Social housing has never been more important than it is now, especially in cities like Stoke-on-Trent where people on average incomes can’t afford mortgages and some who claim benefits find themselves refused by the private rented sector.
Honeycomb Group Director of Housing Services, Tim Sheail, believes social housing needs to be top of the government’s agenda.
Social housing is important for everyone’s wellbeing – I think there is a consensus across society that poor quality housing is bad for us all. We all know people who are finding the current coronavirus restrictions a strain. Spending long periods of time at home has highlighted the importance of secure, good quality housing. For those renting, it is also about knowing that they have reliable landlords who treat them with respect and get the basics right - like attending to repairs and making sure properties are safe.
If you walk around our local area of Stoke-on-Trent you can see a wide range of housing quality – some very good, modern or improved homes with green spaces nearby, other older, poorer quality homes - some converted into houses in multiple occupation - where quality and safety standards are poor. At Staffs Housing (part of Honeycomb Group), we are trying to play our part in improving homes and the local environment. Over the last year we have worked with local builders on developing some vacant sites into quality affordable homes including adapted bungalows for families with children who have life-limiting conditions. And we would love to be building more.
We know that despite property values in Stoke being lower than in other parts of Staffordshire, the average income needed to buy a home in Stoke central ward is £29,206 but the average earnings are £26,104 (NHF constituency data). So, affordable housing is very much needed. In difficult economic circumstances, an increasing number of people are claiming Universal Credit which can be used as an (unlawful) reason to exclude applicants by some private letting agencies. This means many are excluded and therefore housing association or council housing is their best option.
We also know that people have found their home environments really challenging when they have had to spend a lot of time at home during COVID-19 related restrictions. It has been estimated that nearly a third (31%) of adults in Britain – 15.9 million people – have had mental or physical health problems because of the condition of, or lack of space in, their homes during lockdown (YouGov survey).
I can’t claim that social landlords are perfect – we don’t’ always get it right – but we are committed to learning from our customers and improving - and I know that the additional support that comes with social housing has been vital for some residents to help them manage and find ways to look after themselves. I am particularly proud of the way our organisation, local councils, housing associations and voluntary agencies have worked together to make sure the most vulnerable people have been well looked after during lockdown with food parcels delivered, prescriptions collected, benefits and money advice provided and practical help to get through the challenges people have faced.
So, what would greater social housing investment mean? A recent report published by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee (a cross-party group of MPs) has said that 90,000 new social homes a year are needed in England. It has called on ministers to provide a £10bn increase to annual grant funding. In their words, this pandemic “has exposed our broken housing system”, with families in overcrowded homes facing poor health and private renters struggling to meet costs.
The committee also recognised the wider economic benefits of providing more social housing – a large house building programme will provide jobs, stimulate the economy, and help the government meet its own target of 300,000 new homes a year. All this echoes the findings of Shelter’s commission on the future of social housing (2019). This report recommended a 20 year social house building programme to particularly help those who are homeless and living in poor housing conditions; younger families who cannot afford to buy and are trapped on high private sector rents; and, older people struggling with housing costs and insecure tenancies into their retirement.
And it’s not just good economic policy. A recent book, Generation Rent, by Chloe Timperley, describes the personal experiences of people who feel trapped in poor quality, private rented homes with unreliable or intrusive landlords - who abuse the shortage of housing to charge high rents and ignore repair problems. A chapter in the book describes the personal difficulties people face in these situations - when they feel vulnerable and at risk of losing even a poor quality home. That’s why I want to see more social housing - good quality homes and social landlords who respect the tenants and ensure reliable, trusted maintenance services.
Social housing can transform people’s lives and strengthen communities. Safe, secure affordable homes can help with their wellbeing, mental health and create positive opportunities for people.
Secure, good quality housing is an important platform on which we all want to build the rest of our lives - it’s obvious really – and it’s why the government must make social housing a priority.
- NHF Constituency data: https://www.housing.org.uk/resources/constituency-data/
- YouGov survey mental health findings: https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/one-in-three-have-suffered-health-problems-during-lockdown-because-of-poor-housing-survey-shows-67015
- Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee July 2020:
Building more social housing - parliament.uk
- A Vision for Social Housing, Shelter 2019. - https://england.shelter.org.uk
- Generation Rent: Why You Can’t Buy A Home (Or Even Rent A Good One), Chloe Timperley (Canbury Press 2020)