3.1 MILLION NEW HOMES NEEDED – Shelter’s vision for social housing

March for homes
March to London’s City Hall demanding more council housing

A LANDMARK report by Shelter’s social housing commission published today calls for an ambitious 3.1 million new homes, extending the offer of social housing to many more people.

After the Grenfell Tower fire, the charity brought together 16 independent commissioners with diverse backgrounds from across the political spectrum to examine the housing crisis in England as it exists today.

Among others, they included: Ed Miliband MP, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, TV architect George Clarke, Lord Jim O’Neill and Grenfell survivor Ed Daffarn. Having spent a year listening to the views of hundreds of social tenants, 31,000 members of the public and a range of housing experts, the commissioners put forward a bold vision for social housing, and who should have the opportunity to live in it.

Building for our future: a vision for social housing recommends the government invests in a major 20-year housebuilding programme, which would offer a social home to millions who fail to qualify under the current system.

It includes:

  • 1.27 million homes for those in greatest housing need – homeless households, those living with a disability or long-term illness, or living in very poor conditions.
  • 1.17 million homes for ‘trapped renters’ – younger families who cannot afford to buy and face a lifetime in expensive and insecure private renting.
  • 690,000 homes for older private renters – people over 55 struggling with high housing costs and insecurity beyond retirement.

The commissioners argue politicians cannot remain idle at a time when half of young people have no chance of ever buying a home, private renters on lower incomes spend an average of 67% of their earnings on rent, and almost 280,000 people in England are homeless.

Analysis carried out for the commission by Capital Economics suggests the economic benefits of social housebuilding would ultimately outweigh the initial costs. The programme would require an average yearly investment of £10.7 billion during the construction phase, but Capital Economics estimate that up to two-thirds of this could be recouped through housing benefit savings and increased tax revenue each year.

On this basis the true net additional cost to the government, if the benefits were fully realised, would be just £3.8 billion on average per year over the 20-year period. And after 39 years the investment will have fully paid for itself.

The Capital Economics research also shows that existing products such as Help-to-Buy are a less effective use of tax-payers money. The commission goes on to conclude that building social homes is the only way for the government to reach its 300,000 homes a year target.

While a historic renewal of social housing is essential, the report makes clear this must go together with a series of reforms to improve social housing, such as:

  • A new Ofsted-style consumer regulator to protect residents and to enforce common standards across social and private renting.
  • A new national tenants’ voice organisation to represent the views of tenants in social housing to national and local government.
    • A new national standard to ensure enough investment in maintaining social homes and their surrounding neighbourhoods.

Case study: Lucie is 30 and works full-time as a welfare case officer for a charity. She rents privately along with her two children aged eleven and six. Lucie and her family have had to move eight times since her daughter was born in 2007.

Lucie said: ‘I really feel that if I’d have been offered social housing and I’d been able to live somewhere affordable for the last ten years, I think I’d probably be in a position now where I could buy my own property, and that social home could then go back to someone else who needs it.

‘But because I’ve had to move so many times, and rents are so high – the financial implications have been devastating. ‘It simply hasn’t been possible for me to save the money. Just that little bit of stability for me and my children would have made a big difference.’

  • New analysis from Shelter has found a 59% increase in the number of homeless children in the last five years. The charity warns the impact of the housing crisis will be felt across a generation as one in every 103 children in Britain is now homeless. The leading homelessness charity estimates that 131,000 children woke up on Christmas morning without a permanent home. This was at least 3,000 more than last year.

Of these 9,500 spent their Christmas in a hostel or BnB, often with one family in a single room, sharing bathrooms and kitchens with other residents. ‘I didn’t feel safe at all because there were other people living there … they would smoke a lot and it wasn’t good. I felt pretty scared because you never knew what would happen next there,’ said Angel, (9), from Hackney.

In the worst-affected local authority, Westminster, 1 in 11 children in the borough is homeless. In Kensington and Chelsea, which has the highest house prices in the country, 1-in-12 children don’t have a home. ‘I was so scared. I just felt like I had failed my daughter because how could I have got us into a situation where we haven’t got a roof over our heads. My daughter, who is eight, started wetting the bed because she was scared and stressed … All I need is somewhere stable and affordable to live so I can raise my girl and work, said Limarra (25) from Southwark.

There are 87,310 homeless children in London alone – a 49% increase in five years. Beyond the capital, the housing crisis is also growing. There are 11,314 homeless children in the South East, more than double the number five years ago. The North West has also seen a 175% rise.

In England, there are an average of five homeless children for every school in the country. Shelter has found that teachers who work with homeless students report that they see the situation causing severe emotional trauma leading to emotional stress, anxiety and problematic behaviours.

‘As a parent I should be able to protect my children and keep them safe … but I can’t. I feel hopeless. There is no joy or happiness in this house. All is frustration, arguments and pain. We are just so tired. For the last six-and-a-half years we have tried to move to a suitable property, without any success,’ said Samira (34) from Islington.

Teachers have reported homeless students facing a range of practical challenges from keeping track of possessions and uniform, to staying clean due to limited access to bathroom or laundry facilities.

‘It’s not a way of living for kids. They can’t do their homework as there’s no internet unless they go to the library. But you’re out of borough so they don’t know where anything is. It’s horrible, an absolute nightmare and not something you’d want your worst enemy to go through,’ said Michelle (41) from Ealing.

Greg Beales, director of campaigns at Shelter said, ‘No child should be homeless. But for the generation growing up in the housing crisis, this is the grim reality for many.

‘The number of children hidden away in hostels and BnBs is enough to make anyone’s heart sink. These are not places for children. We hear about cold, damp – even rats.

‘Young children are sharing beds with multiple family members, trying to play in dirty public corridors, and having to leave their block in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

‘Over the last five years, hundreds of thousands of children have known what it’s like to be homeless. The impact on these young people cannot be overstated. It doesn’t have to be this way. ‘If we act now, we can change tomorrow to make sure every child has somewhere they can call home.’

Nine-years-old Angel from Hackney, who was living in a BnB with her mother and sister but were moved into a hostel where they have been for two years, added: ‘For meals we had to have small amounts because there wasn’t enough room to make what we would normally need.

‘My little sister, she loves toys, so she wanted more toys, but we didn’t have enough space and my Mum needed to spend her money more carefully. So the only things we could spend it on were food and water, and all the other things we need to keep ourselves alive.

‘I didn’t feel safe at all because there were other people living there. And, like here, they would smoke a lot and it wasn’t good. I felt pretty scared because you never knew what would happen next there. Also, for my little sister and my Mum I felt pretty worried as well, as you would never know if we’d run out of money.

‘There were mice and there were rats. You see how they’re really sneaky, they come through our door and then they’re just running around everywhere in the night so they can find food where they can. Sometimes my Mum tries to trap them as they can spread diseases, but they’re really clever so they know where there’s traps or poisons. We found it tough with the rats and mice.’