing organisations.

We will examine published literature, survey housing providers and conduct several in- depth case studies of housing organisations that are engaged in actions that prevent or ameliorate poverty amongst young people.

What are the main focus points of the study?

The main aim of the study is to identify measures that work in tackling poverty amongst young people (16 to 25 year olds) who do not live in the parental home, with a focus on housing services and the role that housing providers can play. This will include young people who are not in employment or education as well as those who are (although full time students in higher education will be excluded from the study) and to investigate the feasibility of implementing these measures in each part of the UK.

What are your expectations regarding the findings?

The project is running from November 2014 for two years. In CCHPR we have no preconceptions of the findings but we anticpate they will be important to decision makers and practitioners from a wide range of organisations including central government, local authorities and the voluntary sector.  We hope to identify effective practice amongst some providers that can be replicated by other housing provders.

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