Survey on Social Housing Stigma – discussion 1

By July 22, 2019research

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.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Michael Daniels says:

    We will never get rid of stigma

    • Catherine Little says:

      Hi Michael – do you think the description of the stigma in the post feels accurate? Thanks Catherine

      • Alf Hannaford says:

        The stigma of social housing will never be ended while it is called ‘Social Housing’. The name itself, in some people’s minds, is linked with “Social Security” and it appears to attract the same stigma.

        • Catherine Little says:

          Really interesting point, Alf – there are a couple more posts to come, including what is to be done – this has definitely been raised. What do you think of the points above? Do they ring true for you?

  • Paul Smith says:

    A copy of these survey results should be sent to HA’s and TPAS England

    • Catherine Little says:

      Thanks Paul. That’s certainly the intention – as well as sharing with the Ministry. The idea for now is to check if the results ring true with people who completed the survey. What do you think?

  • Yes all rings so true I can remember being asked by a contractors pr officer if I realised why they were at my house (I replied to see if I could be at last after 9 years be put on gas) in an extremely patronising manner as if I was too thick to understand.When in reality I had been fighting all those years to get the 4 homes left off the original gas installation fitted up.They would not have spoken to home owner in such a manner.

  • Brenda O'Carroll says:

    I absolutely agree with the findings as reported. Having been a tenant volunteer I experienced first hand how some HA staff viewed tenants consciously and unconsciously. There was an attitude of ‘you’re lucky you have somewhere cheap to live, I have to pay privately/mortgage’ right through to hearing the Chair of the Board saying he couldn’t live in a particular area because it was all ‘social housing’. Really gives you confidence when you hear that doesn’t it?

  • Victoria LeFort-Berry says:

    This is all so relevant to my situation, I’ve always been seen by family and friends as being ‘sub standard’ despite 20 years managerial status, now disabled, people simply assume that if you are not working, and live in a housing association property, that you are the lowest rung of humanitys ladder. I have always looked after my properties, and this has always elicited surprise in my housing officers and repairmen. My current HA is now classing itself as a Housing Provider and treating its tenants appallingly, mainly because we aren’t able to use their shared buy in scheme, we are scum to them. We have countless rules being made up all the time that we have to adher to, and we have absolutely no rights. None. My current HA actually asked my occupational therapist how long she expected me to live with the disabilities I have, (we’d asked for a shower pump to be put in so I could wash with ease) as they say future tenants wouldn’t like the changes we require. It’s like they want me to hurry up and die (I’m 49!) so they can put the rent up and get another bunch of fodder in. Also we are now being stopped from decorating or making the homes our own for the time we live in them. to save them money. We aren’t even second class humans, we are lower than the lowest. Socially, no one wants to admit they live in social housing any more, we’re all drug users, alcoholics, paedophiles, this is a social experiment that has segregated the poorest, most vulnerable, who cannot afford to get on the ever increasing private sector ladder, and discriminates against us for simply not having enough money. When is society going to stop basing everything on how much is in our wage packets, and where we live? I’m proud to be a tenant, I’m proud to be caretaking my home to pass onto people in the future, why should I be forced to feel ashamed?

  • peter Dennis says:

    I have not experienced any negative remarks about where I live, which is called Sheltered Housing.

  • Maggie V says:

    I have been a tenant in social housing for 30+ years, brought up my children in a council house, having escaped an abusive relationship and now live in a retirement flat in a block of 27 flats, HA managed. Over that period, as you might expect, I heard all sorts of derogatory comments from outsiders, employees of the local authority, members of my family, colleagues at work (I was only on benefits whilst the children were small) and, of course, the universal media negative stereotyping. I was a member of the Residents’ Council in one HA for several years and as the Age UK Internet Champion in 2009 I met and instructed Prince Charles in the mysteries of Skyping! Nevertheless, when I needed to move from my house to a retirement flat and called the Council the Asian sounding woman who answered the phone said ‘You people think you can just ask for a flat and get one’. I made a complaint about it and received excellent support from the other (diverse) members of staff who dealt with my problem. So it seems reactions vary but there is definitely a bias towards negativity in general.
    I believe that the solution, as one contributor has already suggested, is to make subsidised housing more like all other housing and to stop referring to it as ‘social’ housing. Or, simply, do away with it and go over to being private tenants who receive the subsidy via Benefits. That would return us to the pre and post war years where Rachman-style landlords flourished and the only way to resolve that is to have lots of regulation. Small developments of family accommodation with mixed ages would be preferable in my opinion and according to the Dunbar principle would follow a more natural way of developing communities that thrive.

  • Sue Roberts says:

    I am so sorry to hear that about your landlord Victoria, appalling indeed. I am extremely lucky in mine,and always have been. As a tenant of 20 years, and now 70 I was first an involved tenant and now a Board member. There is a culture of caring and consideration for their tenants. As for stigma from outside the organisation, I agree with others that it will always be with us and people will always consider us ‘second class citizens’, even when our properties look, and are, superior to their own. Not sure what we can do about that Catherine, except continue to prove them wrong. It does get you down though, as when I first moved in and up to 7 years ago I worked full time, and paid my rent, and still do – no benefits for me – but many who do [including those who own their own home], mostly fall into that trap through no fault of their own. Most people – including the ones who make negative comments – are only a wage packet or two from needing benefit help.

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