Owning a home of your own is the nearest British equivalent to the American dream, an investment of hope in a better future. Over the past couple of decades, it has become an ever more unrealistic aspiration for more and more people; now renting a decent home at a reasonable rent is slipping out of reach too.
Every year there are 30,000 fewer affordable homes for rent built in England alone than are needed to meet demand, if this trend continues, and change looks unlikely, then there will be a shortfall of 335,000 homes by the end of this parliament.
The government made much of investing £2 billion in building social housing in 2017. Sounds impressive? This will deliver 5000 extra homes, a sixth of the number needed.
(Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation)
A shortage of affordable housing to buy or rent has a serious and lasting impact. On their website homelessness charity Shelter say there are 1.8 million families are on the waiting list for affordable homes, many of whom live in private rented accommodation on short term contracts.
This drives existing problems related to poverty, including poor school attainment and physical and mental illness caused by anxiety. It has also created a shadow market of unscrupulous landlords cramming families into unsuitable housing with all the associated fire and safety risks.
There is a cruel irony in a society that worries endlessly about health and safety allowing such a situation to exist under its collective nose.
The shortage of affordable housing also has more insidious effects. A 2016 YouGov poll for Shelter showed that 59% of the under 45’s contacted had delayed a major life event like getting married or having children because of not having a secure place to live.
Speaking to the Independent about the findings Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said, ‘our ever -growing housing crisis means millions of young people are bring left behind, unable to reach many of the crucial life milestones that were taken for granted by the generations who came before them'.
If a sizeable number of young people are being forced to delay major life events because they can’t afford a place to live this can only have a damaging impact on our society and economy.
If the problem is well known, and it is, the housing shortage has been creeping up on us for decades; then so are the suggested solutions.
Trades union UNISON has called for 250,000 new home to be built, 80,000 these would be for social rent, they also call for local authorities to start building council houses again. This last solution was echoed in a 2013 report written for Shelter, which calls for it to be made easier for councils to borrow the money to do so.
In response to the recent government Green Paper on social housing the Joseph. Rowntree Foundation have called on the government to reverse the ‘reforms’ to housing benefit so that low cost rents can be used to counteract wages not keeping pace with housing costs.
The government led Theresa May had pledged on numerous occasions to ‘build a Britain that works for everyone’. A shortage of affordable housing that it may not have created, but has done little to address, exposes the emptiness of this slogan.
Sugared words and noble aspirations alone can never solve the housing problem. Yet sooner rather than later it will have to be addressed. As Campbell Robb said to the Independent in 2016 ‘we cannot take this crisis a someone else’s problem, it’s the responsibility of all of us to help fix it'.