We’re just a few days from the one-year anniversary of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, and many survivors are still waiting for a new home. It’s simply unacceptable – but it’s sadly no surprise when the situation is just as stark throughout the country.
Only 290,000 social homes were made available in 2016/17 – despite over one million households being on the waiting list. That’s a whopping shortfall of 800,000 homes. Why? A combination of much-needed social homes being sold off through Right to Buy but not replaced on a like-for-like basis, and a lack of new social homes being built.
And although it’s often thought that the housing shortage is most acute in London, the problem is spreading across the nation. For example, Brighton and Hove had 24,392 households on the waiting list in 2017 – but only 949 social homes were made available in that time. Further up the country in Fylde, Lancashire, only 214 homes were made available through 2016/17, compared to the 5,024 households on the list.
Plus, the freedom given by the Localism Act 2011 means some local authorities changed their criteria in recent years. This led to waiting lists being closed off to many people; their hopes of social housing dashed.
‘It’s hard to do anything…’
Over 25% of people on the social housing waiting list spend over five years waiting for a home and almost two-thirds are made to wait for over one year. The frustration and sense of insecurity is very real, as 56-year-old Freddy (a commercial engineer) from West London tells us…
‘I grew up here, went to school here, worked here. I have been on the waiting list for a solid 18 years. I’ve been homeless, private renting, or sofa surfing all that time,’ says Freddy.
‘Not having a settled place makes it hard to do anything, even getting letters delivered so you can get accepted for doctors is hard. I’m in my mid-50s, and at this age I should be looking after my family and relaxing in the job that I’ve been doing for a long time, but I can’t do any of that until I get my own place.’
Falling trust in the system
The fact that so many survivors of the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower are still homeless is shocking – especially when they were ‘fast tracked’ outside of their local authority waiting list. And with over one million households on the waiting list, often forced to hold out for years on end, this only adds to the frustration.
The nation’s trust in our system and the safety net on which we all depend is falling.
The Grenfell tragedy and the situation we still face one year on must be a wake-up call. We have to change the way we as a nation approach social housing, its tenants and those in need. ‘We need a bold, new plan for social housing,’ concludes our Chief Executive Polly Neate, ‘so families are not condemned to waiting lists – but given safe, secure and affordable housing as quickly as possible.’