How more social housing can make all the difference so families - and communities - are stronger
The future of social housing has been highlighted by the work of a commission established in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Fiona Evans looks at what it means for families.
Since her daughter was born in 2007 Lucie and her family have had to move eight times.
The 30-year-old mother, who works full-time as a welfare case officer for a charity, rents privately with her children aged 11 and six.
But a pernicious mix of high rents and multiple moves has rendered saving for a home of her own impossible.
“I really feel that if I’d been offered social housing and I’d been able to live somewhere affordable for the last 10 years, I think I’d probably be in a position now where I could buy my own property, and that social home could then go back to someone else who needs it,” said Lucie.
“But because I’ve had to move so many times, and rents are so high - the financial implications have been devastating. It simply hasn’t been possible for me to save the money. Just that little bit of stability for me and my children would have made a big difference.”
Lucie is on a waiting list for social housing and she is far from alone; according to Government figures, there were 1.11 million households on local authority waiting lists on April 1, 2018.
A recent report by Shelter’s social housing commission called for a 20-year programme to deliver 3.1 million more social homes.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the charity brought together 16 independent commissioners to examine the housing crisis in England.
“Building for our future: a vision for social housing” recommends the government invests in a major 20-year house building programme, which would offer a social home to millions who fail to qualify under the current system. It includes those in greatest housing need, young families trapped out of ownership and older private renters struggling with high housing costs and insecurity beyond retirement.
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The report also recommends reforms to improve social housing, such as a new consumer regulator to protect residents and to enforce common standards across social and private renting; a new national tenants’ voice organisation and a new national standard to ensure enough investment in maintaining social homes and their surrounding neighbourhoods.
Jo Miller, one of the independent commissioners who worked on the Shelter report, grew up in a council house on a Liverpool estate. The chief executive of Doncaster Council is unequivocal about the role a secure home played in her own life.
“My mum was delighted to get a council house with a secure tenancy for her small children rather than living on a short-term basis at the whim of a private landlord,” said Jo. “It was a big thing to have that security and accommodation of a good quality; things like an inside bathroom and an inside toilet. Our council home was brand new, built on a giant estate with not many facilities. We created a real sense of community from those beginnings.
“My mum became a single lone parent who ended up having four jobs. She did what she could to feed and clothe her children herself. From the age of nine we were a single parent family and it was that community that wrapped around us to make our family work. The strength of the community grew more strength. My mum was able to carry on working and look after her three kids.
“I was the first person in our family to do A Levels, the first person off the whole of the estate to go to university. My story is a story of social mobility but it’s grounded in having a secure home in a strong community.
“Why wouldn’t we invest in giving people secure homes rather than investing in paying rent where they are chasing their tail all the time? Surely we want to invest in strong communities, strong economies and people and talent.”
Fair social housing ‘is a priority’
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “Providing quality and fair social housing is a priority for this government and our Social Housing Green Paper seeks to ensure it can both support social mobility and be a stable base that supports people when they need it.
“We’ve asked tenants across the country for their views and the thousands of responses we’ve received will help us design the future of social housing.
“Our ambitious £9 billion affordable homes programme will deliver 250,000 homes by 2022, including homes for social rent. A further £2 billion of long-term funding has already been committed beyond that as part of a ten year home building programme through to 2028.
“We’re also giving councils extra freedom to build the social homes their communities need and expect.”