Between 1997 and 2010, the UK built an additional two million homes, increased owner-occupation by more than a million and delivered the largest investment in social housing in a generation. [I wasn’t satisfied by this achievement, especially believing that there should also have been big investment in new social housing.] Further, headline or ‘statutory’ homelessness fell by almost two-thirds (62%), from over 100,000 households to 40,000, and the number of people sleeping rough fell by roughly three-quarters (75%).
By contrast, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat record on housing is seven years of failure, from falling home-ownership – there are 200,000 fewer home-owning households since 2010 – to homelessness. Since 2010, the trend of falling homelessness has gone into reverse. The number of statutory homeless households has increased by 45% and the number of rough sleepers has doubled, up 30% in the last year alone. Five families are being made homeless in England every hour of the day.
Right now, we need to build more homes in this country, particularly more affordable homes, and we need to build more affordable homes to rent. We also need to have longer secure tenancies, rent certainty and better minimum standards of management and repair.
We also must recognise that housing needs vary in different parts of the country. Different housing markets need different responses and initiatives, particularly in terms of tenure mix.
If the government’s long-promised housing white paper doesn’t address these challenges, then we should expect housing policy to be a key political battleground for the foreseeable future.
However, as a result of
- some all-party investigation then cooperation and determination;
- a Conservative MP willing to use his opportunity to promote a Bill;
- a huge amount of behind-the-scenes hard work, debate and discussion involving Ministers, MPs, civil servants, and a range of professional and voluntary organisations;
- creative use of a Select Committee to do pre-legislative scrutiny;
- a Housing Minister, sensing which way the wind was blowing, being prepared to engage constructively and to back that with money; and
- MPs, having made known their personal views about missed opportunities, being prepared to back the limited proposals;
the Homelessness Reduction Bill passed its third reading last week on the way to the statute book.
It should ensure that more, earlier and better support is given to those threatened by homelessness, and especially to those families with young children for whom the experience can do lifelong harm.