The Big Society, Localism & Housing Policy

ESRC funded Seminar Series, 2013-14

Reflections on Localism, welfare reform and tenure restructuring in the UK

By admin
Jan 13, 2014 Uncategorized

This post, authored by Dr Jenny Muir of Queen’s University Belfast, reflects on the second seminar of the series – ‘Localism, welfare reform and tenure restructuring in the UK’ –  held in Belfast in October 2013.


Reflections on Localism, welfare reform and tenure restructuring in the UK


The second seminar in the series was held at Queen’s University Belfast on 24th and 25th October 2013. The seminar sought to explore, both conceptually and practically, how localism and welfare reform are understood and enacted and the implications of this in terms of access, provision and tenure of housing across the different regions of the UK. These concepts and attendant issues are not limited to the UK and the contribution of David Hulchanski, University of Toronto, provided a wider perspective, complementing and contextualising the issues raised by the diverse range of practitioners, policymakers and academics in attendance. Presentations also covered different parts of the UK.

Key themes included: the implications for welfare provision and understandings of citizenship and entitlement engendered by the nebulous and flexible concepts of Localism, the ‘Big Society’ and the ‘Broken Society’; the impacts of welfare and planning reforms on the supply, access and tenure of housing and, in particular, the repercussions for lower income groups; and regional differences in their interpretation and implementation.

The presentations indicate that welfare reform and the Big Society/ localism are interconnected but separate hegemonic projects, involving ideological change and restructuring, including:

  • Role of the state: smaller, more regulatory, less direct provision
  • Role of civil society: service provision and informal support redirected to ‘communities’
  • Role of the individual: the rise of responsibilisation.

However, there are differences across the UK and these may grow given the powers of the devolved administrations and the potential for Scottish independence.

The consequences of this ideological shift for the housing system include:

  • Housing associations/ RSLs taking over from councils as the main social housing providers (state to civil society transfer);
  • Despite increased use of the private rented sector, the lack of access to social housing still creates pressure to become an owner occupier, including ‘affordable’ home ownership for lower income households (state to individual);
  • Less secure social housing tenancies as part of the conditionality discourse (state to individual);
  • State support for home ownership continues through Help to Buy whereas rental support is less secure and adequate (state to individual);
  • New third sector spaces e.g. Community Land Trusts, co-housing and other forms of co-operatives (state to civil society).

Both spatial planning and community planning matter a great deal to these changes in the housing system and are at the forefront of the contradictions of the Big Society/ localism: promoting community involvement but with a powerful elite agenda which leaves civil society with little room to manoeuvre. There is no sign of a meaningful counter-hegemonic project despite small scale initiatives. Academics, policy-makers and practitioners all have the ability to challenge this agenda through providing evidence of its actual or potential consequences.

A longer seminar report and presentations are available on the seminar web site and papers will be uploaded as we receive them. Follow the seminar series on Twitter via @housingseminars feed and the hashtag #housingseminars.

Dr Jenny Muir, Queen’s University Belfast



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