Some rather alarmist press reports have suggested that Wandsworth is planning to evict unemployed council tenants. We're not. What we are proposing is a pilot scheme, called 'Housing into Work', which means that applicants who are unemployed, and of working age and physically capable of work, will be granted two-year tenancies on the condition that they find make every effort to find work or enrol on a training course.
We are effectively creating a contract with selected new tenants to support and help them find a job or gain new skills. In return we expect them to take up these opportunities. Those who fail to stick to their side of the bargain and refuse to meaningfully look for work without good reason will forfeit their right to a council home. These new rules will only apply to new tenancies – current tenants will not be affected.
This isn't about punishing people who are made redundant or cannot find a job. It is about having a way to penalise those who can't be bothered to make the effort. The overall strategy aims to make better use of council housing as a way of helping people gain new skills and employment.
The reason we're doing this is that, in common with many councils, about 30 per cent of working age households on our housing estates are in receipt of full housing benefit; this does not remotely represent life in the rest of Wandsworth. Research has shown quite clearly that unless you help people in these circumstances get off of benefits and into work they run a much greater risk of developing health problems and all the other social problems associated with living in poverty. For too many years some children on our estates have grown up in an environment where unemployment is the norm, a problem that should have been tackled years ago. Our housing estates should have a good mix of people from all walks of life and with different socio-economic backgrounds. We believe that increasing the number of families on estates who are in work will act as a beacon for those around them.
We want to help people move on in life and our expectation is that this scheme will act as a launch pad towards more housing choices as people's circumstances improve. We want to help and encourage people to buy or rent elsewhere and move on, freeing up social housing for people who really need it. Fixed term tenancies will ensure social housing is a starting point, not an end point.
At the same time as offering help, support and encouragement to families who are out of work we also want to make it fairer and easier for working families to be given council accommodation. We are currently looking at ways of giving them higher priority when it comes to allocating council properties, and will be announcing these shortly. Ultimately when it comes to offering council homes in the future we want to give people a hand up – not a hand out.
The proposals have been welcomed the Borough Residents' Forum, the organisation which represents Wandsworth's 34,000 council tenants and leaseholders.
Marlene Price, the vice-chair, said:
"I support the council's efforts to encourage people to do all they can to improve their lives and improve the life chances of themselves and their families. It is important that tenants who are not working have an incentive to find a job, or take up training or volunteering. With support and encouragement they can turn their lives around and make a bigger contribution to the community."
The policy also has the support of the Labour opposition.