Tom Wardle leads the Centre for Social Justice’s research on welfare and economic dependency.
Increasingly across the world, we hear that economies are improving, jobs are being created and business optimism is thriving. This is all very welcome news. But we know from history that it’s unlikely this fresh wave of economic buoyancy will “lift all boats’” or be spread evenly. Certain communities will reap the benefits of recovery while others, very often the poorest neighbourhoods, will slip further behind.
Different countries and communities respond to this predicament in their own ways. In America there is a remarkable culture of moving when the “going gets tough”. About half of households change addresses every five years, and significant numbers relocate to a different city entirely.
Equally, we should admire the determination and hunger which drives many thousands of Eastern European immigrants to move to the UK and elsewhere to start new and better-paid jobs to make a better life for their families.
But this culture of mobility is less widespread in the UK. There’s a particularly low level of mobility amongst people living in social housing. Out of around 1.6 million moves across the country every year, only a few thousand social tenants move for work-related reasons.
Many reasons have been suggested why this might be. Some point to the attractive nature of life-time tenancies, while others highlight a benefit system which withdraws financial support at such a high rate, it can make moving into low-paid work somewhere else almost pointless.
But another key factor is the cost. That’s why yesterday, as part of a two-year study into how we can better support young people and long-term unemployed adults into work, the Centre for Social Justice set out how to improve mobility in housing.
As Christian Guy, the CSJ’s Director, outlined on the BBC’s Today Programme, we recommend that any jobseeker out of work and claiming Housing Benefit for 12 months or more who has received a concrete job offer (which would require them to commute further than 90 minutes each way) should be prioritised for government cash to help with the cost of moving. This could be for an up-front deposit or the cost of a removal van, for example.
Crucially, nobody is being forced to move. That wouldn’t be right. This is simply about supporting people to fulfil their ambition of getting off benefits and relocating for a job. Housing associations we’ve spoken to say that even a few hundred pounds can make the vital difference between moving or staying put.
We don’t think this would cause the Government too many financial headaches either. There’s an existing pot of money – known as Discretionary Housing Payments – which nearly two-thirds of councils aren’t making full use of. And only seven per cent of what is spent actually goes on relocation costs.
This recommendation is one of more than 20 that we set out yesterday in The Journey to Work: Welfare reform for the next Parliament. Our central rallying cry to an incoming government in 2015 is that they make tackling worklessness, particularly for young people, their moral mission. We hope our recommendations inspire such action.