This week we have seen an important Supreme Court ruling for social housing, in the form of R (on the application of Z and another) v Hackney London Borough Council and another. It's one we should think about, because it says something important about social housing and the work we all do in this sector.
It also highlights the starker issue of underlying housing need.
On the face of it this was a case about one person's claim to a housing allocation from a particular registered provider's stock, in a particular location, driven by a need to house her family and a perception that other applicants were being unfairly preferred. Given the seniority of the court giving the ruling, and their detailed consideration of the underlying legal principles, the case really considers the deeper point of the application of anti-discrimination law to charities established to provide benefits (in this case, social housing) for particular groups which are the subject of their charitable objectives.
For the original claimant, her circumstances were very difficult and that should not be discounted. The equally important take home from the case for me is this - we build communities, and communities (and the society we live in) are the sum of, and more than the sum of, their parts. We aren't cogs in a machine, working to one great plan. Our communities are rich, diverse, complex, difficult, changing and changeable and - as professionals working in social housing and therefore at the sharper end of need, inclusion and support - we try to navigate through a society without disadvantaging anyone, while also making sure that everyone gets a fair go.
The issue here is not discrimination, it's housing need - and society needs housing supply more than ever before. Just do it.
"they never quoted the rest. I went on to say: There are individual men and women, and there are families....... My meaning............. was that society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations." Margaret Thatcher, "The Downing Street Years" (1993)