Disabled Workers at the Sharp end of the Housing Crisis

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
23 February 2018

Conference notes the depth and scale of the housing crisis the UK is facing, a crisis that has been gathering for decades but which has reached a crescendo with the Conservatives’ ideological war on council housing.

Thousands of UNISON members delivering housing services have seen their employers change from local authorities to housing associations and arms length management organisations (ALMOs) in a fragmentation and increasing commercialisation of housing services. In recent years local authorities have begun to set up spin off housing companies that operate outside of the Housing Revenue Account and often focus on building homes for outright sale in order to develop a revenue stream to plug council finances. The pay cap has also depressed wages in the sector, with housing workers often struggling themselves to find affordable homes.

In addition to the devastating impact these changes have had on our members who rely on social housing and which was illustrated by the avoidable tragedy of the Grenfell fire, members who work in housing can see their terms and conditions reduced under these new models of housing delivery. Disabled members working in housing, often on lower pay, may have hard-won reasonable adjustments and equality provisions disappear when moving to the new employer.

With government cuts to funding for social housing and changes to rent regimes, more and more local authorities are beginning to operate like private sector developers. Disabled members are often most at risk when profit making becomes the main objective, with rigidly imposed targets and workplace stress often leading to bullying and discrimination. The tragedy of Grenfell has further increased the pressure on our disabled members doing their best to provide good quality housing services in increasingly challenging circumstances.

Conference notes the bargaining resources available to stewards representing disabled members delivering housing services, including fact sheets on reasonable adjustments, disability leave and the new “Bargaining for Mental Health Policies” guidance. Conference also notes that many branches have elected disability officers who can build up specialist knowledge.

In fragmented housing workplaces, our disabled members self-organised group (SOG) is often a lifeline for members and can encourage them to raise workplace issues and become more active in their local branch.

Conference therefore calls on the service group executive to:

1)Continue to fight cuts to members’ terms and conditions as a result of ALMOs and the growth of local authority housing companies;

2)Publicise bargaining resources for supporting disabled members working in housing to regions and branches;

3)Encourage branches to elect disabled members officers and actively promote the disabled members SOG, its regional groups and national events, to regions and branches;

4)Continue to work with the NEC, the Labour Link and Defend Council Housing to develop proposals for just and viable housing policies, including a programme of investment in new socially rented accessible council properties.