Kate Webb
Kate Webb

By Kate Webb

Personal safety nets no substitute for government support

How would you keep a roof over your head if you lost your job? It’s not a question many of us like to ponder (just as we tend to ignore those issues like what exactly will happen if we fail to eat five (seven?) fruit and veg a day). But it’s a situation thousands of ordinary families unexpectedly find themselves facing every year.

Worryingly, the facts suggest many of us would struggle to keep up with rent or mortgage payments if we suddenly lost our income. New research for Shelter found that four in ten families are just one pay cheque away from being unable to afford their home.

It’s not news that Britons are struggling to save, and with incomes stagnant and living costs rising for several years many of us have been dipping into our savings just to keep ticking over. But it does mean that we’re ill-equipped to deal with a sudden change in circumstances, for example job loss or relationship breakdown.

A quarter of UK workers polled by Shelter had no savings at all and would immediately find themselves struggling to keep up with housing costs if they lost their job. Four in ten could cover less than  one month’s rent or mortgage payment, rising to six in ten after three months. Just over half of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance end up taking more than six months to get back to work, raising real concerns about how long people can support themselves for.

Perhaps we don’t think so much about how to pay for our homes if we lost our income because we assume that a safety net will be there to support us if we need it. This may seem a little complacent but it isn’t entirely unreasonable. Especially as most people are well aware that they’ve paid in to a system to support them. In fact, it’s because of this safety net that job loss rarely leads directly to homelessness in the UK (a success that we’re far too modest about).

Moreover, the majority of people don’t just assume the safety net is there, they think it ought to be there. Six in ten agree that the government is responsible for providing a decent standard of living for the unemployed, which would surely require a system for preventing homelessness.

Unfortunately continued cuts to the safety net have weakened this protection and made it harder for people to keep a roof over their head. Homeowners have to wait 13 weeks before receiving any help for mortgage interest payments, and even then the support they receive may be below their actual mortgage costs. Payments to private tenants has been cut back, meaning that many people paying average rents are not entitled to sufficient support. This problem is set to get worse when the short-term buffer for new claimants is abolished under Universal Credit.

This is why Shelter is campaigning against any further cuts to the housing safety net. The support it offers is already inadequate in many cases, and any further reductions risk pushing the system to breaking point. We all want to know that a safety net is there if life takes an unexpected turn, and that safety net has be strong enough to genuinely support people through difficult times and help them back on their feet.

13 Responses to Personal safety nets no substitute for government support

  1. Paul Carter says:

    Thanks for this. A very worthwhile campaign, making people realise how easy it can be for “hard working families”, not just “scroungers” and “benefit migrants”, to suddenly need state support – and that support will not always be there when expected.

  2. khards says:

    High house prices caused by speculators (BTL) and a deliberately restrictive planning policy are the elephant in the room.
    Lowering house prices would give people more money to save then they could look after them selves.

    Also; building a million council houses and letting them to working families would give families somewhere secure to live. Why is shelter not campaigning for this? The rent collected would pay for the homes to be built and the government can give it’s self planning on low grade agricultural land (of which there is plenty) – these homes can be build for less than £50k each.

    • john smith says:

      Bang on. No profit for landlords or private companies in that though.

  3. john smith says:

    Ludicrous. The country is borrowing 7% of GDP just to stay afloat and you want to increase the amount it pays out to sustain a high cost of living. You’ve neglected to say which of education, healthcare or emergency services you’d like to cut to fund this safety net.

    How about you look at why we need such a safety net, rather than expanding one that we can’t afford. Hint: disposible incomes have vanished because people think “property only ever goes up”.

    • Kim Worthington says:

      This point could have been made a little less agressively.

      • john smith says:

        Unfortunately the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and we’ve had decades of timidness in letting lobby groups get their way. When a supposed charity is coming up with suggestions that exacerbate the problem they want to fix, I think it’s fair to call them out bluntly.

    • jpm says:

      Well, how about other things you could cut to fund this safety net: nuclear weapons; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; lucrative contracts with outsourcing companies that don’t deliver; GCHQ; tax loopholes to multinationals; lobbying and PR for politicans …

      • john smith says:

        Absolutely, I think we all know where the cuts would realistically come from though.

  4. Kim Worthington says:

    I agree with this campaign. I lost my home after losing my job. I now work with people who have mortgaged property when they are in trouble. Many times people who own property are excluded from help others get. There are ways of helping these people that ethical and not known about in the main stream. Please look at http://www.newlifeproperty.com for more information. We also work with Bernardos for this reason.

    • john smith says:

      “Many times people who own property are excluded from help others get.”
      0.5% interest rates, Funding for Lending Scheme, Help to Buy, Help to Buy 2, Support for Mortgage Interest, Mortgage Interest Relief at Source. Tell me exactly which short straw property owners have drawn?
      What you’re actually saying is that you overpaid for your home, therefore eradicating your existing savings and your ability to save from that point forward. You’d have been evicted if you were renting and couldn’t keep up with the payments, why is owning any different?

  5. Kim Worthington says:

    In my experience as a property enhancer it is currently the younger people and parents who want them to have their first home that are forcing sales prices up. I fear the intersst rate rises will bring big issues to these and others who can just about afford mortgsges payments now.

    • john smith says:

      And absolutely nothing to do with a baseline set by housing benefits, strict planning law, media attention and government props.

  6. Alan Marchant says:

    It beggars belief that a TORY MP cant live on 120.000 pounds yet the average worker has to live on a quarter of that amount, this is why the Tories are so insensitive to peoples problems.