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Working from home or living at work?

On March 23rd, 2020 UK was formally placed into lockdown. Those who were not key workers were asked to not work or to work from home. This meant the decades-old tradition of working professionals putting on suits and commuting into work to go into an office and sit at a desk for several hours a day ended. Abruptly.

At first, some rejoiced at this news. We all learned about the intricacies between Zoom and Microsoft Teams and most of us became pop-quiz experts. The concept of moving from your home to go miles away to do the same thing you could do from your couch seemed insane. Most of us also found that we work better in pyjamas and are never late when our bed is also our office. Long live the “Boffice” we cried!

However, as time went on, difficulties emerged for the working poor. Those who could leave their cramped city flat and run away to a big house in the country did. Oxford University found that during lockdown over 250,000 people left London to go to live elsewhere, many whom were under 30. Those who could upgrade their Wi-Fi did. Those who could create an “office” like environment with comfy chairs, a working desk, and several monitors, did. Those who could not – struggled.

Many young people realised that no garden, no living room, and several people using the same kitchen and bathroom were acceptable before Covid-19, but not during lockdown. Landlords profiteering from turning that pesky living room into a third, fourth or even fifth bedroom in a House of Multiple Occupancy were making homes unliveable in lockdown. After a few weeks – the “Boffice” was not as great as we thought it was. People were not working from home. They were living at work.

The property developer Pocket Living found that 37% of those in London who were living in shared accommodation, were living and working in their bedrooms during the lockdown. Many reported that this was affecting their mental and physical health.

Participants reported issues like “noise, lack of work surfaces, and privacy” that severely affected their ability to work. Of those asked, 46% of participants reported not having a suitable place to work. Now, after the first lockdown and as a result of these changes, the Independent reported that 70% of young people are feeling more anxious about the future as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year might be the first time that young people move out of London and other city centres on masse – or do not actually move there in the first place. At the beginning of the year, it was predicted that the number of young people living in their own private rented sector (PRS) was going to rise by over 1.3 million. Now, I would not be so sure.

But fear not landlords – help is at hand. A landlord’s best bet lies in effectively extending regulation of the minimum shared space required for houses in multiple occupation (HMO). Regulation should enhance the need for shared living spaces. Young renters need to have space in order to live and work in separate and private areas. Ensuring shared living spaces are available would provide the stability and space young people need to be efficient and productive at work.

By creating living spaces that are living and working friendly – landlords will ensure that they can keep their tenants in good mental and emotional health, and ensure their properties are occupied. It is not a huge amount of effort – but it will be well received by tenants thrice over. As young people find themselves in a new working environments and central offices become a thing of the past – landlords should act now to ensure a good relationship with their tenants for the future and the “New Normal”.

Additionally, for those unlucky enough to be on the ever-growing list of industries impacted by Covid-19 and find themselves now on furlough or in a tough job market, landlords should allow late or partial rent payments. The stress of renting as a young person is high enough, and a little flexibility from landlords would go a long way.

The “New Normal” does not have to be all bad for young renters. Instead – tenants and landlords must act together to ensure better working and living conditions. There should always be a difference between working from home and living at work and with a little communication and adjustment, better housing is possible.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Cathleen Clarke</span></strong>
Cathleen Clarke

Cathleen Clarke is a youth campaigner and Labour Party activist. She is currently running for Chair of Young Labour and works for a migrants’ rights charity.

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Rescuing the Affordable Housing Commission Report from the chaos of Covid-19

It is the misfortune of the Affordable Housing Commission to release their report in March 2020, just as Covid -19 took hold. Not only did the report get buried by more pressing news, but the Commission also had to rush out a Covid-19 supplemental report in July 2020.

We need to rescue the report because it offers a great analysis of the housing crisis and realistic policy proposals. This is exactly what you would expect from a Commission headed by Lord Best, one of the sharpest minds in UK housing and supported by the left leaning Smith Institute.

The main argument is the last 20 years has seen the continuing decline of social rent housing, and the doubling in size of the Private Rented Sector (PRS) up to 22% of current housing. There are now 1.5m private landlords. Whilst, the social rent sector has continued to decline. The problem is that people who need the security of social rent sector face the insecurity of the PRS. Those on a low and insecure income, elderly, the ill and those with children should not be living in a sector where you can be required to leave with just a couple of months’ notice. For instance, a quarter all households with children now live in the PRS compared to 8% in 2004.  People are staying longer in the PRS, often into old age. The Commission describes this as a ticking time bomb, as an increasing number of older private renters will find that they can no longer pay the rent when they retire.

The commission found that 23% of private renters are paying more than 40% of their income on rent, which is creating poverty. A Nationwide Foundation survey in 2019 found that a third of private renters had less than £39 per week to live on after they had paid essential bills.

In London the difference between social rent and private rents is the greatest, driving many below medium income into poverty. In the area of Bermondsey, south London where I work 50% of ex –council homes are now rented out, with private renters paying nearly four times more than their council neighbours and having to find a deposit of around £2,000.

The other effect of high rents is that it stops renters from building up the funds to escape into owner occupation. Bob Colenutt estimates a third of people born in the 1980’s and 1990’s will never be able to afford to buy their own home (Colenutt 2020). The average deposit needed by a first time buyer is London was a staggering £146,757 in 2019. Also the Commission highlights that the explosion of Buy to Rent mortgages has helped to force up house prices. Even George Osborne, the most political of Chancellors, recognised the need to slightly dampen down the increase in Buy to Let.

Within social housing, there has been a trend towards higher rent ‘affordable’ homes, rather than genuinely affordable social rents. Higher rents are seen as the way of spreading government money more thinly and building more ‘sub-market’ homes. Government subsidy has dropped by a third since 2010 and housing associations have moved 100,000 properties from social rents to higher affordable rents. The problem, as noted by the Commission, is that for low earners higher rents mean more poverty.

The Commission argues for a re-balancing of the housing market by increasing social rent housing, to provide an alternative for those for whom PRS is unsuitable. The Commission accepts that it will take 25 years to rebalance, and proposes that we start now so that a child born today should be able to live in an affordable home when they are 25 and want to live independently.

To achieve this, 90,000 new social rent and 55,000 shared ownership/ intermediate rent homes are needed each year to address the overall shortage of 3.1m social rent homes identified by Shelter

This will require an increase in government expenditure from 1.9% to 3%, which is £12.8 billion per year. To put this into context the housing benefit bill was £25 billion in 2016 and £1 billion was spent on poor quality temporary accommodation for homeless people in 2019, but neither expenditure resulted in any new homes. The cost of Help to Buy, aimed at helping first time buyers, was £10 billion in 2013 and there is a debate about whether the scheme added to supply or merely forced house prices up.

The Commission does argue for PRS rent caps, the end of Section 21 evictions and a landlord registration scheme to give some protection to those remaining in the private rented sector.

The Commission also calls for local authorities to be given discretion over the selling of their council homes, in the context of the intensity of housing need in their area.  

In a Zoom meeting with LHG members, Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, was clear that this is too early in this Parliament to make spending commitments, especially as the full effects of the Covid-19 recession are not known. However, this report seems to set out a good general direction of travel.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Andy Bates</span></strong>
Andy Bates

Andy is on the Executive Committee of the Labour Housing Group and is a member of Old Southwark and Bermondsey CLP.

His is an advocate of residents collectively managing their own homes. Andy is a JMB Manager at the Leathermarket JMB. Southwark’s largest resident-managed housing organisation covering over 1,500 homes.

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COVID-19: State intervention when housing markets are in recession

COVID 19: the State’s initial interventions in the housing market

The COVID 19 pandemic has seen extraordinary interventions by a Conservative Government in the running of the UK economy. In the private housing market, the Government has moved to ensure that homeowners suffering falls in income are not threatened by repossession.  At the same time, some finance institutions providing mortgage finance (along with other businesses) have been offered loans and guarantees from Government worth £330bn to protect their own income as mortgage payers have taken advantage of the payment holiday.[i] 

Private tenants (as well as tenants in social housing) are also protected from repossession proceedings in the current pandemic – in the short term at least.

The Government’s objectives here are two fold. First, in the face of the health crisis and subsequent economic meltdown, Ministers had to ensure that homelessness did not increase exponentially.

But crucially the Government also needs to protect the housing market from collapse because of the sector’s importance to the UK economy. Housing assets make up 35% of all personal wealth in the UK – some £5.1 trillion. Also there is a total of £1.4 trillion outstanding on mortgage loans in the UK economy while investment in housing accounted for 4.1% of UK GDP in 2018. [ii]

So what will happen in the housing sector as the UK emerges from the economic shock precipitated by the COVID 19 health crisis?  In what ways will Ministers seek to prop up this critical part of the economy longer term? We have some examples from the past that might serve as pointers to what might happen.

1974: Circular 70/74[iii]   

In February 1974 the Labour Party took power at a time following a doubling of house prices and when mortgage interest rates had hit 11%. The house price boom was followed by a significant decline in the market’s fortunes with particular concern that house builders might go bankrupt as they failed to sell newly built housing. As a consequence, the Labour Government introduced provisions under Circular 70/74 (called Local Authority Housing Programmes) which helped bolster the private housing market and also increased the stock of social housing. Specifically the Circular enabled local authorities to buy new unsold housing from private developers.[iv] In 1974/75 £118 million was spent on buying 11,700 new private houses in England and Wales.[v] The Circular also enabled the Housing Corporation[vi] to fund similar purchases by housing associations.

1993: Housing Market Package (HMP)

The housing market in the early 1990s was characterised by high interest rates which resulted in falling house prices and the emergence of negative equity for some mortgage borrowers. Overall there was a lack of demand for new construction and builders were left with housing stock that they could not sell on the open market. In late 1992 the Conservative Government responded to this market failure by allocating £577 million to the Housing Corporation to fund housing associations to purchase new, empty and repossessed properties by 31st March 1993.

In total, in just 93 working days, 81 housing associations acquired 18,430 vacant properties, 2,400 over target. Fifty per cent of the stock was bought from builders/developers. The public funding was supplemented by private finance to the tune of £328 million. [vii]        

2008/09: Mortgage Rescue Scheme (MRS)

Over 10 years before the current health emergency and related economic crisis, the global economy was shaken by a meltdown in the finance markets in 2008. The UK’s Labour Government responded to the ensuing recession by introducing a wide range of fiscal and monetary measures in an attempt to revive economic activity and stimulate growth. On 2 September 2008 the Government announced a £2 billion package for housing which included the following:[viii]

  1. bringing forward spending on housing commitments from future years to encourage the building of more social housing
  2. raising the £125,000 threshold for Stamp Duty on house purchases to £175,000 for 12 months
  3. providing “free” five year loans of up to 30% of a property’s value for first time buyers of new homes in England
  4. shortening from 39 weeks to 13 weeks the period before Income Support for Mortgage Interest was paid

As part of the package the Government also made available £200 million for mortgage rescue schemes, with the objective of assisting up to 6,000 households under the threat of repossession.

Under the MRS, eligible homeowners threatened with repossession could apply to housing associations to provide them with an equity loan to help them reduce their monthly mortgage payments and retain ownership; or, alternatively, to purchase the home outright with the former owner remaining in the house as a tenant.

What next for the housing sector? 

The health emergency has become an economic crisis and housing is likely to suffer as much as any other sector in the UK economy. The mortgage holiday and the ban on repossessions in the owner occupied and rental sectors both finish in the autumn. And this will coincide with the ending of the furlough scheme for employees who are without work in the current pandemic. The scenario is set for a significant readjustment in the housing market as incomes are squeezed, unemployment rises and consumer confidence falls away.  Given this context how will the Government support and indeed boost the housing sector in the face of deepest recession in 300 years?

There are a number of options available to Ministers.

Before the current crisis, Rishi Sunak’s March 2020 budget set out a £12.2bn Affordable Homes Programme over the five years from 2021/22; an additional £1bn for a Building Safety Fund to remove dangerous cladding; and £650m to help rough sleepers into permanent accommodation. The Budget also reversed the interest rate hike imposed on borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board for new council homes.[ix] Of course much of the Government’s housing budget is focussed on its pet home ownership ‘products’ such as First Homes and Help to Buy.

The Government has recently announced measures intended to boost the housing sector in the wake of the pandemic. As part of this initiative Permitted Development Rights (PDR) are being extended to allow for the demolition of residential/commercial properties where they are replaced by new housing.  From September such schemes will not require full planning consent. Significant concerns about these changes in planning regulations have already been voiced as they will erode standards and could see occupiers living in unsafe conditions. [x]

In the Chancellor’s Summer Statement £2bn was set aside for Green Home grants to home owners and landlords to make around 650,000 homes more energy efficient. A £50m fund was also established to pilot a scheme to decarbonise social housing. The most expensive initiative sees the Stamp Duty zero-rated threshold raised from £125,000 to £500,000 until 31st March 2021. Estimates suggest this will cost the Treasury £3.8bn. [xi]

But the schemes announced to date are likely to be just the start of significant Government interventions in the housing sector as the recession deepens later this year. We should expect the Autumn Budget to include significant measures to boost the housing sector as part of a Keynesian-style counter cyclical strategy to kick start the ailing economy. 

Using borrowed funds (in the main) by Government, local authorities and housing associations, look out for at least some of the following:

  1. schemes to buy new but unsold housing from distressed private developers
  2. mortgage rescue schemes for households unable to maintain loan repayments because of unemployment or reduced income
  3. more direct investment in new social housing to not only boost the provision of low cost accommodation to rent but also to create jobs in the construction sector (which is likely to be badly hit as private investment in housing slumps)
  4. schemes to convert offices, shops, pubs and restaurants into social housing as the recession takes it toll on different parts of the commercial property market amid changes in working patterns and leisure activities

A progressive, left leaning Government would use the crisis to boost the stock of social housing (through the purchase of homes from households – including Buy to Let landlords – in distressed financial circumstances). The purchase of unsold new housing from developers would also be subject to conditions such as restrictions on executive pay and bonuses and shareholder dividends. Equity stakes in house builders seeking public funding would be required and workers’ pay and conditions would be enhanced too. Any tax avoidance by State-funded developers would be prohibited. New housing funded through the public purse following the pandemic should, of course, be to the highest standard particularly in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability.

Unfortunately we are unlikely to see the current Government impose such conditions on private sector beneficiaries from increased State spending in the housing sector. But we live in hope. 

Note: an earlier version of this blog was published as a Briefing for Housing Quality Network (HQN)         

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Roger Jarman</span></strong>
Roger Jarman

Roger has over 40 years experience in the housing sector.  He has worked as an academic and in local government as well as for a number of central agencies. He had spells as a senior manager at both the Housing Corporation (1991 – 1999) and the Audit Commission (1999 – 2011).

He currently works as a housing consultant and trainer with a wide range of clients including local authorities and housing associations. He also helps run several small housing organisations as a non executive director. He is a member of the Labour Housing Group.


[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-announces-additional-support-to-protect-businesses

[ii] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/totalwealthingreatbritain/april2016tomarch2018

[iii] Department of the Environment: Circular 70/74, HMSO, 1974

[iv] https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1975/feb/06/housing

[v] Financial Times, 22 April 1975

[vi] Homes England now takes on the role of funding housing associations/registered providers

[vii] Alan Murie, Moving Homes: The Housing Corporation 1964 – 2008, Politico’s, 2008

[viii] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7592852.stm

[ix] https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/budget-2020-the-key-housing-measures-at-a-glance-65389

[x] https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/permitted-development-wrongs-the-problems-with-the-pms-planning-deregulation-drive-67066

[xi] https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/sunak-confirms-2bn-green-homes-grant-67102

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Policymakers have ignored key worker housing for too long

As we start to look forward to the recovery, it is right that the government focuses on sustaining and creating jobs, especially within the key sectors of hospitality and tourism. Here the whole property industry has a critical role to play in supporting this agenda, especially through the increased provision of housing in inner London, which is both accessible and affordable, for not only those key workers who have been providing essential services during the current crisis, but crucially those working in the very sectors the government is actively seeking to support.

Although we are still very much in the response phase of the current COVID-19 crisis, significant attention is already being paid to the recovery phase, and the detailed plans to facilitate the gradual re-start of the UK’s economy. As well as recovery, there is also the longer-term lessons learned from the pandemic to ensure that the country is better equipped in the future to deal with any future public health crisis.

Whilst it is too early to draw firm conclusions and recommendations, both from an economic as well as a societal perspective, one obvious consideration is starting to emerge strongly. Namely, that we need to ensure that as a country we have a much greater resilience across key public sector roles, such as health and social care, and that we fundamentally review the definition of a ‘key worker’ to recognise those workers, often in relatively low-paid jobs, who keep the UK functioning.

Nowhere is this recognition more needed than in how we look to develop national, regional and local housing policies that seek to embed that resilience right at the heart of the communities where these workers are needed the most. Underlying this resilience is the need to house key workers in locations close to their work regardless of broader housing market pricing.

For many years Dolphin Living have championed, in a London context, the need for those workers who ‘keep the city alive’, and the need to increase the supply of key worker affordable housing in locations these workers want to live.

This reflects our primary charitable objective of providing homes in central London at below market rents that allows working Londoners on modest incomes to live close to their place of work. Our residents comprise not only those traditional key workers who have played such a crucial role during this crisis, such as health workers, the emergency services and teachers, but also those who play a key role in delivering and supporting London’s infrastructure over the longer-term.

Dolphin Living fundamentally believes that the need for housing for key workers in central locations has been evidenced by the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to new ways of working.

This crisis has forced us challenge many of the assumptions we have made about how our cities function. In particular we need to reconsider the notion that we can accommodate key workers on the fringes of London and beyond, yet still depend upon them in times of emergency to be available 24/7, often with little or no transport infrastructure to support them. This approach will surely result in a loss of key workers to central London as long commutes are even less desirable in light of the pandemic.

As a response we need to fundamentally review how we provide sustainable critical services alongside additional investment to support housing for keyworkers where they are most needed. The current issues relating to transport capacity considering social distancing disproportionately impact upon many of those we would define as key workers, who often cannot afford any alternative other than public transport and cannot work from home.

However, that is not to suggest that we should be seeking to deliver these new homes without some consideration around the locations and housing key workers actually want to live in. For it would be a mistake to look to re-create the police accommodation blocks of old without any notion of genuine and real choice for the key workers upon whom we all rely.

This notion of locational choice is something we have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing following polling we commissioned YouGov to undertake. Perhaps unsurprisingly we found that commuting time is a top priority for working London renters: 56% ranked the distance or travel time to work in their top three priorities, and over a quarter (27%) ranked this factor first. Similarly, 55% ranked having public transport available within ten minutes’ walk in their top three priorities, and a fifth (20%) ranked the factor first.

When we analysed the findings further we found that a clear majority (65%) of working London renters believe that an acceptable commute time is up to around 45 minutes, and nearly all (92%) think it should be no more than one hour.

Housing delivery in recent years has focused on those in the direst need both economically and socially, subsidised by market housing that in London is unaffordable to median earners. An unintended consequence of this approach, in high value areas particularly, means that little thought has been given to the needs and wants of the key workers upon whom we rely, as highlighted by this pandemic.

Therefore, we are asking that the government’s recovery strategy commits to a massive expansion of affordable house building, including a significant proportion of intermediate rental housing, within London as part of the overall pledge to support the capital’s economy.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Olivia Harris</span></strong>
Olivia Harris

Olivia was appointed as Chief Executive in April 2017. Previously, Olivia was Finance Director at Dolphin Living, providing financial and commercial oversight on a wide range of property and related projects, including debt and fund raising.

Olivia is a Chartered Accountant and has worked for more than 15 years in the property industry and is Chair of the Westminster Property Association.

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Post-Covid crisis how should the Private Rented Sector change?

The Covid crisis exposes weaknesses at the heart of our housing system. The emergency ‘all in’ policy for rough sleepers, temporary eviction ban, lifting of Local Housing Allowance rates are all life-saving measures.  But we should all be ashamed that our housing system is so broken that such interventions were needed.  

Access to a safe, secure and affordable home is no longer available to hundreds of thousands of children and their families.  Our whole housing system has to change and alongside national investment in genuinely affordable homes, major reforms to the private rented sector must be a core part of that change. 

Labour Housing Group Patron Karen Buck MP, has done outstanding work on improving rights for renters, including bringing forward the Homes for Human Habitation Act in 2019.  Labour needs to campaign for a private rented sector where renters pay a fair rent, are treated decently by their landlord, get their repairs done on time and can put down roots in a community. 

There is hope that this is a moment to reflect on the powerful impact that our housing situation has on our health and inequalities in our housing system but this Tory Government is not bringing forward the legislation needed. For a decent and fair recovery, where no-one is left behind, we need urgent measures to keep renters safe and a programme of long-term reforms.

Renters need secure homes – this is better for them and for economic recovery.  It is a huge relief for renters that the eviction ban has been extended to the end of August but there is so much more to do.  Following years of collective action, the Government has scheduled the Renters Reform Bill, but we must continue to press them and our representatives in Parliament to make sure that it is debated and enacted as soon as possible.  The sooner that Section 21 ends, the sooner that tenants can feel secure in putting down roots in their community.

Private renters have very few rights to information about their landlord or new home.  It is not right that renters cannot check whether landlords have met certain standards.  Mayor Sadiq Khan’s blue print for renters in London sets out how we can improve access to information for renters and we should campaign for devolution to local and regional authorities to establish accountability locally for landlords.  For Labour activists, preparing for local elections in May 2021 will be a key moment to speak to private renters, listen to their experiences and work on local policies to support private renters.

As a local Councillor, I know just how hard it is to use the legislation available so that repairs are done on time, homes are properly maintained and renters are treated decently.  The powers to take action on these issues rest mostly with local authorities who have endured a decade now of funding cuts.  For a fully functioning private rented sector, which works for renters, landlords and the economy, we need a transparent and standardised funding settlement for local authority enforcement services.

The connection between housing and health was cemented in public policy nearly 150 years ago in 1885 in the Royal Commission on the Housing of Working Classes.  This relationship was maintained when Nye Bevan became the Minister for Health and Housing in 1945.  The Covid crisis reminds us just how linked our health is to our housing. We cannot afford to wait another 75 years before this connection is renewed in policy. 

Many renters report not just a detrimental impact of insecure housing on their physical health but also a strain on their mental health.  Not only are some of our most vulnerable households living in insecure homes but many of the key-workers who care for us, feed us and nurse us are spending their already low wages on private rented homes with very few rights.  We urgently need transformation of the private rented sector, for a recovery that leaves no-one behind.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Rachel Blake</span></strong>
Rachel Blake

Rachel is the Deputy Mayor for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She was elected to represent the Labour Party for Bow East Ward in May 2014 and appointed to Cabinet in July 2015.

Rachel has held Cabinet Member roles for Regeneration, Planning, and Air Quality. Rachel is now the Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Well-being.

She has previously been called in as an expert witness to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on its inquiry into the long-term delivery of social and affordable rented housing.

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Keeping Everyone In

Chesterfield; many of you will know Chesterfield as home to the Crooked Spire and gateway to the Peak District National Park. Some will know it has a proud history of engineering based on the North Derbyshire Coalfield. Eric Varley and Tony Benn represented the town in Parliament in the latter part of the 20th century. Toby Perkins has been the MP for Chesterfield since 2010. In December 2019 the constituency became a little dot of red in a sea of blue just south of Sheffield.

When I became the first woman Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council in 2017 the issue crying out for my attention was the rise in rough sleeping. Whilst the number of rough sleepers was insignificant when compared with London and nearby cities their needs were as complex and the associated anti-social behaviour created a continuous stream of complaints from residents, town centre businesses and visitors.  Photos of sleeping bags and other paraphernalia next to the town’s coach station adorned the local press on a weekly basis.

The cause of this was a range of factors coming together. Some of the most common were drug or alcohol dependency, mental health issues or benefit changes, particularly the recent introduction of Universal Credit. We also knew that Chesterfield was attracting rough sleepers who saw it as a safer option than being in some of the surrounding cities. The generosity of local people, giving food, clothing and other items, combined with the lower risk of violence towards them, meant that some rough sleepers specifically came to Chesterfield.

In the same way that there was no one cause, equally there was no one easy solution. One thing clear to me was that, as the new Council Leader, I needed to act. One homeless rough sleeper was one too many.  A collaborative approach was needed.  So, I approached Hardyal Dhindsa, Derbyshire’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, who I knew was tackling a similar problem in Derby. Together with Toby Perkins we set up the Chesterfield Town Centre Summit.  This summit, chaired by Hardyal, brought together all the public bodies (e.g. police, Chesterfield Borough and Derbyshire County councils, NHS, Probation…), the voluntary and faith sectors and the business community to tackle all the issues.

The group’s work is focused on three linked areas: Enforcement, Treatment and Support & Campaigning, for instance against government welfare reforms and for strengthening legislation against “legal highs” among other issues which had undoubtedly impacted on the situation on the streets.  By working together, the various agencies avoided duplication and identified any areas where support was not currently provided so that both could be addressed.

Our greatest success was the establishment of a Winter Night Shelter co-ordinated by Derby City Mission. Whilst tragic cases of homeless people dying on the streets were being reported daily, every night through the coldest months we were able to offer hot meals, sleeping bags, health checks and conversation. The shelter was hosted by a different church on a fixed rota, so it was not too onerous a commitment for one church’s congregation and volunteers. 

Chesterfield Borough Council, alongside two neighbouring districts, supported this work through its funding of voluntary agencies. We built a strong working relationship with local homelessness charity, Pathways, and others who support the hard-to-reach homeless.

Within Chesterfield council itself, our Homelessness Prevention Team works to provide accommodation for anyone who needs it and is a key player in the North Derbyshire Homelessness Forum, which brings together a range of agencies who are working to prevent homelessness and support people who are rough sleeping.

Little did we know when we closed the doors on our second successful year of the shelter’s operation at the beginning of March this year that the collaborative multi-agency working model developed out of the Town Centre Summit and the North Derbyshire Homelessness Forum would serve us so well during the COVID 19 Pandemic in responding to the government’s demand to bring “Everyone In”.

Led by Chesterfield Borough Council’s Homeless team manager, Derbyshire’s councils have brought in 80 people so far (as at beginning of June 2020), with the majority having been placed in hotel accommodation.

Some of those placed have already been found longer term accommodation, and a recovery plan has already been written to deliver intensive support to individuals experiencing overlapping and challenging issues such as offending, drug and alcohol misuse and poor mental health.

Those placed have been given three hot meals a day and it is hoped that, for some, this stability will give them a chance to seek a more permanent change, especially as support to everyone will continue.

We are now at a crossroads because the hotel accommodation, although effective, cannot be retained beyond the end of June 2020.

Chesterfield Borough Council has therefore led on the development of Derbyshire councils’ “Keeping Everyone In” recovery plan, which has now been submitted to the Government. The plan will ensure that we have the resources to re-house as many people as we can on a permanent basis, whilst continuing to offer the necessary essential support.

The rapid collective response right at the start of the pandemic and our transition now to recovery was only possible due to initiatives such as the Town Centre Summit and the long-standing Derbyshire Homelessness Forum. 

I would also argue that this type of response is only possible when there is clear, decisive political leadership such as that demonstrated by Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa, Toby Perkins MP and myself.

Labour leading the way and making a difference to people’s lives. 

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Councillor Tricia Gilby</span></strong>
Councillor Tricia Gilby

Tricia Gilby is the first woman Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council and a Labour Councillor for Brimington South.

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The current crisis presents us with an opportunity to end homelessness for good

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the scale of rough sleeping across the UK, particularly in London, and the crisis continues to create more street homelessness. But it also creates an opportunity to end it.

The government’s letter to local authorities on 26th March telling them that they needed to tackle rough sleeping by getting “Everyone In” by the end of the week was, at best, not backed up with adequate resources. At worst, it betrayed a real lack of understanding of how entrenched homelessness is in London and how many people with only precarious housing have been pushed into street homelessness as a result of the current crisis.

Rough sleeping didn’t start with Covid-19. On the government’s own figures, street homelessness in England spiralled from 1768 people in Autumn 2010 to 4677 people in Autumn 2018.  The cap on local housing allowance that meant some areas had quite literally no private rented homes available to those claiming housing benefit didn’t help. Plus, many rough sleepers have been denied the help they need up to now because they were No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) due to their immigration status.

Even in the current lockdown, homeless outreach teams in London are still reporting new arrivals to the street. The reasons are numerous and complex, but it exposes how many people in the capital live in unstable accommodation. The Magpie Project has reported an increase in mothers and children who were previously “sofa-surfing” becoming homeless. Moving between different sets of friends on different nights is not easy under the current lockdown, neither is staying in a dormitory room in a backpackers’ hostel. Those with NRPF status or fleeing domestic abuse are often reluctant to seek help and may choose to remain hidden.

Huge efforts have been made by the GLA and local authorities to get everyone into safe accommodation. The immense talent and energy of the voluntary, community and grassroots sector has been invaluable. In their recent submission to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s Inquiry into the Impact of Covid-19 on homelessness and the private rented sector, the Museum of Homelessness comment that “The explosion of mutual aid groups has shown there is significant public appetite to help the most vulnerable and the Government should take note of this. The crisis has brought the deep inequalities in the UK to broader public attention.” In Islington, a covid-19 homelessness taskforce works out of a council community centre preparing and distributing food to the borough’s homeless residents currently in temporary accommodation.

But little has been said up to now about medium or long term plans to help people into secure accommodation when the current crisis ends. The immediate need is to ensure that everyone currently placed in emergency accommodation has an ongoing offer of support including permanent housing options. The long-term strategy also needs to recognise that there is a continuing flow of people being made street homeless by the current crisis and all recently set up emergency options need to stay open.

On 2nd May we heard about a new government taskforce to work with councils “to ensure rough sleepers can move into long-term, safe accommodation once the immediate crisis is over…” But now it has also emerged that government funding for the “Everyone In” policy is to end. What measures will this new taskforce put in place and will it actually address the two key issues – a lack of stable long term funding for local authorities and a lack of genuinely affordable homes?

A national Housing First programme would make for an effective long-term strategy.  Born in New York in the 1990s and rolled out nationwide in Finland, Housing First offers an unconditional home to vulnerable rough sleepers together with a package of wrap-around support. Amsterdam’s Housing First service reported in 2013 that 97% of the high needs homeless people who were using it were still in their homes after 12 months. Copenhagen’s programme had a 94% success rate. Canada’s At Home/Chez Soi project found that over two years Housing First participants “achieved significantly greater housing stability, quality of life, and community functioning…” than those on more traditional housing and treatment pathways. It’s also something that we’ve piloted in Islington with five of our own council homes. But for Housing First to work, we first need enough genuinely affordable homes.

What’s more, the government’s flagship First Homes policy suggests that homes for sale discounted by up to £100k will be built through s106 planning agreements, a mechanism that is normally used in London to ensure that social housing is built. Any policy that requires planning agreements to include discounted homes for sale will mean fewer new homes for social rent, and, ultimately, lead to more homelessness.

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people.” Could a national Housing First programme combined with a national building programme of genuinely affordable homes become the 2020 incarnation of this dream? The work done so far presents the opportunity to end homelessness for good, we shouldn’t waste it.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Diarmaid Ward</span></strong>
Diarmaid Ward

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour Councillor and Executive Member for Housing and Development at the London Borough of Islington. He has previously written for CityMetric, CapX and Inside Housing.