‘I feel like I’m losing myself. My mum and sister feel the same. We’re losing our sanity.’ That was how Laura described what her housing situation was doing to her and her family. They’ve been living in temporary accommodation in the West Midlands for over a year – forced to share beds and live in conditions that just aren’t fair and which, as she said, are damaging her mental health. We know she isn’t alone but we didn’t know how big the housing emergency was before our new report today.
It can be hard to comprehend just how big the housing emergency has become for this country. Our new report shows that 17.5 million adults in Britain, or one in three, are now impacted by the housing emergency. When children are factored into the results, the number affected rises to 22 million. We’ve allowed ourselves to let our country become somewhere where, for a third of us, our homes can’t be made warm, can’t be afforded and will make us ill. Like a frog being boiled, maybe we didn’t notice how bad it had become. For too long, successive governments have been happy to allow social housing to go underfunded and unbuilt, housing benefits to be cut and restricted, and for renters to face a huge imbalance in the rules.
Overcrowded and unhealthy
We know for a fact that those in an overcrowded home were more likely to get sick and die from coronavirus (COVID-19) – something the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has acknowledged – and yet our report shows 829,000 homes don’t have enough bedrooms, forcing people to be crammed in like sardines. And there are other health risks. Our report shows how damp, black mould and infestation is making life unbearable for too many people in this country. Imogen is a single mother and she told us how she can’t afford to keep her home in a good condition to safely raise her children. ‘I had to paint the bathroom with mould-free paint because otherwise it would just turn black. I had to have a dehumidifier on constantly in there. We also had a spike of rats at one point. They gnawed through the wooden door.’ She wants to be fighting for her children’s future but instead she’s stuck fighting to keep them safe from rats. That has to change.
The impact of the housing emergency also isn’t fair. Black and Asian people are nearly four times more likely to have experienced housing discrimination. Bisexual people are three times and gay people two times more likely than heterosexual people to have faced housing discrimination. Disabled people are more than five times more likely to experience housing discrimination. We expect our country to give everyone a fair chance to become who they deserve to be but right now that simply isn’t the case.
Unaffordable and unfit for purpose
Not only are too many homes not fit for purpose, they are also unaffordable. We’ve let it happen over time. The last fifty years has seen the amount young families spend on their housing triple. Over the last twenty years, the number of households renting has more than doubled – making it one in every five of us priced out of home ownership. And the cost of renting means people are stuck – six in every ten private renters have no savings at all. Every month, they risk homelessness as they just about make ends meet. We live in a country where just under half of private renter rely on housing benefit, and for some parts of the country, like Sefton and the Wirral, it hits an astounding 80%. This doesn’t need to be the case. It didn’t use to be. We used to build enough social homes to ensure everyone had a fair start in life.
Following the war, both Conservative and Labour governments recognised they needed to invest in social housing – that paying landlords rent was a failure of policy and instead it was the role of a good government to ensure each generation had the solid start of a safe and secure home. At its peak, under Harold Macmillan and Wilson, we added hundreds of thousands of social homes to our stock, and it is no coincidence that so many of that generation born into poverty used it to lift themselves and their families into better lives and opportunities their grandparents never experienced. Now we have turned back the clock – in the last year alone we saw a net loss of 22,000 social homes. We are going the wrong way and it is no wonder that the next generation is less optimistic. Our report shows younger people are twice as likely as older people to be worried about the likelihood of finding a suitable home in the future. Now, it’s the grandparents that are likely to have had the more prosperous lives.
We need to act – and fight for home
This doesn’t need to be happening. We’ve shown the problem clearly and undisputedly – our homes aren’t fit for our people. Now we need to act – and fight for home. Shelter is determined to win that fight. We are not going to give up, but we need your help. Wherever you are, you can join Shelter and help us turn this around. And we need those who make the decisions to listen to you. Whatever their party, their faction, they have heard the reality of our housing emergency. Local and national decision-makers, whether they have worked from their home in Downing Street or Blackpool, can’t pretend not to know how important a home is now. So we ask them to join our fight as well, and show they can give our country what it deserves – a home.
Find out how you can join the fight for home.