Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a very public intervention about housing, reiterating the government’s target to build 1 million new homes over this parliament and extend home ownership to many more households. “Only Conservatives will provide the housing we need,” he claimed.
What was missing from his statement was any mention of the millions of families for whom owning their own home is an unrealistic dream – those who are struggling with unaffordable private rents, stuck in temporary housing, or living in sub-standard social housing.
Of the 243,000 homes delivered last year, less than 10,000 were truly affordable, with another 30,000 at so-called “affordable rents” – defined as 80% of market rents, though still unaffordable for most low-income households in this part of Surrey.
Coincidentally, a few days before Rishi Sunak published his statement, we held a discussion about housing with a group of our Community Commissioners. All of them have experience of using the Foodbank or Pantry and most rent their homes from one of the large housing associations that have taken over the management of council housing over the last three decades.
Our clients have very clear ideas about what is needed to change to improve their housing situation. Nearly everyone had a story about repairs – draughty windows that took five years to be fixed and were then done badly, cheap kitchen cupboards that fell part within months, and the electrician that was sent round to unblock the drains! Poor communication was another common experience, with people feeling ignored, blamed or sidelined, with very little say about any changes to their home.
Another client told us how she had been evicted from her private rented home when her landlord decided to sell his property. Two years later, she is still living in temporary housing – sleeping in the living room, because there are not enough bedrooms for her and her teenage children, and lacking the stability that she and her family need to build a future.
Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common and reflect the experiences of people at the sharp end of the housing crisis. Yes, we need more housebuilding to meet the growing demand for housing, but these homes need to be truly affordable. And we also need to invest in improving the condition of the existing housing stock, so that those on lower incomes have a safe and secure home in which to raise their families.
Written by Tom Sefton Poverty Lead
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