Why Britain’s housing crisis matters - A personal view by Maidstone Liberal Democrat, Cllr Emily Fermor.
For more and more people here in the heart of Kent it is becoming increasingly difficult to find somewhere they can call ‘home’. The initial costs of getting onto the housing ladder is a well-documented challenge, but for many people even finding somewhere affordable to rent is just as big a challenge. For many people in Maidstone, it is just a case of needing somewhere, anywhere, where they can sleep in safety.
The Thatcher Government’s ‘right to buy’ policy transformed housing provision in the 1980s and successive governments have continued to prioritise home ownership. A like for like replacement of the social housing stock was promised, but over time the supply of affordable housing to rent has failed to match demand. Across the country, more and more people are having to rent privately and this year £9.3 billion of housing benefit is going to private landlords, double what was paid out 8 years ago. The number of people needing help to pay rent has soared by 42%. Almost half of these households include a wage earner; but rents have become unaffordable.
The shortage of affordable housing and the cost of renting privately is particularly acute in London and we are seeing increasing demand here in Maidstone and elsewhere in the South-east. Why are we giving £9.3 billion a year of tax-payers’ money to private sector landlords? The housing sector has shown signs of slowing down since the Brexit vote. So, with interest rates at record lows, why can’t Government, local authorities and housing associations invest more in providing an increased stock of housing to rent so people can afford to live in somewhere they can call ‘home’?
We are often reminded of the homeless around Christmas-time but homelessness is an increasing concern in our society throughout the year. According to the charity, Porchlight, 223 people were sleeping rough in Kent from April to June 2016, more than double for the same period last year. Meanwhile, the number of under 25’s sleeping rough has trebled since 2014. These people represent a fraction of the homeless in Kent; they exclude unrecorded rough sleepers, those sleeping in cars and vans and sofa-surfers. Here in Maidstone, there were 176 homelessness applications in the period.
Local authorities and charities work very hard to provide much needed support to the homeless, particularly high priority cases like mothers with young children. But for many others, particularly single men, the situation is desperate. Having nowhere to call home often leads to physical and mental health issues and can lead to other social problems. Is this really good enough for 21st Century Britain? I don’t think so.