Last night, we watched with bated breath as Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson went head-to-head in the first party leaders’ debate of the 2019 general election campaign.
We know we’re living through extraordinary times in terms of housing – although these extraordinary times have now gone on so long as to become depressingly usual in many ways. The emergency we’re facing affects us all. Whether that be directly or indirectly, the national failure that has resulted in a 22% increase in the deaths of rough sleepers in the past year, the horrific and preventable Grenfell Tower fire, the exponential rise in children being recorded as homeless, brings shame on us all.
And so, we watched and we listened, trying to quiet the rhythmic internal chant of ‘What about housing? What about housing? What about housing?’. For the entire debate, we waited patiently for housing to be mentioned. The entire hour passed by as we waited and waited, leaving us to despair when there was no mention of anything that will make a difference to the housing emergency. How, in times of a national housing emergency, can this simply be ignored?
The housing emergency
Housing is simply too important to be forgotten. There are 1.5 million fewer social homes today then there were in 1980. Between 2011 and 2018, rents increased 60% faster than wages. Homeownership is in decline and the private rental sector has doubled since 2001. Section 21 means that landlords can still evict tenants for no reason at all. Housing benefit does not cover the cost of rent in 97% of the country. Yet all we heard about in the debate was Brexit.
Social housing delivery stats released today show that despite the emergency we’re in the grip of, the number of new social homes has fallen. Over the past year, just over 6000 social homes have been delivered. With 1.1 million people now on the waiting list for a social home, delivery actually decreasing is outrageous.
The monumental failure of successive governments to build social housing has meant that an increasingly broad demographic of people are being forced into the private sector. Young families trapped in expensive tenancies for their whole lives, unable to save – with only half of today’s young people are likely to ever own their own home. Older people forced into renting unsuitable and unstable accommodation, facing the threat of rent increases and eviction at any point.
Rather than investing in social housing, we are now in a situation where the housing benefit bill which is paid directly to private landlords last year amounted to £8 billion and temporary accommodation is costing Local Authorities £1 billion. We know that there is no credible economic case for ignoring the current housing emergency. We need the next government to get back on track.
The next parliament can end the housing emergency
Our polling with YouGov has shown 77% of people support the building of more social homes. Prioritising social housing is more popular than prioritising home-ownership schemes like Help to Buy and shared ownership. If ending homelessness is our destination, building social housing is the only way we can get there. We need the next government to commit to build at least 90,000 social rent homes a year over the next Parliament.
This is why Shelter has joined forces with service providers and organisations from across the sector, together calling on all parties to publish a plan setting out how they’ll end homelessness – with building the social housing we need front and centre.
There are many issues that can get overlooked at a general election – all important – but given the scale of the challenge we face we can’t stand by and let this happen. The leaders may not want to talk about housing, it’s something successive governments have failed to get right for generations, but we need to see much more in these debates.
Which is why, in advance of the next debate on 1 December, we need as many people as possible to make as much noise about housing and homelessness as we can. We must raise this emergency back up the political agenda. We need action, we need commitment and we need it now.
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