The timely release of homelessness figures is a reminder for both the sector and Central Government why social housing is badly needed. And why Right to Buy, whatever its guise, is wrong.
Amongst all the glitz and glamour of the NHF’s annual conference you might be forgiven for missing one of the key datasets still released by the DCLG. The quarterly Statutory Homelessness update dropped today and the figures, like so many relating to housing in this country, do not make great reading. The number of households in temporary accommodation is up 12% on the same period last year. Some 66,980 individuals or households are currently reliant on this emergency form of housing.
The lack of security associated with assured shorthold tenancies (AST) is also laid bare. Around 30% of all households accepted by local authorities as being owed a homelessness duty had lost their ‘settled’ home due the ending of an AST. When looking at long-term trends of households accepted as homeless by local authorities the below chart, shameless ripped from the DCLG data release, further worrying trends are evident. After a massive reduction between 2006 and 2010 in both households in temporary accommodation and those being accepted as homeless there has been a steady increase. The former creeping closer to mid-financial crash levels.
These figures only relate to ‘official’ homelessness, rough sleeping and ‘hidden’ homelessness are not counted here. However a research piece by Crisis and friends, released in February this year, shows that both these forms of homeless are also increasing sharply.
As earnings further decouple from housing prices, as the consequences (intended or otherwise) of changes to in work benefits begin to pinch, as parts of our economy continue to under-perform the above numbers will rise further. Yet we are on the cusp of either being forced to, or ‘voluntarily‘ give up swathes of housing designed to help those very people. Why? Because ideology, not evidence or pragmatism is holding court for this Government and the housing market.
I noted a little while back that having a voluntary right to buy is a win-win for the Government, and in many instances for housing associations. It is not a win for local authorities who retain social housing stock. What decent assets they have will likely be forced to sell off to fund replacement properties for social landlords. I cannot fathom how on any level, except a business one, Housing Associations can sign up to such a deal. The sector has spouted the mantra social hearts, business heads. Yet, in leaving local authorities up an estuary without the proverbial wooden implement we are certainly not following our social values.
The part that angers me the most is that every single bit of evidence has so far shown that right to buy properties are not replaced at anywhere near the level they are lost at. For local authorities, hands tied behind their backs by funding and finance rules, how are they meant to replace their stock? The simple answer is they’re not. We look like we have survived this attack by Government, but only by throwing council owned social housing under a bus. This leaves a particularly nasty taste in the mouth. By agreeing to ‘voluntary’ right to buy the Government also neatly avoids a messy confrontation with the social housing sector, the House of Commons and the house of Lords. It is a fight that we could well win. Yet we sit back and go for a slow death.
As social landlords we are uniquely positioned to provide housing of all tenures to meet the varying needs of those lower down the food chain. Affordable (i.e Intermediate Market Rent), Shared Ownership, Private rent. All of these have a part to play. But we must secure social rent, truly social rent as the base on which to build. That is non negotiable.