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When did a case study ever change anything?

Blog by Kirsten Walker, SFHA Media Adviser.

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It’s February 2013, and I’m with Home Affairs Correspondent Reevel Alderson as he films a case study piece for the following day’s news on an SFHA report into the UK Government’s then-impending welfare reforms – including the ‘bedroom tax’, which is the focus of this interview. The tenant’s story highlights the cruel and unjust nature of the policy. The tenant was left unable to speak and with reduced mobility after a stroke. She requires a second bedroom so that her daughter can come and stay with her and assist her when she needs it but this seemingly isn’t even being brought into consideration – she is set to be impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’. Her daughter tells her story and explains that she and her mother are becoming increasingly worried and distressed – this is not money she can afford to lose but even more importantly, she needs the help and support that her so-called ‘extra bedroom’ grants her.

The finished BBC Scotland piece was incredibly moving and showed the callous and unrelenting nature of the ‘bedroom tax’. The item on our report, with the tenant’s story, ran from breakfast news until the evening and audio clips were used for BBC Radio Scotland. We also gained coverage in the main national Scottish newspapers and on commercial radio. Coverage like that is hard to ignore.

The SFHA, and many other organisations, kept campaigning against the ‘bedroom tax’ as pressure started to mount on both the UK and Scottish Governments to act. Fast forward to February 2014, and the Scottish Government announces additional Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) money for people affected by the policy. In May of the same year, the UK Government announces that it will allow the Scottish Government to lift the cap on DHPs, increasing funding to £50 million to fully mitigate the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ in Scotland. After the Scottish independence referendum, it is announced that new powers will come to the Scottish Parliament, including the ability to effectively abolish the ‘bedroom tax’.

Whilst I am not saying that the tenant’s story single-handily brought about change – it will definitely have played a part. It is all very well an organisation coming out against a policy and explaining why, but if it cannot demonstrate exactly why, with statistical and case study evidence, nothing will change. Politicians demand evidence, and the most powerful form of evidence, even more so than statistics, are the real life stories – the stories that show the human beings behind the numbers. It is much harder to disconnect from and ignore the person affected by the policy, and highlighting their stories through the media is an effective way to build pressure on governments.

Today, we are facing another welfare policy which is having catastrophic effects on tenants and, therefore, ultimately threatening the financial viability of social landlords – the continued roll-out of Universal Credit. While pressure is mounting on the UK Government to halt, or slow down the policy, until it can be proven that it can work without tenants being left in dire financial situations, it is of vital importance that the SFHA takes its campaigning up a gear – and we need your help in order to do this.

In the coming months, the SFHA will be launching a new Universal Credit campaign – but this campaign will be ineffective without your evidence.

So how can you help us make the case for change?

We need to highlight the financial effect that Universal Credit is having on tenants and housing associations, and your organisation can contribute by completing our monthly survey – this latest survey closes at 9am tomorrow (Wednesday 25 October).

We are also appealing for case studies to show the reality of this policy. We appreciate that completing surveys and finding case studies is time consuming, but Universal Credit is a policy that is having, and will continue to have, detrimental effects on your financial stability. We also understand that there are many factors to be considered when deciding whether or not to put a tenant forward as a case study.

For print media and for politicians, case studies can be anonymised, but for broadcast, it is most effective if someone is willing to be filmed on camera – and we know this is not an easy ask and takes a lot of courage.

Before I put anyone forward to speak to the media, I always talk to the journalist to find out their angle and what questions will be asked – SFHA will never put a tenant forward for an interview that would portray them in a negative light. I also aim to attend any filming, so I can step in if any inappropriate questions are asked – I have never had to do this in my five years with SFHA.

Please fill in our survey, and if your organisation has any tenant case studies – anonymised or otherwise – please email me kwalker@sfha.co.uk

We really appreciate the time you take assisting in our campaign work. It is essential in making a successful case to bring about change.

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