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National HMO Lobby



Representation on
Sustainable Development Indicators

The present Representation is a response by the National HMO Lobby to the informal consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the publication of a new set of Sustainable Development Indicators (DEFRA, Informal Consultation on Sustainable Development Indicators, 24 July 2012). The Lobby's answers to the consultation's questions (paragraphs 22-26) are as follows -
" Overall, do you agree that this is a suitable indicator set for measuring progress on sustainable development? Neither agree nor disagree (the Lobby lacks the expertise to assess the set as a whole: see note 1 below).
" Do you agree with the inclusion of Social Capital in the overall indicator set? Strongly agree (see note 2 below).
" Do you agree that this issue should be a headline indicator? Strongly agree (see note 3 below).
" Do you agree that this indicator is suitable to capture this issue? Strongly agree
" Do you have any general comments? See note 4 below.
" Do you have any suggestions of indicator data sources? Yes, see note 5 below.
" From which perspective/sector are you responding? The National HMO Lobby is a voluntary association of local community associations throughout the UK; for information, visit our website.
The Lobby's perspective is explained in the notes below.

1. The National HMO Lobby welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the informal consultation on the publication of a new set of Sustainable Development Indicators. The Lobby was established in 2000 by local community associations throughout the UK, in response to concern about the sustainable development of their particular communities. The concerns arose as a result of the impact of the uncontrolled development of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), which meant that whole neighbourhoods became overwhelmed by HMOs, at the expense of other forms of housing, to the detriment of the long-term sustainability of the local community. The Lobby was successful in its campaign to amend planning legislation (particularly the Use Classes Order and the General Permitted Development Order, in England), with the result that local planning authorities are now able to subject HMOs to development management (that is, they require planning permission). The Lobby therefore has a strong interest in sustainable development.

2. In particular, the Lobby welcomes the inclusion of Social Capital in the new set of Sustainable Development Indicators (Annex I, section 4.2). The Lobby agrees that "social capital is essential for sustainable communities and a strong and cohesive society underpins our economic development and our current and long term wellbeing." Society is indeed held together by formal institutions, be they public (such as local authorities) or private (such as commerce) or third sector (such as voluntary organisations, like the Lobby). We would argue that social capital is in fact a wider phenomenon, including "social networks, communities, cultural activities and participation, as well as the trust and the shared norms and values they provide both for individuals and through institutions." This is indeed a form of capital, if this is understood as the 'stocks' that we carry forward to the future (paragraph 12).

3. The on-going viability of a community depends absolutely on the good-will that its members are able to draw on and re-invest in - for instance, to keep a local community clean and quiet and safe (if public institutions are obliged to intervene, this is already a symptom of loss of social capital). In view of its importance, the Lobby is convinced that Social Capital should be identified as a headline Indicator.

4. The consultations notes (at Annex I, section 4.2) that the Measure for Social Capital is "to be developed". The Lobby would like to make a recommendation. Our experience is that sustainable communities are balanced communities, that is, communities comprising a balance of different social groups - for instance, in terms of gender, age, household-type, and so on. Balance enables the community as a whole to draw on the strengths of each social group. Un-balanced (polarised) populations lack that resource. Indeed, polarised populations remain inherently unsustainable, as they are based on exclusion, either socially exclusive or socially excluded (for further discussion, see the Lobby's Balanced Communities and Studentification, 2008, Chapter 2). The Lobby's particular experience is of the threefold polarisation arising when HMOs dominate a neighbourhood: first of all, HMOs only ever provide people with temporary accommodation (whether they are young professionals, students, claimants, migrant workers, etc), so their occupants constitute a permanently transient population; secondly, HMOs mainly provide accommodation for young (often inexperienced) adults, so their occupants lack awareness of social capital; and thirdly (in the case of students especially, the largest market), HMO occupants are often seasonal, so the neighbourhood is deserted for long periods. Transience, inexperience and seasonality are fatal to the development of social capital and therefore of sustainability.

5. The cohesion of communities was the subject of research commissioned by the BBC from the Social & Spatial Inequalities Research Group in the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield. It was published with the title Changing UK: the way we live now on 1 December 2008 (see the BBC report that day). The survey considers changes over the past forty years in a range of aspects of social life. The aspect which particularly caught attention in the news report was what the researchers called the 'anomie index', that is, 'the feeling of not belonging.' The researchers conclude that an increase in anomie weakens the 'social glue', or social capital, of communities. The neighbourhoods revealed as having the deepest roots were in Stockport, in Charnwood West (near Leicester), in Sefton on Merseyside, in Upminster and in Washington in Sunderland. The locality with the shallowest community roots was Holyrood in Edinburgh; other places scoring poorly included Headingley in Leeds, the Hyde Park area of London and the university area of Cardiff. Headingley (the base of the National HMO Lobby) is second in Britain with an index of 72.2%. The index is based on an analysis of social fragmentation. In Headingley, for instance, two-thirds of the population in 2001 were non-married adults. 17% were in one-person households. 43% were at a different address a year before. And 44% were in privately rented accommodation. Calculations based on these figures produce the anomie index. These figures are closely related to demographic segregation: half of the people in Headingley in 2006 were estimated to be in their twenties, and 40% were aged 20-24. (The BBC report notes that one key factor in reducing the sense of belonging in a community is having a large student population. This is confirmed, first, by the rapid changes recently in Headingley, coincident with the expansion of higher education. Further, it is confirmed by the fact that all but one of the half-dozen areas with the highest anomie indices have significant student populations.)

6. The National HMO Lobby therefore recommends that the Measure of Social Capital as a Sustainable Development Indicator be the Anomie Index, which is based on a formula giving weightings to population data, and is widely used in social research. Anomie is the mirror of Social Capital - a high degree of anomie indicates loss of social capital, while low anomie is indicative of a high stock of social capital. The research by the University of Sheffield (which in fact extends back over several decades) provides a base line for this Indicator.

Dr Richard Tyler, Co-ordinator, National HMO Lobby
October 2012


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