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Multi-coloured walls?

Politicians may be missing the point when they reference red or blue election walls. Should they instead be focusing on multi-coloured walls, and the real walls of real houses? 

The Community Planning Alliance map[1], was launched in March 2021, already includes 525 active planning campaign groups. It is a clear indicator that all is not well at grassroots level in our communities across all areas of the country.  The planning system is potentially facing a popular revolt.  

Community Planning Alliance , Campaign Map

Until now, those groups were on their own – yet the battles they are fighting are very similar.  These campaigners never thought they would be campaigners, most wish they did not have to be, and some, like me, have become full-time campaigners.

Why?

Local communities face many problems…  Councils are, on the whole, disinterested in residents’ views, or even obstructive.   Developers call the shots, targeting areas with no five-year housing supply, and regularly reneging on promises of affordable housing, using the viability loophole.  (What other industry is guaranteed a profit of 15-20% anyway?).  

Trust in the system is virtually non-existent.  This, from a report by Grosvenor[2] in 2019 says it all:

“This year, we conducted the largest ever canvassing of public trust in placemaking in the UK, finding that just 2% of the public trust developers and only 7% trust local authorities when it comes to planning for large-scale development.

The research also unpicks the drivers of this lack of trust − the biggest being the perception that developers only care about making or saving money, with 75% of respondents identifying this as a reason for their lack of trust.”

Green space, countryside, hedgerows, clean air, rivers and streams, are all at risk in the relentless drive to meet government’s 300,000 pa housing target, deliver its roads programmes, and even its renewable energy targets.   Never has land been under so much pressure, from providing the food that we eat, to use for housing and commercial development, biofuels, off-setting and tree-planting.  

And, of all those pressures, it is the high house-building targets shared by all political parties which are causing the most controversy.  For years, the populist line we have all been fed is that to solve the housing crisis, we need to just build more houses.   

Three misunderstood points about the ‘housing crisis’

  • The 300,000-homes per annum target is based on out-of-date statistics, and population growth is slowing dramatically.  Local level data has been found to overstate population growth in around 50 cities and towns.
  • Housing targets do nothing to address real affordability or solve the housing market problems.  Housing waiting lists remain stubbornly high, chiefly because very few social houses are being built – only 6,566 last year – and more are being sold off or demolished each year than built.  Then there’s long term empty homes and the holiday or second home problem, all of which are housing stock unavailable to people who need homes. 
  • Developers release new properties into the market when it does not depress prices. If prices start to fall, they will slow new build supply.

So, you might get a shiny new housing estate at the edge of your town or village, but it will be car-dependent and many of the properties will be unaffordable to your children. That’s even if they are described as ‘affordable’, which is actually only a 20% reduction off market price.   

That’s why the Community Planning Alliance campaigns for three solutions :

  1. Housing policies that address need, based on accurate and up-to-date, bottom-up local household projections, ensuring that the housing delivered is truly affordable (and based on local wages rather than discount to market value).  We support Shelter’s campaign for social housing, and we support the campaign of Empty Homes, to ensure that our existing housing stock is far better used.
  2. Enhanced community participation where residents can really shape their future with their elected councils, not, as now, have planning imposed on them.   We argue for a process of ‘engage, deliberate, decide’, instead of the current ‘decide, announce, defend’.  There needs to be a rebuilding of trust in the system and to start to do that, there needs to be real debate at the start of local plan-making so that issues and concerns are addressed. 

Statements of Community Involvement need to be more accessible and improved, to include, for example, minimum standards such as Gunning Principles[3] or the seven best practice principles of the Consultation Institute[4], which ensure that consultations are held when decisions have not already been made, that there is sufficient information available for stakeholders to respond, sufficient time for responses and that responses are actually taken into account.    We also call for Local Plan Votes, in the same way that Neighbourhood Plans are subject to a referendum. 

3. Taking better care of our precious environment.  The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and the recent Natural History Museum report in advance of COP26 noted[5] that we have led the way in the destruction of the natural environment.  Build, build, build at all cost is not acceptable, nor is token environmental mitigation. 

If each of the 525 groups on the map were to count only 1,000 supporters (and we know that some have many, many more, some as many as 10,000), that’s over half a million people active in the planning and local political system.    What will be the impact if each of those groups decides to put up independent candidates in local elections?  There is potential for a re-shaping of the political order.  It is a multi-coloured, grassroots wall that government and opposition should heed.  

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Rosie Pearson</span></strong>
Rosie Pearson

Rosie is Chairman of the Community Planning Alliance.

The Community Planning Alliance was founded in March 2021, with an interactive map, on which 525 separate groups campaigning against inappropriate development across the UK have now self-listed.  The map has been viewed 183,000 times and we have 1,800 members of our Facebook group. 

Contact:   communityplanningalliance@mail.com 
Interim website:  https://grassrootscampaigns.weebly.com/


[1] Community Planning Alliance: grassroots map (google.com)

[2] Grosvenor – Grosvenor Britain & Ireland addresses lack of trust in UK developers & planning system

[3] The Gunning Principles.pdf (local.gov.uk)

[4] The Consultation Charter – The 7 Best Practice Principles — The Consultation Institute

[5]UK has ‘led the world’ in destroying the natural environment | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk)

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Preventing veteran homelessness: how your local authority’s Armed Forces Champion can help

We’ve learnt, over the last 20 or so years, how to help prepare people leaving care, hospital or prison so as to avert the chance of homelessness. Not that it always works: since 2010, we’ve gone backwards in regards to well-planned prison releases because of the privatisation of probation and some prisons, and cuts in advice and support services; and too many young people move into privately-run halfway schemes which don’t properly prepare them for full independence.

But we know what is needed. Lots of work has gone into tenancy training programmes and materials, improving liaison between prisons and homelessness services; and money is finally going back into services which identify people at risk of sleeping rough when released from prison.

In the arena of people leaving the Armed Forces, however, it seems there is more to be done. Labour Housing Group was very pleased to speak at a very informative fringe meeting at Labour’s Annual Conference this year, organised by SME4Labour for the trade union Community, which includes private prison staff and steelworkers amongst its members.

The meeting, held as part of Community’s veteran homelessness campaign, brought together speakers with personal knowledge of the challenges facing people exiting the forces, experience of developing solutions to meet particular housing and support needs, and a politician (John Healey, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence) with a background in finding the right policy solutions on the ground and in Parliament in health, housing, and defence roles.

We learnt that preparation for leaving a post in the forces does not go far beyond looking at applying for jobs. As a result, it’s not unusual for someone without a home to go to to say “Oh it’s okay, I’ll get a council house” without any idea if how difficult that can be in most parts of the country.

Three factors in particular can affect whether the person has a smooth path into accommodation, in addition to the usual ones (having savings, sorting out a well-paid job before leaving, and having family with their own resources to support their child/spouse/sibling).

The first is the loss of self-identity, losing your community back-up, and a lack of understanding of the civilian lifestyle,that hits many ex-service personnel. This can have a drastic impact on confidence and general mental health.

People who have been used to making decisions within a totally different system from the military one they are used to may benefit from support. There is now a lot more support available, in supported accommodation or through other services, but there is not enough to meet everyone’s needs.

The second is that all too many people leave active service in places like Afghanistan and Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic brain injury (often undiagnosed) as a result of exposure to blasts, both of which can result in depression, impulsive behaviour and overuse of alcohol and/or drugs.

The consequent problems of relationship breakdown, debt, offending and homelessness are familiar stories for families and those working with people in these situations.

The third factor is that people who exit following a misdemeanour are likely to have less time to prepare as well as less money, and perhaps even a loss of their pension.

There have been some recent improvements in policy responses. The Armed Forces Covenant has led to homeless ex-service applicants being able to be helped without consideration of any local connection, and the Homelessness Reduction Act should mean everyone getting a full assessment of their needs for Housing and for support.

Councils are asked to appoint a councillor as an Armed Forces Champion, and some have gone further by appointing an officer to strengthen support for the armed forces community. However, not all local authorities are responding as they should.

So here’s some things to check:

  • Does your council have an Armed Forces Champion? If not, and you are a councillor, could you offer to take on that role?
  • Has your council adopted the Armed Forced Covenant?
  • Does your housing allocations policy and practice ensure that ex-service applicants can apply for housing in your area even if they do not have a formal local connection?
  • Had your housing options team built good links with ex-service organisations, and prisons too, so that they can help people leaving the services or ex-service personnel leaving prions to avoid being homeless?
  • Does your authority focus on how to advise and signpost both serving and ex-serving personnel to housing, benefit, employment and health services?

Other things need to change to make the system work for people leaving the forces: reversing the cuts in drug and alcohol services; better collaboration between prisons and housing services – and far more housing advice staff in prisons; improving the way that mental health and drug and alcohol treatments work together; and, of course, building more public housing so that there are genuinely affordable, safe, and secure options for people in this situation.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Sheila Spencer</span></strong>
Sheila Spencer

Sheila has been Secretary of the Labour Housing Group (LHG) since 2018, having re-joined LHG Executive after a gap of many years.

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Council housing is the missing solution to the housing crisis

LHG’s new report on council homebuilding – called ‘The Missing Solution’ – is launched at Labour Party Conference today.

As a country we have not built anything like enough new homes since Thatcher virtually ended council housebuilding in the early 1980s. The other sectors – private sector and housing associations – have been left to shoulder the burden but have never got close to bridging the gap.

Despite its faults, council homebuilding is a proven model, it is tried and tested, and it works. Grant is put in at the start to make it viable to build and to meet infrastructure costs, but no subsidy is needed thereafter – subsidising investment rather than consumption is the best use of resources. Because rents are much lower than market-related homes, large savings in housing benefit are made over the lifetime of the homes. And huge savings will be made in other services like health and education because so many more people will live in high quality, affordable and suitable homes. It’s a great investment in bricks and mortar that will eventually pay for itself – and contribute hugely to mitigating climate change.  

After a decade in which the government virtually ended support for new homes at council rents, there has been a spirited fight back in defence of council homebuilding. Councils are doing as much as they can to get building again, but they need a better partner in government. Councils must have the confidence to plan, better powers and resources to buy land and regenerate sites, more support from government to manage the risks inherent in a growing programme, and support generally to build the capacity needed to run a large programme. The responsibility is on government to provide sufficient grant and to reform land and planning to make the job doable.

If this government doesn’t act, Labour needs to think through now what is needed to hit the ground running when re-elected into government. There will be no time to lose.

The report makes a big start on this task. Written by a range of political figures who have recent experience of building council homes around the country and a range of experts who have worked in the field for many years, it considers the gamut of financial, governance and organisational issues that have to be tackled, with lots of local examples of successes and challenges.

Lucy Powell’s speech to Conference this afternoon and the excellent composite resolution moved by Labour Housing Group Chair John Cotton, followed by the launch of the report, are a good start. As John said, the aim of all this work is to make a reality of Labour’s commitment to build 150,000 social rent homes a year including 100,000 council homes by the end of a Parliament. Detailed work and a comprehensive plan are needed to make this ambition a reality. We hope the report will help us in these tasks. 

The report is available here: https://labourhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Missing_Solution_Online_20-09-21.pdf

And the Executive Summary is available here

https://labourhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Missing_Solution_Executive_Summary.pdf

THE MISSING SOLUTION: COUNCIL HOMEBUILDING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Is edited by Rachel Blake, Nick Bragger, Steve Hilditch and Sheila Spencer, with additional editing and design by Simon Hilditch, and contributions from Rachel Blake, Steve Cox, Aileen Evans, Paul Hackett, Steve Hilditch, Jenny Hill, Alison Inman, Satvir Kaur, Janice Morphet, James Murray, Julia Park, Steve Partridge, Jerry Swain, Sharon Thompson, Mike Todd-Jones, Ed Turner and Martin Wheatley.

<strong>Steve Hilditch</strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick blog.
Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

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Gove-rnment: Be Afraid, Very Afraid

Goodbye “Chubby Robbie” Jenrick, hello Michael Gove, destroyer of planets and local education authorities.


Housing has rarely been fashionable in SW1 and has rarely rated a Cabinet Minister. Few national journalists ever master the subject beyond “how’s the price of my house doing?”


So why would Gove, the great iconoclast, want this job now?


Clearly,  because a General Election is in the offing and Boris wants his government to be on the front foot. Almost certainly,  it’s the Planning Bill that is in his focus.

Naturally,  two key groups matter – those who vote for the Tories and those who pay for them, such as the Telegraph’s readers and property developers.


So, plenty of reassurance for everyone living in a pretty (i.e. expensive) town or village that they won’t have the wrong kind of neighbours forced on them. Instant mini-conservation areas all over the Home Counties might do the job.

But what about the aspirational voters in the “red wall” constituencies, what might be the bait for them?


It might take all Michael Gove’s ability to spin a tale to convince not just the newspaper columnists but the public, too.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Paul Martin</span></strong>
Paul Martin

Paul Martin sits on the Labour Housing Group Executive Committee and is its Policy Officer.

He writes in a personal capacity.


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Wealth Inequality Starts at Home

Housing wealth inequality is a key driver in the reduction of social mobility.

Every child deserves a chance of economic success, no matter what their background. In England inheritance has become an ever-growing share of national income since the 1970s. It is these inheritances that are to blame for increasing wealth inequality between those with richer and poorer parents. We know there are substantial inequalities in the distribution of housing wealth in Britain. Often related to social class an income.

Sadly, stringent restrictions on new housing supply effectively limit the number of workers who can access the opportunities to create this wealth.

This article explores to what extent attempts to reduce housing wealth inequality can tackle these issues and help win Labour soft Tory votes?

Neighbourhood factors and wealth distribution make or break upward mobility

We know from studies in the United States that if a child moves to a wealthier neighbourhood, it increases the likelihood that the child would go to college. It also increases earnings on average by over 30% by the time they reached their mid-20s.  We do not know exactly what the causal factor is in these studies, whether it be going to better schools or engaging with families with higher socio-economic status. But what is clear is that keeping people in places where earnings and job opportunities are not as good hampers social mobility and exacerbates wealth inequality.

Living in England means parental wealth is distributed extremely unequally. One fifth of people born in the 1980s have parents with wealth ‘per-heir’ of less than £10,000. Yet a quarter of people have per-heir parental wealth of £300,000 or more, while one in ten have £530,000 or more. Education and region are strong predictors of parental wealth. Children of Londoners have parents with over twice as much wealth, on average, as those with parents living in the North East such as my own.

Land use regulation is linked to house price increases, restricts the movement of labour, and is a causal factor of rising wealth inequality

It goes without saying policies that successfully redistribute these inheritances would have large effects on inequality and social mobility for later-born generations. The OECD recognises that land use determines health, environmental, social and economic outcomes. Arguing that rising inequality in recent decades is explained by “rising land and property prices”.

Even small changes in valuations of land and property can have major consequences on the distribution of wealth.  Meanwhile we know increases in land and property prices tend to benefit older and wealthier households. This often comes at the expense of younger and poorer households.

For most of the 20th century workers moved to areas where new industry and opportunities were emerging, with farmers and the like moving from rural settings to cities. In the Great Migration of the United States some six million African-American workers left the South for factory jobs in cities like Chicago.

Yet when housing supply is highly restrictively regulated in certain areas, house prices are higher and population growth is smaller relative to the level of demand. Professor Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and Professor Joseph Gyourko of Wharton Business school make this argument. It is this tight regulation of land markets, often in a country’s most productive places, that leads labour to locate in places where wages and prices are lower.

NIMBYism and stringent restrictions on building new housing holds back the economy, harms workers, and hampers social mobility

In turn reducing a country’s overall economic output in the process. In arguably the single most influential article ever published on housing regulation, Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti’s “Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation”  determines such these restrictions that have held by the US economy by over 36% of Gross Domestic Product between 1964 and 2009.

The rise of the property-rights revolution that is “Not In My Back Yard” has reduced the construction of new homes tremendously. In particular where the economy has been strongest and most productive. This is not just an American phenomenon. In England we know the impact of supply constraints have a substantive impact on house prices. A fact we cannot choose to ignore.

The Social Mobility Commission released it’s “State of the nation 2021: Social mobility and the pandemic report” earlier this year in July 2021. It acknowledges that recent trends have shown wealthier families increasing levels of second home ownership and an apparent increase in intergenerational wealth transmission.

Its own findings highlight “as inheritance of these houses comes into play, we will see stark rises in inequalities”. The increasing sizes of inheritances received by those from wealthier backgrounds sets to limit the prospects of upward mobility for those from poorer backgrounds.

Labour needs to ask itself: does it care more about the preservation of housing wealth or the affordability of housing

As Michael Gove starts his new role as the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities we must look back to his views on the matter. For example, he acknowledges in his 2013 Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture that “access to home ownership has become the preserve of those with family wealth”.  In England, with reference to superstar cities like London, we know that two-thirds of house price versus rent increases between 1997 and 2018 can be explained by labour demand shocks and supply constraints.

A strong labour market is one a full employment and where employers must compete for workers. This makes an area more desirable to potential migrants and increases one’s willingness to pay for housing in an area. If the Labour Party is to be the party for labour, it must understand its role alongside supply constraints.

This means finding ways to allow labour to go to move to where the jobs are. We currently limit the number of workers who have access to such high productivity. But this is why we must build houses there to allow more workers to create wealth of their own.

Labour voters should care more about housing affordability than protecting housing wealth

Interestingly, Labour Party voters feature as an instrument in research methods to identify planning restrictiveness. On average, voters of the Labour Party have below-average incomes and housing wealth. Thus, it is expected that we should care less about the protection of housing wealth. Instead more about the affordability of housing.

Campaigners are fighting for planning reform to make housing more affordable

Sadly, in England we have seen the housing wealth preservers successfully lobby Government into submission. This has come much to the horror of campaigners for affordable house prices. Director of Priced Out, Anya Martin, said:

“We are horrified that Government is u-turning on planning reforms.”

“Renters have faced decades of rising costs because of our failure to build enough homes, and our planning system is at the heart of this failure.”

Priced Out finds itself alongside the National Federation of Builders. Who also have cried out they won’t forgive Conservative backbenchers for derailing the planning proposals. To note, smaller builders used to deliver 40% of homes during the 1980s, but now that figure is just 12%. This is in large part blamed on the current systems barriers to entry.

While some on the left deem the reforms a “ferocious attack on democracy”, they find themselves standing shoulder to shoulder with the wealth preservation lobby of some of the most affluent areas of the country.

Maidenhead, where the house price to earnings ratio is 12.7x, see its MP Theresa May having led the Tory revolt against planning reforms. Theresa Villiers MP for Chipping Barnet, where the household income needed to buy is £140,000, railed against the alleged reduction of democratic involvement in the planning system.

Both of whom see the ability to veto new homes in their local areas as the holy grail. Sadly, ignoring the fact local plans are politically led community consulted processes in themselves.

Labour needs to think about how they can win Tory safe seats like the Isle of Wight

Other Tory backbench MPs, such as Isle of Wight’s Bob Seely, have vociferously made the case against the “planning revolutionaries”. He represents an area with one of the worst levels of child poverty in the South East. Boasting below average incomes and weak productivity.

Average disposable household income on the Isle of Wight languishes below the UK average at £18,366 (-13% lower). The constituency has 2,149 households on its social housing waiting list. You would think with such demographics it would present itself as a target Labour seat for Keir Starmer.

Yet the Isle of Wight boasts a Tory majority of over 21,000 votes. Labour, being the party of tackling wealth inequality, needs to think about how people like Bob are effectively challenged. Last time Labour ever came close to winning Bob’s seat was in 1945. The year the Attlee government put housebuilding at the heart of its agenda.

These questions come at a time where Labour recognises the need to win Tory voters. Director of Progressive Britain, Nathan Yeowell, says “Labour must be ruthless in going after soft Tory voters if it wants a swift return to national government”. Perhaps revised planning reform is Labour’s chance to show just how ruthless it can be. After all the Tories lost their majority of the council in the Isle of Wight in May this year.

Backbench Tory MPs block homes to preserve wealth off the backs of working people

The case of Bob Seely epitomizes how wealth preservers hamper housebuilding and damage equality of opportunity for his constituents. The wealth preservation lobby on the Isle of Wight are challenging the housing targets set for it by Government, with Bob Seely at the helm.

There are concerns about how the island will handle the additional 400 new homes per year. Most of which arising from the latest housing need calculation. This comes on top of the 640 calculated using the meagre standard method. Shockingly, the Isle of Wight has a price-to-earnings ratio of over 8x the average income. But this bears no relevance to the Tory preservation lobby, no doubt as they directly benefit.

Construction provides jobs, wages, and keeps income in the community. It improves the local economy as workers employed on each project have wages to pass onto other local businesses. The Isle of Wight is crying out for such opportunities. But those hell bent on preserving wealth continue to deny them the opportunity.

But the issue goes much further than the island itself. For example, the ONS states that those living in neighbouring Central Hampshire have an average annual disposal income of  £26,302 (+24.6% higher than the UK average).

For those looking across the water for opportunities from the Isle of Wight the outlook is bleak. New Forest District Council, next to the Isle of Wight, is only delivering half as many homes as it needs. In effect pricing out poor islanders who may wish to move to this more productive part of the country.

Backing meaningful planning reform means creating more opportunities for workers. Only then will wealth become redistributed more evenly.

Changes to land use regulations can form part of the biggest redistribution of wealth under a Labour government

Historically, local economic booms matched with local building booms. Prior to 1946 building was lightly regulated and housing was allowed to be built in areas of high demand. For example, there were 80,000 new build homes created in London in a single year of 1930 alone. Over 2.5x the net number of new homes delivered in 2017/18. A year that marked a decade long high, mostly by the private sector subsidised by government.

Source: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/housing_in_london_2019.pdf

We know extensive restrictions on land use and building leads to higher house prices, rather than more homes and workers. If Labour is to be once again the party of the worker, it must deliver more homes. People used to move from poor places to richer places. However, due to restrictive land use regulations this pattern is on the decline.

We must allow the population to seek work in wealthier places. These are places where demand is strong and productivity is high. In doing so we will avoid unequal mobility and poverty traps created by a lack of new housing.

We must counter the NIMBY property-rights revolution to improve prosperity for all – and say ‘Yes In My Back Yard’

For constituencies like Bob’s to prosper, we must tackle the misallocation of labour. This means allowing workers to cross the Solent to the New Forest West and building more homes. While wealth inequality starts at home, it ends with allowing others to access creating that wealth of their own.

Thus, Labour needs to present the country with a vision for prosperity. It must do this by challenging the NIMBY property-rights revolution. One steeped in a world of draconian regulation, high prices, and ever more entrenching wealth inequality. In allowing more families to build wealth through the property owning democracy, it can create one that will become less unequal.

Labour must focus on improving opportunities for the workforce through land regulation. By redistributing wealth more fairly through building more homes in high demand areas it can achieve this. After all we know that data on wages shows big cities do bring prosperity to their wider areas.

The problem is they just aren’t generating enough of it.

By moving to “Yes In My Back Yard” (YIMBY) Labour can tackle wealth inequality and become once again the party of aspiration. Equipped with this vision it will can attract soft Tory voters, while at the same time putting labour back at the core of its policy-making.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Christopher Worrall</span></strong>
Christopher Worrall

Chris is the Editor of Red Brick blog and sits on the Labour Housing Group Executive Committee.

He currently is Chair of Poplar and Limehouse CLP, co-hosts the Priced Out podcast and is the Local Government and Housing Member Policy group lead for the Fabian Society.

He writes in a personal capacity.

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Surviving

For someone involved in housing for 50 years, it is impossible not to feel embarrassed and ashamed by the appalling conditions lived in by some social tenants as exposed by Daniel Hewitt’s ITV documentary, Surviving Squalor.

The ‘regulator’ (sic) should be throwing the book and the ‘Ombudsman’ (equally sic) should be down on them like a ton of bricks. Sadly, they are both ineffectual. I would like tenants to be able to sue for damages more easily and for landlords to be prosecuted. But where are the highly paid Executives, and where are the Boards and where are the councillors who run these organisations?

We are rightly angry at some of the cases shown and it is excellent journalism especially when the tenants themselves are allowed to speak. Once again, we see people who are articulate but totally exasperated, just wanting a decent service in return for their rent and service charges.

But equally fine journalism and campaigning has also exposed many a bad private landlord over the years. The cases of many badly treated lessees and shared owners have also had wide coverage recently. And I recall that some of the worst housing conditions and poverty I ever encountered were amongst elderly homeowners. So, the issues are broader, not confined to a single tenure, and must be properly examined.

Across all tenures, our standards and expectations are just too low – and falling behind all the time, especially when health implications and climate change are considered – the remedies are just not good enough, and accountability is totally inadequate.

At the core, we just don’t invest enough of our national wealth in homes, and we don’t invest because we do not value highly enough the human dignity that comes with living in a decent, appropriate, warm, dry, affordable home.

There was plenty to be annoyed about in the programme. The practised apologies seemingly written by PR people. The disgrace that urgent action is taken when a bad case gets on the telly – ITV might quickly find itself inundated as the country’s leading housing advice agency. The lack of intervention by people who should intervene. The quick return to normality that inevitably follows.

But one thing above all made me feel sick. Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, said it was nothing to do with the government, it was all down to bad practice and mismanagement. However guilty we feel, rightly, housing people should condemn this oleaginous brass-necked man.

His Party abolished the regulator, abolished the Audit Commission, abolished the National Tenant Voice, cut housing by 60% as its first act in 2010, ended new funding for social rented homes, introduced chaos into rent setting so no-one could plan, and pushed landlords into taking money out of housing management, maintenance, and capitalised repairs to ‘cross-subsidise’ new build as the only way of getting new homes built.

This is not an excuse for landlords, and it is not all about money – some of the worst disrepair cases in the programme seemed to be in blocks that had expensive new cladding – but for Jenrick not to admit that government drives this increasingly rickety machine is buck-passing of the worst kind.

I do think social landlords have lost sight of the bread and butter, their first duty, that homes must be properly managed and properly maintained. I know only too well that it is possible for things to go wrong even when you think you are doing it right. But now there is too much emphasis on shiny new schemes, sparkling financial products, innovative new structures, and fancy regeneration.

Development is seen to be exciting and strategic, management boring and messily detailed. Housing Association Boards do not have enough people on them with experience of running social housing in which people with relatively small incomes live. They are stuffed with people interested in development and finance, important skills but not enough. I suspect many of them never meet a tenant. I know quite a lot of dedicated councillors and I have almost no explanation as to why local councillors in the boroughs depicted were not up in arms.

Of course, some people jumped at the opportunity to denounce social housing. This is where the greatest peril lies. All too often, social housing has been made to fail by government, even if too many social landlords have also been complicit. Yet the sector has rallied due to the efforts of tenants and campaigners, and it has survived an attempt to end it altogether.

It is still the case that millions of people would be delighted to get a social rented home. Most social tenants are satisfied with their homes, the vast majority are in reasonable condition but lacking investment since the end of the decent homes programme.  

Social rented housing is still the main hope in the search for a solution to the housing crisis. But the sector must stop shooting itself in the foot, speak out for tenants, be more competent, be more caring, and be more focused on the core task of running what we already have well.

<strong>Steve Hilditch</strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick blog.
Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

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Squalor and The Return of Real Capitalism

ITV’s releases ‘Surviving Squalor: Britain’s Housing Shame’ on Sunday at 10:15pm. Unquestionably highlighting some of the most horrific housing conditions endures by people and families living in social housing in the UK. 

Red Brick has long forewarned about the return of squalor. The national scandal that has been the neglect of housing. But as housing associations and local authorities are the only owner operator game in town, is it time for a rethink?

For many, these conditions are everyday norms. The perpetrators are not rogue private landlords, but housing associations and local authorities. And calls for regulatory intervention are falling on deaf ears.

Some of the worst offenders are receiving the most funding

The need for social housing has never been starker. So stark even the Tory Government has made an allocation to fund 30,000 new social homes. Notably following a recent funding announcement under the Affordable Homes Programme. In London, Sadiq Khan has seen £3.46bn distributed. The bulk of the funding is conditional on an emphasis towards social rent.

This funding comes with new conditions attached. These include all new buildings requiring sprinklers and that no combustible materials exist in the facades. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the biggest beneficiary for funding affordable housing in the capital was not a local authority. Instead Europe’s largest housing association, Clarion Housing will receive £240m to deliver 2,000 homes, of which 1,250 are for social rent.

Previous concerns over controversial mega mergers are coming home to roost

Clarion Housing was a merger between Affinity Sutton and Circle Housing Group in 2016. This occurred under the then Minister of State for Housing and Planning Gavin Barwell. Two of the housing associations in the Circle group had chronic problems with its repairs and maintenance services.

Circle had found itself downgraded as a result of ‘serious issues of disrepair’. Nevertheless, the mega merger went ahead. This was despite John Biggs, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, condemning the lack of local accountability in the transfer to Clarion of Old Ford (Circle). The original stock transfer from the local authority crucially had this as a term in the original transfer agreement, which was completely disregarded.

Highlighting local concerns about the merger, and lack of local accountability, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali questioned the Government. In response, Barwell argued that the housing associations involved believed the merger “will create a more efficient organization”.

Board’s lack tenant and resident representation

Two years after the merger, the now Lord Barwell found himself welcomed onto the board of Clarion Housing. In addition to David Orr, who had served 13 years as CEO of the housing association trade body the National Housing Federation, in addition to Graham Farrant – who has previously worked  for Dame Shirley Porter when the council moved homeless people into asbestos-ridden tower blocks. At present no tenant or resident sits on the board of Clarion Housing.

Red Brick has long argued for the Mayor to undertake a full audit of board membership of housing associations. While not against those with private sector experience, we need to balance this with expertise in social housing, alongside experiences of tenants and residents.

Clarion Housing continues to dodge regulator judgement despite serious controversies

Clarion Housing have been constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons. Not least down to the tireless campaigning of those affected, particularly across London. ITV Political Correspondent, Daniel Hewitt, has been legendary in his journalism. In particular through coverage of the appalling conditions on a housing estate of 500 homes in South London.

It appears too many residents in 2021 are living in squalor. In this situation finding themselves infested with vermin and plagued with damp issues. The scale of the most recent case prompted consideration whether Clarion Housing breached standards by the Regulator for Social Housing (RSH). The RSH had cleared Clarion just three months prior following an investigation into a major repairs scandal 5 years before. That time concerning buildings in Tower Hamlets.

On the 12th August 2021 the RSH curiously once again found no issues, citing there is no “evidence of systemic or organizational failure which indicates a breach of the consumer standards” . Weeks later Sadiq handed them almost a quarter of a billion pounds to go onto acquire and manage more properties. All the while living conditions remain dire for those affected.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg, red tape and bureaucracy in the Housing Ombudsman is holding back a tide of cases

Last November, Clarion featured in another investigation, this time by the BBC, investigating how they manage complaints handling and service charges. To date, further action has been actively delayed by the Housing Ombudsman, giving excuses such as not being able to take it on given the different tenures of those effected within a group complaint. The Housing Ombudsman is the ultimate gatekeeper to the RSH.

Still to this date, both shared owners and social tenants continue to pursue their case with the Housing Ombudsman. Almost three years after originally raising concerns with the landlord. Yet these recent regulatory judgements do not fill them with much hope.

But what does this achieve? Cases with the Housing Ombudsman can take up to in excess of a year to process. Even after having to slog through a complaints process that can be manipulated to take over a year in itself. Experiences all too familiar for those whose landlord is Clarion Housing. Along with other dysfunctional housing associations and local authorities.

For those living in the rat infested damp ridden flats that don’t even break social housing regulations, they are left to despair. For those currently living in temporary accommodation, or those who have been made homeless for weeks on end, after repeated leaks and floods of sewage water, lack of action from the Housing Ombudsman or RSH evaporates any sense of hope.

Clarion Housing Resident, Tower Hamlets 2021
Sector needs to do more to prioritise existing housing conditions

But what is the sector doing to tackle the problem of poor housing conditions? The short answer is not enough. Co-Founder of the Social Housing Under Threat campaign (SHOUT), Tom Murtha, aptly pointed out something did not quite sit right as to why housing conditions were not even on the agenda at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s ‘Housing 2021’ annual conference. This was an event that Housing Minister Christopher Pincher could not be bothered to attend in person. Coupled with Daniel Hewitt’s lack of invitation to speak, as pointed out by Tom Murtha below:

What was on the agenda was housing’s role in health and wellbeing. In addition to this was a panel featuring the RSH’s new Director of Consumer Regulation. Since January 2021 Kate Dodsworth has taken up the mantel. She has also talked about “the road to consumer regulation”, Although called for housing associations to fix their issues now and to “not wait for the regulator to come round in a couple years”.

Perhaps after ITV’s ‘Surviving Squalor’ is released they should come knocking somewhat sooner.

Lacking transparency, Housing Ombudsman statistics are massaged to cover the backs of its largest members

Kate is the former CEO of Gateway Housing, who topped the tables in the Housing Ombudsman own “complaints failures index”. This is despite only having found to be 9 times at fault between 2017/18 and 2019/20. Clarion Housing in comparison were at fault a staggering 129 times.

Determinations by Housing Ombudsman 2017/18 to 2019/20

Oddly, the index weights the number of determinations by how many homes each social landlord manages. In a way, this makes larger landlords appear lower down the rankings, despite having higher total numbers. Larger organisations claim they are more efficient – as aforementioned by Lord Barwell. But if true, bigger organisations should be indexed more heavily based on size. As opposed to the other way round.

In the latest landlord performance data published by the Housing Ombudsman, complaints received on Clarion Housing about complaint handling has seen a 250% increase in 2019/20 compared to 2017/18. Over the past three years Clarion Housing has received 1,899 complaints, of which 42.5% are related to property conditions.

What is not transparent from these figures is the number of tenant’s and leaseholders impacted by the complaints. By way of example, over 500 homes were affected in the ITV investigation, but these are not logged as individual complaints. Nor are they split out by tenure.

Social media is making prevalence of cases harder to ignore

In Channel 4’s ‘Grenfell: The Untold Story’ the poor treatment of residents by both landlord and local politician was all too revealing. It revealed how the then MP Victoria Borwick urged a mother concerned about being without water for days to “take baths with people next door”. This exemplifies the growing sense of the “us and them” society that we know is so deeply corrosive to our cohesion as a nation.

This remarkable footage emerged from a meeting concerning repairs and maintenance. It provides such crucial evidence of the plight put forward by many residents, many of whom are no longer around.

Snippets from this weekend’s ‘Surviving Squalor’ also highlight the ineptitudes of some local authorities too. Chronically ill Mehdi was living with water leaks contaminated with “significant faecal contamination”.

His landlord?

Lewisham Homes – a recent nominee for the Tpas England Awards Shortlist. While TPAS expressed their shame at the conditions some tenants are having to endure, they highlighted that their awards cover a range of categories. Admittedly, not just “managing homes”.

Real capitalism in the interest of humanity can help solve our low-income housing issues

So herein lies Sadiq’s funding conundrum. At present grant can only be provided to local authorities or housing associations. Some of which face reputational damage resulting from serious causes of concern and ESG related controversies.

Under the Labour-led Wheatley Act 1924 we as a country subsidised private builders to create homes for those on low-incomes. If we are to provide grant to the private sector conditional on owner operation at social rent levels, we would enable funding packages to be less reliant on those guilty of such poor management. Instead, we see the lion’s share of London’s funding for example go to a housing association with the most complaint determinations against its name. Clarion Housing.

At present we are dealing with the inability of the country to meet the heavy burdens now placed upon it. Back in 1924 private enterprise had little to no interest investing money in houses for letting purposes. Yet today we see operators indeed willing to invest. Whether this be through the burgeoning Build-to-Rent sector, or the nascent Single Family Rental sector, the local authority and housing association is no longer the only possible investment partner to bear these costs.

At the time, John Wheatley described his socialist housing funding proposals as “real capitalism – an attempt to patch up, in the interests of humanity, a capitalist ordered society”. Yes you read that correctly. The first socialist Labour government knew it had to patch up these interests through what it described “real capitalism”. For this reason, it is not outside Labour principles to fund housing at social rent levels for direct provision by the private sector. Nor has it ever been.

We need to diversify who owns and operates social housing

At present, only Registered Social Landlords can own and operate affordable housing under the eye of the regulator. Often forward funding from housebuilders and developers who do not have a long-term interest in the construction of the property. We have seen Clarion Housing’s own Group Director of Development highlight the “lack of commerciality in the sector”. It comes as no surprise that we see just as many issues with new build social housing, as we do with buildings coming to the end of their life.

In America federal states fund the construction of affordable rental housing for those on low-incomes through conditional tax credits. They provide this to both for-profit and not-for-profit owner operators through its Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) programme. By being sector agnostic both state and federal government drive competition, and thus commerciality, into funding programmes.

We should explore progressive innovative new funding models of low-income rental housing. For those on the left we cannot shun the private sector. We must work progressively with it to provide more options for those in most housing need. This will allow government to be less reliant on some of the worst offenders to deliver housing for those on low-incomes.

The ultimate goal?

To make fewer people have to survive squalor.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Christopher Worrall</span></strong>
Christopher Worrall

Editor of Red Brick.

He sits on the Labour Housing Group Executive Committee, is Chair of Poplar and Limehouse CLP, and co-hosts the Priced Out podcast.

He writes in a personal capacity.

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How do we reset the housing market?

England’s housing system has failed. We need to press the reset button on housing – let’s start with planning.

Rampant house price inflation. Hundreds of thousands of people trapped in unsafe buildings. Tens of thousands of families made homeless during a global pandemic. Our housing system is broken.

You would think given the state of things, that fundamental reform of housing would be top of the political agenda and an obvious vote winner. Yet this isn’t the case and we’ve seen no substantive policy action in decades, with the supply of new homes per year now well below the housebuilding highs of the  1960s and 1970s. Despite being badly needed, the popularity of the ‘not in my backyard’ mantra has made housing reform politically untenable, with devastating consequences.

This problem is most obvious at the local level. While many voters are often sympathetic to the problems of housing affordability and homelessness, they too often oppose the construction of new homes, including affordable homes. Building more homes would help tackle such problems by directly increasing the supply of affordable homes and expanding the number of housing options available to people more generally.

England’s housing crisis is a product of multiple local housing crises. In many of the areas where opposition to new homes is strongest, affordability problems are often the worst. Of course, the ramifications of this crisis are not felt equally. It is often the younger and less well-off residents who are eventually priced out of their own communities.

Building more and better homes is not a panacea. But we must acknowledge it is part of the solution. As Geoff Meen, one of the UK’s foremost housing experts has pointed out, it’s ‘perfectly possible for there to be both an absolute shortage of homes and a distribution problem’. In essence, we are not building enough homes in England, and we do not have the right policies to create more sustainable credit conditions or ensure fair access to housing for people on all incomes.

Once we acknowledge that building more homes is part of the solution, then the next question we must answer is ‘how do we build more’? Part of the answer lies in the way we deliver homes through England’s planning system. While the government’s proposed reforms aren’t flawless, they do present a vision. Significant questions about what these reforms could mean for the delivery of affordable housing persist and they certainly don’t go far enough in tackling high land values.

The answer to these weaknesses is better reforms, not no reforms. We must imagine a better alternative to our current planning system if we are to tackle the root causes of the housing crisis.

To show their credibility on housing issues, political parties must better sell a vision for a planning system that delivers the homes we need and in doing so, stops people from being priced out of their communities. That requires putting aside the short-term gains of winning immediate votes by objecting to local development and instead explaining why we need to build more homes in this country. Making the case for more homes nationally while opposing them in their backyard reduces the credibility of any national message politicians might have on housing.

The widespread opposition to the government’s planning reforms suggest that they were dead on arrival. That is not a reason to abandon attempts to address the housing crisis. At the moment, our planning system reinforces England’s broken housing market because land that obtains planning permission increases exponentially in value. This makes it increasingly difficult to build homes at affordable prices. Despite this, suitable policy solutions such as the introduction of zoning policy find few advocates and instead, the dysfunctional status quo persists.

We need to build a new consensus on housing. It is time to move beyond the short-term gains and quick wins that come from opposing new homes. Instead, politicians must present a bold and radical vision for how they will address England’s housing crisis. Now is the time for radical and ambitious vision that would improve the supply of high-quality and affordable homes, while also tackling the unfair distribution of homes.  The myriad of problems facing the housing market – from the building safety crisis to rampant unaffordability – will only get worse without action to deliver better quality and more affordable homes.

The longer the housing crisis goes unfixed, the more damage it does. Progressives must not fall into the trap of opposition for opposition’s sake. Instead, they should articulate a clear vision that that explains why the housing market is broken, why we need radical action to fix things and how a fairer society can be created if we get things right. 

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Jonathan Webb</span></strong>
Jonathan Webb

Jonathan Webb is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North. He tweets @jrkwebb.

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Housing has to be at the heart of Labour’s vision

We have a mountain to climb to win the next election, but housing has to be at the heart of Labour’s vision as the best country to grow up and grow old in

Labour is the Party of safe, secure, affordable homes to rent and buy. We have a proud record in national and local government, upgrading social homes to make them decent and warm and building new truly affordable homes for local communities.

I’m delighted to have been appointed Shadow Housing Secretary. It’s a huge brief, with lots to do. I’m keen to work with colleagues in the Labour Housing Group to engage with voters and members on the key challenges and opportunities. 

A decade of Conservative government has made the housing emergency worse. 

The failure of the government to build social housing has pushed many into the private rented sector which has exploded in size, and cost. Taxpayers now pay billions of pounds in housing benefit to landlords, getting very little in return. Private tenants pay expensive rents, have few rights, and are often at the mercy of unscrupulous practices. The pandemic has brought renters’ plight to the forefront.

The government should make good on their promise that no one should lose their home because of the virus. I challenged Ministers to bring forward a plan to tackle the Covid rent arrears crisis recently in Parliament. We’ve argued for emergency legislation to end Section 21 evictions, yet government have kicked the Renters Reform Bill into the long grass. 

We’ve seen homeownership plummet, whilst house prices have surged, pricing first time buyers out of the market, and creating huge inequality in housing wealth. The government’s stamp duty holiday has pushed up prices wiping out the benefit whilst making it more expensive for everyone, including first time buyers, to get on or up the ladder. 

Fixing the Building Safety scandal is another priority. The Government’s approach to building safety has been ineffective, blighted by inertia, and is beset by increasing costs. I’ll work with anyone to get homeowners out of the fix they’re in. It’s wrong that leaseholders and tenants are being forced to shell out money for faults they didn’t cause, all the while living in unsafe, unsellable, homes.

Social landlords have been excluded altogether from the Building Safety Fund, using up valuable funds that they would have invested in new council/social housing after being abandoned by government. As the Building Safety Bill goes through Parliament we’ll work to get leaseholders a cast iron guarantee that they won’t have to pay for fire safety works.

We’ve also called for the government to establish a new Building Works Agency – a crack team of government-appointed experts and engineers in direct charge of resolving this crisis, going block by block, assessing risk, commissioning and funding works, certifying buildings as safe and flats sellable. 

The BWA would work closely with local authorities and fire chiefs, who have been gathering data and are well placed to know how to manage projects in their areas. The Agency would also have the legal powers to pursue those responsible for costs through the courts. 

Our Building Works Agency follows the model in Victoria, Australia. The big lesson from there that our government needs to learn fast, is that the Government needs to be interventionist, or the work will never get done. 

In Victoria, the government carried out a full-scale audit, proactively going to every building over two stories high, rather than waiting for building owners to report themselves. Cladding Safety Victoria was set up, an organisation with powers to fix dangerous buildings. Each building has a dedicated officer, and they appoint a project manager directly.

Cladding Safety Victoria uses a trusted set of fire engineers to assess the works that will be necessary. They organise the insurance, which is otherwise too hard to get on the market. Cladding Safety Victoria releases funds according to milestones and inspections. Vitally, they ensure that a fire engineer sign off the building as safe at the end. In the meantime, homeowners can sell because they have a proof that the works will be done and paid for.

For too long the government has had its head in the sand, we need to see real leadership to challenge vested interests and get the job done. 

There are lots of other issues in the in-tray too – from future proofing our homes to tackle the climate emergency and create good green jobs, to tackling homelessness, to giving social housing tenants a voice and redress in a system which undervalues them. 

My aim is to put Labour at the heart of the debate on the future of housing. We need a housing system that is safe, affordable, that works for people not simply for profit, and brings Keir’s leadership pledge that housing is a human right to life. 

We have a mountain to climb to win the next election, but housing has to be at the heart of Labour’s vision as the best country to grow up and grow old in. I look forward to working with you to achieve this. 

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Lucy Powell</span></strong> <strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">MP</span></strong>
Lucy Powell MP

Lucy Powell is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Manchester Central and Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary.

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Terrors of Temporary Accommodation

‘I can say it is cold, very cold in my room. I have got no access to the kitchen, no fridge, no basic things that I need.’

Many complex social challenges have not received much focus over the last 18 months while we have been grappling with the pandemic. But they have continued to bubble away out of sight and, as we are now (hopefully) moving towards the end of the pandemic, some of them are reaching boiling point.  This is true of hidden homelessness and the stark lack of truly affordable housing which causes people to be stuck in Temporary Accommodation for far too long. 

I work for Justlife Foundation, an organisation that works to ensure stays in Temporary Accommodation (TA) are as short, safe and healthy as possible. TA is a broad term that describes short-term housing used for people who are homeless while waiting for something more permanent that satisfies the main housing duty under the Housing Act 1996. Residents of TA might have a short-term agreement, nightly licenses or non-secure tenancies, offering little or no tenancy rights, and they may or may not receive support from services.

We would call everyone living in TA ‘hidden homeless,’ however, some are arguably even more hidden than others – with tens of thousands single homeless households living in insecure housing, not placed by local authorities under homelessness legislation and not included in the official statistics that tell us how many individuals and families are living in local authority-placed TA. All those who are ‘hidden homeless’ are not visible to the public and wider society in the way those who sleep rough.


Life in Temporary Accommodation

Experiences for hidden homeless households in TA is anything but short, safe and healthy. Research conducted between 2014-2016 with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North uncovered a bleak reality, where individuals with limited access to local authority support ended up staying in TA for anywhere from six months to 38 years.  

‘When I first moved in, I had no running water for over a week. I kept complaining about it. So I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t even use the loo, and literally no one would do anything. They kept saying that someone would do something, and every day I’d come back and it would still not work. It was just so frustrating. And also I think I’d want to know that there’s no cooking facilities at all.’

Our research revealed that approximately half the TA residents do not have a working lock on their door. Most share filthy squalid bathroom facilities that are regularly out of order, many have windows that do not close, and most were not provided with bedding. Illegal money lending and drug dealing are commonplace, and the prognosis for those entering TA is likely to involve deteriorating mental and physical health, increased anxiety, higher drug and alcohol use, increased social isolation, and an increased risk of premature death.  

This picture is true for single homeless households and families alike (see Gold Standard Report, Shared Health Foundation). Children are often placed alongside single adults with complex mental health and substance misuse problems. 

“It’s hell. You can’t sleep, you got your ears, playing the music loud. You report it to [the landlord] and he just gets really nasty with you, and if you challenge him he attacks you against the wall. He’s had me pinned against the wall at least four times, and I’ve just had enough of it.” 

Even before the pandemic, TA residents were disadvantaged, with many facing multiple and complex issues. This has worsened in the last year according to our most recent research into the impact of COVID-19 on those we support. Interviewees spoke of horrible conditions, perfect for the spread of COVID-19, in which they felt forced to ‘self-isolate’. The closure of many support services and the decrease in available move-on accommodation, has left many residents feeling more trapped than ever and experiencing deteriorating physical and mental health. 

‘When he [the landlord] comes around he doesn’t knock on the door he just walks in. So if you’re getting dressed, it’s tough…. he can get in with his key, yes. Because there is no inner lock, so you can’t lock him out, unless you barricade the door. And there’s even females there as well.’ 


Numbers continue to rise 

The use of TA has significantly increased during the pandemic. Under ‘Everyone In’, 15,000 rough sleepers were housed, mainly in hotels. Now that has ended, the shortage of appropriate housing means many are being moved either into TA or back onto the streets. Shelter’s report “Homeless in a Pandemic” showed over 250,000 people were living in TA across England in June 2020, an increase of 83% since 2010. This figure does not include those who were placed inside under ‘Everyone In’ and does not account for those who are yet to lose their home as the evictions ban is lifted.

In addition, national statistics show only those placed by local authorities in TA, and not those homeless individuals who have found some other way into different kinds of Temporary Accommodation. Our 2017 report, ‘Lifting the Lid on Hidden Homelessness: A New Analysis’ estimated the number of households living in Bed & Breakfasts (B&B) across England to be close to 51,500, almost 10 times the official figure of 5,870.

The picture becomes even more murky when we take Exempt Accommodation into account. Exempt accommodation is a type of housing where landlords receive the higher housing benefit rate due to the provision of additional services for residents. It technically sits in the social housing—rather than private housing—sector and has existed for many years. However, changes to Universal Credit, and the rising cost of housing, have created a wave of new Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO). Many previously used as Bed & Breakfasts or private hostels are changing, as landlords move into the more lucrative exempt accommodation sector as landlords seek higher returns.

For people stuck there, Exempt Accommodation can be difficult to distinguish from TA. As Councillor Sharon Thompson’s blog about Exempt Accommodation in Birmingham (10th May) shows, there is a distinct lack of regulation and standards across both TA and Exempt Accommodation, as well as limited enforcement powers for those in local authorities who want to ensure standards are being kept. Standards in both types of accommodation are often very poor.

For people stuck there, Exempt Accommodation can be difficult to distinguish from TA. As Councillor Sharon Thompson’s blog about Exempt Accommodation in Birmingham (10th May) shows, there is a distinct lack of regulation and standards across both TA and Exempt Accommodation, as well as limited enforcement powers for those in local authorities who want to ensure standards are being kept. Standards in both types of accommodation are often very poor.


What can be done 

We agree with the five areas outlined in the petition to end the scandal of Exempt Accommodation that collectively call on the national government to create more regulation within the sector, to increase funding to local authorities to enable greater resource and effective enforcement and, finally, to create safeguards around community and resident impact.  Each of these would have a positive impact on those living in all forms of temporary housing, but we also feel there are further ways to address additional problems with TA both locally and nationally:

Setting up local ‘Temporary Accommodation Action Groups’

  • First recommended in Nowhere Fast 2016, these are local groups that include all stakeholders of the accommodation, including residents and landlords, that come together with a common agenda to develop locally-relevant improvements to experiences in the accommodation. Currently there are four as part of our National TA Network: Brighton, East Sussex, Hackney and Manchester.

Joining, and encouraging MPs to join, the newly formed APPG on Households in TA

  • Justlife and Shared Health Foundation have pushed for the development of the APPG, focusing both on quick immediate aims/objectives as well as longer-term inquiries into the impact Temporary Accommodation has on the health and wellbeing of children, families and individuals, in order to better inform parliamentarians of the issues/challenges facing those in TA across England.

We believe that both these groups, alongside targeted action to meet people’s individual needs, will be vital in bringing about positive change for the hundreds of thousands of people who are hidden away in Temporary as well as Exempt Accommodation.

References

Gossman, S; Procter, A; Paylor, D and Maciver, C. (2020) Hidden Homelessness Exposed: The impact of COVID-19 on single homeless households living in temporary accommodation. Justlife Foundation. https://www.justlife.org.uk/assets/documents/JL_Report-HiddenHomelessness-The-impact-of-COVID-19_v3.pdf

Maciver, C. (2017) Lifting the Lid on Hidden Homelessness: A new analysis. Justlife Foundation. https://www.justlife.org.uk/assets/documents/JL_UTA-Report-2017_HR_Web-Ready.pdf

Rose, A and Davies, B. (2014) Not Home: the lives of hidden homeless households in unsupported temporary accommodation in England. IPPR North. https://www.justlife.org.uk/assets/documents/not-home_dec2014.pdf

Shared Health Foundation (2019). Homeless Families: The Gold Standard: A proposal. https://1b9dd56c-a72a-4a23-82a6-2eeb4eed747d.filesusr.com/ugd/ba5732_f620bf7c1e2d45af809d9c406f253bd3.pdf

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Christa Maciver</span></strong>
Christa Maciver

Christa is Head of Research, Policy and Communications at Just Life UK.