A vital safety net

Social housing units function as a safety net for those of us who are experiencing difficulties affecting our housing. This can happen for various reasons: financial problems can come from relationship matters such as divorce, issues to do with physical or mental health, problems with addiction, or various other difficulties.

Sometimes two or three of these causes combine to cause a personal shipwreck and social housing rescues us from homelessness.

In my experience, this safety net is a vital one. I live in a block of flats designed for older people with low support needs: we function well in society. I would guess few of us ever expected to need the support of social housing, but it offers an affordable home when you are in severe housing need.

My path to social housing

During my divorce our focus was on our children and I did not even consider that I might ask for a share of my then husband’s pension. We had used my pension pot earlier to fund a business venture of his. The back-up plan was that we would have his substantial pension to live on.  After our divorce, I lost both my share of his pension and, through poor health, my plans to work into retirement.

 So here I am in social housing. The problem is that individuals with complex needs are also moved in and they do not receive the support they need. We have a staff member who is available for up to six hours a week to help us with any problems, but they are also on call for other properties, often in neighbouring towns. This significantly reduces the time they can give us.

This is a problem partly because many of the men here are younger – from 55 upwards – with alcohol and mental health issues. They can be aggressive and social contact can be uncomfortable for women of my age. Most worrying is a person who clearly has issues with alcohol and is often loud and aggressive in public areas, who tries to attract my attention.

I’ve been assured that the situation is being monitored but the staff are so busy and are stretched between ours and other properties so how much monitoring can be possible?

I told the house manager I was becoming reluctant to leave my flat for fear of meeting him in the lift. She said I should not be afraid. I said he had hurt our neighbour, how did she know that he wouldn’t hurt me? She said that she didn’t know.

With money comes choice

I have decided to move, reluctantly, as the cost in cash and energy will be heavy and leaving my friends will be sad, but I need to feel safe. I have discovered that the only screening done of applicants for the flats we live in is financial. If this person moves on, another individual with similar issues could well replace him. So I have contacted my MP for help not only with my move but so she might look into the system which seems set up to create such uncomfortable situations.

One simple low cost fix would be to monitor the gender balance of social housing units, looking at the male/female ratios in properties. This would help older women live with a feeling of safety.

As with so many areas of life, with money comes choice. Those of us with limited means have limited choices and social housing can be the lesser of many evils. Everyone deserves to feel secure in their home. For someone who is older, frailer and more vulnerable, this is even more important.

Have you been affected by any of these issues?


This blog represents one individual’s experience; personal circumstances differ – if you have been affected by any the issues in this blog and want some advice about your own situation please contact Independent Age’s Helpline on 0800 319 6789.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age