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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has just published an excellent research report: ‘Growing up in social housing in Britain: a profile of four generations from 1946 to the present day’. The report looks at the relationship between social housing, family circumstances and experiences of the children once they reached adulthood. The findings are very relevant to the Connected Communities programme and illustrate some of the key issues and complexities for research and interventions on social capital and social networks.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has just published an excellent research report: ‘Growing up in social housing in Britain: a profile of four generations from 1946 to the present day’. The report looks at the relationship between social housing, family circumstances and experiences of the children once they reached adulthood. The findings are very relevant to the Connected Communities programme and illustrate some of the key issues and complexities for research and interventions on social capital and social networks.

The study notes that during this period, social housing has become less desirable with the rise of home ownership and now many social housing tenants are worse off in health, well-being, education and employment terms than people who own their own homes or rent privately.

The research points to cumulative processes of disadvantage (the vicious circles we’ve been talking about in relation to digital inclusion), notably that as individuals, children living in social housing were more likely to come from disadvantaged families, and they were more unlikely to be surrounded by disadvantaged neighbours.

One of the arguments made in the research is that we need to increase the mix of social backgrounds in social housing (an argument made in an earlier JRF publication). This initially sounds like a case for expanding social networks (to include people with more connections and access to resources) as a way to support disadvantaged people living in social housing to improve their life chances (though this recent report cautions against seeing tenancy mixing as the main answer).

The premise of arguing for changing tenancy composition is that strong connections between people from the same disadvantaged backgrounds can be vital to help people get by, but also limit opportunities for people to improve their lives, through the absence of wider and more diverse social circles. This is borne out by research in the Netherlands on social networks and resources.

I live in an ex-council flat in Hackney. Asking the question - can government influence our friendships? the intriguingly named Perri 6 argues that deliberately mixed tenure schemes usually do not result in the natural emergence of the hoped for informal social ties. This fits my own experience, beyond exchanging the occasional nod with my neighbours when putting the bins out, our networks are entirely separate. Even if people did know each other, it doesn’t follow that they would ask each other for help.

A recommendation from the Joseph Rowntree study was for qualitative research on social tenant’s understanding of their social position, entitlements and prospects. How people see their place in society will impact on the extent to which they make new connections and use their networks to try and improve their lives. Of course, these social networks do not operate in a vacuum, the economic situation and other conditions shape their development.

Another key finding of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation research is that social housing policy alone (such as changing the profile of tenants) can have limited effect, due to the broader social and economic context it fits into. Other social policies (for example on childcare and education) can be more effective in helping people to overcome disadvantage. We need to look at how other policies and explanations relate to and impact on social networks.

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