NEWS
19/09/2018 16:32 BST | Updated 19/09/2018 16:51 BST

Is Theresa May Right About A 'Social Housing Stigma'? This Is What Council Tenants Think

One man described his home as a "lifeline".

Announcing plans to invest £2bn in social housing on Wednesday, Theresa May made a series of comments about how residents in council houses feel.

According to the prime minister, some people who live in social housing “feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority”. 

“On the outside, many people in society – including too many politicians – continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home,” she added. 

But are these assertions correct? HuffPost UK asked residents on the Girdlestone and Whittington estates in north London what they thought.

Natalie Rincon, an 18-year-old who grew up on the Girdlestone estate, shrugged off May’s comments. “I don’t feel it,” she told HuffPost UK. “Other people can have that problem because it depends how much they pay [for rent] as well, how much they receive and what other people think. But for me, this is home.

“Everything is close, I’ve got the station and bus stops, I’m very close to everything I need.”

HuffPost UK
A view of the Girdlestone estate

For Gerry Hunt, 64, being able to get a council house was a “lifeline” when he found himself with nowhere to live 16 years ago after being evicted by a private landlord.

“I’m very proud of my house,” he said, adding that he does worry people in his position couldn’t have the same option today.

“Nowadays they [council houses] are like goldust,” said Hunt. “How many thousands of people are on the waiting list now? I’m very, very lucky.”

However, not everyone feels the same way and a 71-year-old man, who did not want to be named, told HuffPost that he had experienced being “looked down” on for living in social housing since around 2009.

The retired cashier lives in this house with his disabled child, after moving in with his wife – who has since died – and two other children. Citing cultural factors, he said: “When you are living in a council house and your son or daughter is getting married, people who own their houses can look down.”

He also recalled feeling similar emotions around colleagues, adding: “If they come to know that if you live in a council house, they could look down a bit.”

When it comes to being “overlooked”, a fourth resident – who has lived on the estate for around three years – said he felt as though the local authorities did not do enough to help tenants.

HuffPost UK
The Whittington estate was built in the 1970s

Explaining that there are “issues” with many of the houses, 19-year-old Benny Ilenga said:We complain to the council and people in charge of the area and they say they’ll deal with it, but it’ll take weeks or sometimes even months.

“We feel our stuff is put to the side and it’s drawn out. There’s nothing we can really do.”

Ilenga added that when his family moved into their home, repeated requests to fix one room went unanswered.

“When we came here they said everything would be done but our bathroom wasn’t finished,” he said. “We told them several months ago that it wasn’t finished and they said, ‘Ok we’ll get onto that’ but nothing changed.

“We had to pay someone else to do it.”

May’s promise to invest more money into social housing is welcomed by the residents, but the skepticism from the older residents, who have seen generations come and go from the estate, is immediately apparent.

“She is doing something right then,” the 71-year-old said, genuinely surprised.

Hunt – who points out his house is surrounded by former council ones that are privately rented after being sold off – responded: “I’ll believe that when I see it.”