Stuart Heslop, Head of UK Housing at NatWest Group, on coming together to solve the country’s housing problems.
For anyone involved in providing social housing in the UK, it is no secret that there is an acute shortage of homes and a legacy of unsuitable accommodation that still stares the sector in the face every day. And this is despite the significant effort of everyone in the sector to solve these problems.
The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has made these problems worse, highlighting the inadequacy of housing across the country as people have had to stay at home for extended periods during the lockdowns
Over the course of the pandemic, some of the victims of our housing crisis have also moved to the very front of our national consciousness. The nurses, care workers, and public transport employees (to name but a few) who are working tirelessly day in day out, are also some of the people most affected by our lack of suitable homes.
Seeing this play out in front of our very eyes is concerning, which is why we’re committed to playing our part in solving it. Now is the time to use the visibility of the housing crisis to engage as many stakeholders as we can to put their shoulder to the wheel and find the solution. We need to collectively seize the problem.
At NatWest, our focus on providing debt-led solutions to fund the development of new social housing stock and the improvement of existing stock has never been higher. It is in the DNA of our organisation to help people, families and communities up and down the country to succeed. This is our purpose and it is what we are here to do.
Helping to provide those who do not have a comfortable and safe place to live with somewhere to call home is a priority. That is why we announced last year that we would commit £3 billion of funding to the social housing sector by the end of 2022. And, in 2020, we made a massive contribution to that. We completed 42 separate deals to support our social housing clients across the country, and we delivered £2.8 billion of funding. Of this, £1.2 billion was new money to the sector that will be invested in new housing stock and improved living conditions to make a tangible difference to many people’s lives.
We are proud to play our own small part in solving this problem as we put that funding into the hands of some of the most passionate people I have come across in my career. It never fails to amaze me every time I meet a client in the social housing sector, how focussed on the problem they are. I’d encourage you to take some time and read some of the annual reports from the sector – there are some heart-warming stories out there, but also some very depressing statistics.
Like the journey I have been on, you will think differently if you have a better understanding of the scale of problem. With statistics showing that there were over 130,000 homeless children before the coronavirus pandemic, I know how crucial it is that we all come together and join the lobby to keep the pressure and focus on this subject as high as we can.
The government is aware of the issues, and they are also supporting the sector. But, more needs to be done. The public sector of course needs to step up, but the private sector must also play its part if we want to solve the housing crisis once and for all.
I would urge all companies, big and small, to champion this problem within your own organisations to try and find a way to help. And I’d also urge them to join in collective action where possible. This could be by adding your voice to others in your industry taking action, or by backing and supporting charities like Shelter who are on the front line helping people and taking their message directly to those in government.
It’s just not right that not everyone in this country has a safe place they can call home. This is our collective problem to solve.