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Cabinet split over council house ‘rewards’ scheme for workers

Cabinet split over council house ‘rewards’ scheme for workers

🕔03.Apr 2013

flatsThe cabinet and Labour group of city councillors are split over whether to give preferential treatment to people on Birmingham’s housing waiting list who are in work or involved in voluntary service.

Steve Bedser, the cabinet member for health and wellbeing, told a scrutiny committee that his colleagues were divided over whether to “reward” applicants for council houses on the basis that they had been able to find work or volunteered unpaid to help others.

The guidelines for Community Contribution are set out in the 2011 Localism Act and form a key plank of the coalition Government’s approach to social policy, namely that councils should recognise and help anyoen who makes an effort to get on in life.

The principle was illustrated vividly by Chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last year when he contrasted people apparently content to stay in bed half the day and live on benefits with those who were prepared to go out and find a job.

Under a proposal being considered by Birmingham City Council, a ‘valuing community contribution’ would be built into the housing points system to determine who has priority in the 25,000-strong queue for homes.

The scheme would seek to “reward economic or community activity”, if approved by the cabinet.

Any applicant who could show they were in work or performing voluntary service would be placed on Band 2 of the waiting list, just below the highest priority Band 1.

It’s become clear that many Labour councilors fear the scheme would disadvantage applicants for housing who, through no fault of their own, have been unable to find work or do not possess the mental or physical capacity to carry out voluntary service.

A similar scheme being operated by Manchester City Council resulted in a quarter of all council house lettings being based on community contribution factors.

Cllr Bedser told the social cohesion and community safety scrutiny committee that cabinet members were split down the middle over the issue. Some thought there was merit in the proposal, while others did not wish to see community contribution principles introduced in Birmingham.

He added: “I want to be absolutely certain that if we bring forward a policy to this council then that policy is fair and has appropriate safeguards in place to make sure there aren’t people who will be inadvertently penalised. I am also struck by the sense of fair play and that the system should reward virtuous behaviour.

“There are people living on the minimum wage and they can’t afford to go to private landlords. They need the potential to be housed in social housing.

“People want a sense of fair play. They want a sense that they will be rewarded if they do go out to work long hours on the minimum wage that there is something in the system for them as well.”

Opposing views over the issue were summed up by two Labour committee members.

Cllr Eva Phillips said: “My concern is that we don’t have enough housing stock and that any additional pressure we put on people is going to be unfair. There are so many barriers to people in Birmingham getting a job anyway.”

Cllr Marj Bridle said: “It’s important for people to contribute to the community if they can. We are about getting away from the dependency culture and helping people to make the most of their lives.

“You shouldn’t just expect that people are going to make it happen for you. You have to do something for yourselves.”

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