Branch Secretary : info@housingworkers.org.uk
  

Peabody: shock at bodies undiscovered for extended periods

Increasingly remote

 

Two separate reports of resident’s bodies discovered in their flats after an extended period following death shocked Peabody staff last week.  Reports suggest that Peabody had been repeatedly contacted by neighbours.  One Unite member said to me “it is difficult for to be proud of working for an organisation where tenants can fall through the net for so long.”

 

Protest against Peabody cuts in 2020

 

Housing association resident campaigners in SHAC have seen these tragic events as exemplars of the increasingly remote, uncaring, and commercial management style of housing associations.  Unite has previously warned of the effect of misnamed ‘efficiency savings’ on services to residents. 

 

Three years

 

In 2019 Sheila Seleoan, a 61-year-old Peabody resident, died alone in her Peckham home. Her body went undiscovered for almost three years.  Terry Watkins was found dead by police in his flat on Monday 19 July 2021. Residents say that concerns had been raised about his welfare months before.   

 

It is to be welcomed that Peabody has committed to investigate these two tragic events and it would be wrong to comment on the details of these cases at this point.   

 

“Potentially devastating” cut

 

In 2019 Peabody announced a plan to cut housing management budgets by £1 million. Unite warned had “potentially devastating consequences to residents and workers.”  The plans to cut neighbourhood managers came on top of the ‘deletion’ of the posts of the respected Community Safety Team in spring 2019.  This team dealt with high level anti-social behaviour including drug crime.  This cut alone put huge extra stress on housing management staff.  

 

Unite has commented widely on the negative affect of the housing management changes that Peabody has introduced. Warnings were ignored at the time, Peabody should listen again to what we said then as well as making a commitment to seeking further evidence from both Unite, locally elected representatives and tenants organisations as part of the wider investigation. 

 

Cuts to improve services!

 

In October 2019 Peabody put proposals to slash the number of housing managers from eighty to sixty-five; more work and less people to do the work. Management defended this restructure claiming that the new structure would “augment service improvement and integration changes that have taken place.”  Cuts, loss of specialist expertise and increased workloads to improve services! 

 

One illustrative example was reported by a Neighbourhood Manager at the time; a team of seven had been drastically reduced to two, with the remaining staff members told to work through over five hundred cases in a day!  This was in addition to their own workload and included high level anti-social behaviour cases. 

 

Rise in surplus

 

While these cuts were being rammed through Peabody announced a £14 million rise in its surplus over the previous six months taking it to £67 million.  The Peabody Finance Director explained in Inside Housing, “This is a strong performance in the prevailing environment, with increased turnover and surplus.”  

 

The cuts to housing management were clearly not driven by necessity; management simply gave priority to boosting already large profit margins. It was wrong to describe this as efficiency saving, it was a choice to give priority to boosting margins. If consulted, would residents have thought that the right priority?  

 

Tragic

 

In November, the then Peabody CEO wrote an article Inside Housing which many of his staff found jarring, “Some say we have become businesses driven by money concerns, developers driven by the number of homes we build rather than those who can afford them.  Or that we have become agents of the state, afraid to call out what is wrong for fear of annoying important “stakeholders”... I’d love to scratch the surface, rediscover the moral compass of the sector and not be afraid to fight for what is right.  We must have a business head, but show our social heart… We’ve argued for low rents and better wages and put that into practice in our own organisation.” Staff told Unite they hadn’t seen much evidence of a social heart recently! 

 

At the time we responded “Neighbourhood managers in Peabody have coped with unrealistic workloads and weak management for an extended time.  Now, as part of an ill-considered cost cutting programme, vital specialist teams are being scraped and the total number of Neighbourhood Managers reduced.  The loss of valued domestic violence and community safety teams is tragic.” 

 

Cuts cost lives

 

At a last-ditch protest against the cuts in February 2020 protesters warned that “cuts to the community and neighbourhood services cost lives, and are counter-productive.” 

 

One tenant commented, “We've had three neighbourhood managers in as many months. We now have an interim neighbourhood manager who's got 1,000 properties to deal with” and a worker said, “Every time a new executive member comes in, you know there’s going to be another restructure. It wastes time and resources and is completely unnecessary”. 

 

Transparent footprint

 

Responding to the tragedies at Peabody, Carl Davis, a resident campaigner argued, “We need to look at this model of social housing where remote unrepresentative boards focus on expanding the corporate footprint and generating surpluses above all else.” 

 

The model in which housing associations chase private funding on global markets has resulted in them behaving increasingly like any other corporate landlord.  It is no longer common practice for housing association board papers to be made public, but a transparent review of these events should publish board papers surrounding restructuring of housing management.  

 

Organise

 

It is vital that workers organise to push back through Unite and we welcome tenant and resident organisation through SHAC. We need democratically accountable fully grant funded social housing and large housing associations such as Peabody need to urgently review their structures and priorities. 

 

If you work in a housing association and have concerns about workloads and safe practices do join Unite. If you live in a housing association property join the campaigning group SHAC.

 

Paul Kershaw, Chair Unite housing workers branch LE1111.  

 

 

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