Survey on Social Housing Stigma – discussion 1

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See the Person DRAFT summary of research findings 

Part One – Experience of stigma

For initial discussion with respondents and a round table panel June 2019

Research carried out by the See the Person campaign has found that most people who live in social housing have direct experience of negative stereotypes and stigma. This paper discusses the experience of stigma only. Survey respondents also gave evidence about the impact, but this will be discussed in a separate paper. In March and April 2019, 670 people who live in social housing took part in an online survey carried out by the See the Person campaign. Participants were from across the country and were self-selected, using a snowball methodology (where one survey respondent is asked to pass the survey onto other possible respondents). The survey was set up in response to a request from the MHCLG who wanted more data around the impact of negative stereotypes.

73.6% of respondents said they had experienced negative stereotypes about people living in social housing. (456 people). For many people this has been experienced as an all-pervasive stigma directed against tenants and directly felt many times.

“It is still a misheld believe that people in social housing are somehow less intelligent and therefore less able to make informed decisions about all sorts of issues from politics to their own housing needs. Social Housing tenants often feel they are of no worth as no one seems to listen or take seriously their opinions. There is still the idea that they should be grateful for their home and they should shut up and put up with it.”

A number of more specific themes also emerged. The most common experience of stigma is direct and local. 38% of those who have experienced stigma gave accounts of very local examples. This often involves people having a negative view of a neighbourhood.

“That slight hesitation when you tell local people where you live. Also, people talk about not wanting social housing build near them “don’t want people like that” knowing full well where I live. “Not you of course” as if I am a different species”

“When explaining to someone where I live, they were surprised and asked when I purchased my home, which confused me. When I clarified it was rented, they responded “you don’t seem the type”

“On many occasions when walking my dog up the local woods, several people have made derogatory comments about the estate, where I live in social housing, implying the people on the estate are basically benefit scroungers, single mothers and untrustworthy and uncivilised people.”

“..a new housing development next to me wants to fence of and gate the park.”

“Towards myself, a house opposite felt like she had to make her opinion on myself known, which were: that I don’t work, had a baby young (20) and because of that I was scum. She actually didn’t know that I was on maternity leave when we moved in, so she had never seen me in my community caring uniform.”

“A neighbour who had bought their house started moaning from the day I moved in about me being a single mum, (I was separated after my husband walked out on me and my children after 20 yrs). I was heartbroken at having to move and start all over again. I was working and supporting my children but that was not good enough for my neighbour, he never had a good word to say about me or my children and it got me down.”

“People chat happily to me on the bus or in the village until I mention where I live which is a street of council houses. They immediately stop the conversation and move away or go to a different seat etc.”

“People assume you are in Benefits, even relatives. Contractors seem to think that they don’t have to take you into account or do a good job as you’re only the tenant. My brother offered me a job cleaning his office and said would pay cash so it won’t affect your benefits, we’ve never had benefits, just income too low to afford to buy.”

17% of those who’d experienced negative stereotypes said the media was the main source. Media representations were also mentioned by many of those seeing stigma as an all-pervasive societal issue. This builds on previous research by the See the Person campaign, finding that 9/10 people living in social housing feel the media portrays them negatively. Comments ranged from particular ‘poverty porn’ programmes to the general use of images and phrases in the media.

“News [on] channel 4, every paper every ‘cutting edge’ drama”

“[The media]…took photographs of the less than pleasing parts of the estate and painted that as the picture. Labelled us as scroungers and the benefits capital of England. As the ex chair of … Tenants & Residents, I put much work into dispelling the harm the likes of right-wing media have caused us.”

9% of respondents (64 people) had specific experience of stigma from their landlord – the housing association or council. Some respondents felt that offering daytime only appointments, made the assumption that they would not be working. Others had experience of negative behaviours from staff – for a minority of respondents who also worked for a social landlord, they experienced this from their colleagues.

“I work in social housing (three HAs, 15 years in total). The worst negative stereotyping has been from colleagues… I heard one colleague say: “You can tell who’s in social housing, their curtains are filthy.” At the same HA, I told another colleague that I had bumped into one of our tenants in town who I knew from our Tenants’ Panel – this tenant had given me a hug. My colleague said: “You let a tenant hug you? Ew, gross!” I reminded both colleagues that I was also a tenant – cue apologies from them.”

“When I entered a Sheltered Housing Scheme my age was used as if I was incapable of thinking and the staff dismissed any thoughts you had.” “Repairs contractor praising me for a tidy home like I need his validation, repair contractor making a comment about how his taxes pay for my repairs when I’ve paid my own rent for the whole of my life and the reality was my rent was paying his wages.” “Refusal to answer questions – the “take what you are given & be grateful” culture – where directors /cllrs are concerned.”

“However nice you try and keep your flat, as they just see it as council housing, so you often get a rushed and very substandard job/repair that they would never do in their own homes!”

Colleagues at work generally (in any sector) were another source of stigma, “Worked in voluntary sector for thirty + years many times would be told social housing tenants feckless/ workshy/ignorant/ dirty/benefit encounters etc”

Politicians or the policy landscape were noted by some respondents as directly reinforcing negative stereotypes and stigma. This builds on previous research commissioned by the See the Person campaign which found stigma as situated inextricably within the context of policies around benefits, provision of social housing and home ownership.

“Local councillor objecting to social housing being built next to a school, claimed paedophiles would be living there.”

“The list goes on but I think the government is to blame for peddling lies and negative perception of any one living in social housing or on a low income.”

A significant minority of people said this had an impact on their children, “…when I ask ..for her friends to come over, they will not send their kids to council flats.”

The impact of these negative perceptions on planning was also an issue raised “I have heard people talking of objecting to planning applications to build social housing because they believe it will affect their house value.”

Other sources of stigma noted were:

Response from the police

A postcode premium for insurance and services for people living in areas with predominantly social housing

Social media

A minority of people raised specific concerns that negative stereotyping was also tied into pejorative views based on race, ethnicity or disability. Sometimes the source of stigma was from other tenants, specifically around access to housing in a particular locality.


  1. Do these experiences of stigma / negative stereotyping chime with you?
  2. Do you feel the categorisation of responses about the sources of is reasonable?
  • Direct and local
  • From media
  • From landlord
  • At work
  • From politicians and policy making
  • Response from the police
  • A postcode premium for insurance and services for people living in areas with predominantly social housing
  • Social media
  • Linked to discrimination around disability or ethnicity

Please use the comments section below to respond to this discussion paper and to each other. The usual rules of moderation – treating people with respect –  will apply.