About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Social landlords - a new force for job creation?

In December, Nesta co-hosted two events for social housing providers as part of our Innovation in Jobs programme, one with HACT and one with the Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion. Housing Associations and other social landlords are increasingly focused on helping residents into work, and we wanted to find out more. In particular, we wanted to explore how Nesta could help prompt new ideas and take good ones to scale.

There’s a big problem

Rates of worklessness and poverty are much higher among social housing tenants. 3.5 million adults living in social housing are out of work: that’s 56%, compared with 25% in private housing (owned or rented). Children living in social rented housing in England are four times more likely to be living in poverty than children in other forms of housing.

There’s already a lot going on

According to recent research by the National Housing Federation, two thirds of housing associations already provide employment and skills support to tenants, or are planning to introduce such services. Embedded in communities, they can provide highly intensive support, like Family Mosaic’s six-week Employment Boot Camp for residents in Hackney. They can also provide ongoing programmes, such as apprenticeship schemes to prepare tenants for jobs, which are common across the social housing sector.

The Proving Talent initiative piloted by members of the Give Us A Chance consortium went further. Social landlords provided 6 month job placements for unemployed residents in their own organisations and in their supply chains. They worked in partnership with welfare-to-work agencies, to ensure the temporary jobs would be a stepping stone back into long-term employment.

There's still room for big new answers

These initiatives bear out the findings of HACT’s research that social housing providers are in a unique position to help people far from the labour market. They are far closer to the people they want to help than most statutory providers, while rent payments mean they have much more regular cash flow than most charities. This combination opened up one of the most promising areas for innovation discussed at our first workshop.

Social landlords are in a unique position - close to the people they want to help, and with the resources to act

Social landlords can use their own buying power to create business and employment opportunities for their tenants. For example, one housing association at the event is working with a local charity to develop a tenant-owned gardening business to look after its estates. Once the business is up and running, grounds maintenance money the association has to spend anyway will also be creating jobs for residents. An initial contract with the housing association will give the new business vital early cash flow, helping to manage the risks involved in any start-up.

Housing associations could create many more opportunities like this in construction, decorating, building maintenance and repairs. A number of landlords have also trained residents to conduct community consultations and similar specialist regeneration roles. There may also be scope to look at a range of other business services which residents could deliver, from catering to social media, and to apply the same approach all along the supply chain.

A really interesting area is providing services to residents themselves. While this could be through ‘traditional’ small businesses, there are also many peer-to-peer opportunities, based on task sharing or time-banking, pooled provision of services such as childcare or transport, or other shared solutions such as credit unions.

These ideas could make a big difference to deprived communities. I'm looking forward to working with innovative social landlords to try them out in 2015!

Photo credit: John Levett via Flickr CC


Dan Jones

Dan Jones

Dan Jones

Director, Innovation Lab

Dan was a Director in the Innovation Lab where he oversaw practical programme work on public and social innovation, with a particular focus on inclusion and mobilising citizen engageme…

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