Natalie Tate: Talking about housing: let’s get this conversation started

News stories about housing are all around us. Whether directly or indirectly, we read and hear stories about housing all the time. Yet the messages are so mixed, that tuning into the important points can be confusing. Is housing about the state of the economy? Is it about your health? About your kids doing well at school? About the taxes you pay or about the benefits you can claim?

The truth is that housing’s an issue that crosses both government departments and many spheres of life. It’s this that makes the issue complex and means that it’s widely misunderstood.

Nevertheless, the benefit of good housing is also the simplest of things to understand and appreciate. Home should be the refuge to escape from life’s constant pressures; the perfect soothing environment to wash away the stress at the end of a hectic day. But for many people in the UK today, this is simply not their reality.

This is where the need for effective framing comes in. Framing is about finding successful ways to talk about an issue that will make the public really care and will change their hearts and minds. Good framing of an issue leads to change because once the public are concerned, they’ll hold their leaders to account, and this puts pressure on the Government to take action. In particular, framing works by activating underlying concerns about an issue that people hold, and it moulds these dormant thoughts into a ‘can-do’ attitude that in turn rouses people to believe change is possible and worth calling for.

We know there is a community that wants to be part of that collective responsibility for making meaningful change happen to transform the housing system. It’s a community made up of funders, charities, housing associations, researchers and many others. While each of those organisations has its own communications, to us at the Nationwide Foundation it’s clear that what’s needed is for everyone to speak with powerful, galvanising language. Collectively we lacked a common understanding about how the public think and feel about housing, and we saw that having insight into this would inform a more productive narrative; one that more people understood.

The Nationwide Foundation has joined together with JRF to facilitate work that will develop scientifically tested phrases, so that we and like-minded organisations can align and amplify our messages about housing. With sharper, tested and resonant messages our voices will rise above the noise and be listened to. Therefore, we’ve jointly funded FrameWorks Institute to research the best ways to frame messages about housing, with the final recommendations being published in summer 2022. We’re calling the project: Talking about housing.

Although the work is still in progress, we already have some fascinating insights into what the public thinks about housing, and what the main problems are that need to be overcome. Firstly, many people see housing as a commodity; a product to own and to generate wealth. Secondly, many people believe that housing inequities are just the way things are in the UK. Thirdly, while people see that poor-quality housing is harmful to health, they don’t see how quality, affordable housing can be made accessible to all.

The work being carried out now by FrameWorks Institute will reveal ways that we can effectively frame housing to overcome these ways of thinking.

Only by having proven ways to explain housing will the messages resonate with the audience. This narrative – or core story – can be told again and again, and it’s our hope that the public will more easily be able to join the dots, developing a richer understanding of why changing our housing system really matters. Deeper clarity on the issues in housing will eradicate pessimism, and instead will lead people to demand that the solutions they believe in must be acted on.

We’d love you to join our new community of housing framers. Read more about this, including our strategic brief and what we’ve learnt so far.

Natalie Tate is Communications Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Nationwide Foundation.