Housing

95% mortgages may help some people – which is great – but it is a relatively small step in trying to solve a huge problem.

I feel that many people, including the Cabinet and many members of the Government have failed to grasp the scope of the problem.

I feel that they are so far removed from everyday people (for want of a better phrase), that they are simply unable to see or accept the problems real people face every day.

I am also unconvinced that socially subsidized housing is the right way forward when it is not part of a multi-pronged sustainable approach to enabling people to have a home.

That is one of the major problems. The Government sees the problem of housing as one of bricks and mortar; as though we are all just numbers that will fit neatly into boxes.

Cllr Daisy Benson reported that there are now 9,000 people on the Council’s housing waiting list in Reading and a big shortage of affordable family homes.

There is a similar story in York, as reported by the City of York Council’s Tracey Simpson-Laing, with thousands on the waiting list but only a hundred or so houses coming up each year.

And of course, there is no guarantee that a house that comes up is suitable or has enough bedrooms etc.

In fact, the story is very similar across the UK and the Government has been far too slow to respond.

The Government must eventually see that people don’t just look for a house or a bungalow. They look at location, the local community, nearby schools, shops and amenities. They imagine themselves in that house; there belongings in there, who will have what room and where the settee and TV will go!

In short, people look for whether a house can be their home – and the two are far from the same.

This is not about being ideal – far from it. But it is about being realistic about what people need and expect in our modern world – for it is that which determines what they will spend their money on – especially when spending so much.

One has to remember, also, that a first-time buyer is not always a single person or a couple looking for their first home. Many first-time buyers are families and may need home with 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms.

It’s also worth noting two other key points: –

One, that many family homes come with one smaller bedroom or a “box room”. This means that for many families, they need a 3 bedroom house rather than a two or a 4 bedroom rather than a 3. The smaller box room bedroom has become something of a “non-room” for many families, simply because the sheer size is too small for practical usage. Personally, I can think of a few friends who use the room for storage space, which is another vital aspect needed in any modern family home.

Secondly, many newer or new-build homes are much smaller than older comparative homes. The knock-on effects of this are manifold. For example, many families have to look at houses with another bedroom. So, whereas with older houses they may have looked at a 2 bedroom house for just themselves and 1 child, they now have to look at a 3 bedroom house because in new builds there is simply not enough space in the 2 bed. And, what if they wanted another child?

In relation to this, I have read reports from Cllrs at Council’s up and down that in the UK (for years) there has been a huge shortfall in family housing, i.e., 4 or 5 bedroom houses for large families.

Large families can exist for many reasons. Sometimes, there is no doubt, it is down to parents having too many children with no thought of the consequences.

But it’s not all because of ‘having too many children’, as seems to be in the news a lot. It could be due to twins, triplets, extended family, an elderly relative living with their son/daughter, or due to the serious illness or disability of a family member or members. There are many reasons and we should not be too quick to judge without knowing specific details.

We need far more of these types of houses but the question is how many of these type of houses will be built?

We must have homes for our families, including large families; they have to live somewhere. I despise the kind of self-righteous attitude that has created a growing stigma for families with a large number of children. This stigma promotes hatred, bullying and social exclusion – and it is unacceptable.

Whilst there is something to be said about adults and parents being responsible about having children, we also have to recognize that people’s lives, circumstances and situations differ greatly and that one cannot make sweeping assumptions about people based upon the number of children they have.

More importantly, this awful stigma affects the children far more than the adults.

A child does not plan or somehow select to be born with a disability, or born into poverty, or born to irresponsible parents.

Such children should not be punished, bullied, excluded or demonized for any of these reasons.

I would ask any reader to please take a step back and just consider this.

There are wider problems that have an impact on housing. When it comes to the crunch, the Government has failed to tackle any of the big hurdles people face above and beyond finding a deposit for a house.

The most obvious that affects most people (though ironically perhaps not the policy makers themselves as many are millionaires) is the high cost of living.

Having a mortgage is one thing – but then being able to pay that and then pay expensive utility bills – especially gas and electricity – plus buying and running a car (or using public transport) and then paying council tax and other bills is simply beyond the means of a growing number of people.

And that is a large contributing factor as to why many people live at their parent’s home much longer, and why the average age of a first-time buyer is 37.

If we want to resolve the housing problem in the UK, we must equalise more the gap between earnings and the cost of living. This, in whatever form, has to mean bringing cost of living down or raising people’s income or both.

I believe this to be an inescapable problem. There are already thousands (if not more) of people and families who are simply unable to make ends meet.

By that, I do not mean that paying their bills is a struggle – I mean that at the end of their month, they have paid out ALL of their income but there are still bills outstanding. That means debts are mounting up.

This is particularly impacting on the poorest families in the country and vulnerable groups, such as disabled people and families with disabled children – the latter of which often face significant extra costs that most people are not aware of, for which they get no extra financial help. I think the costs would really shock most people.

However, another group of people who find it hard or impossible to buy are those who have had or have, for whatever reason, a poor credit history and rating.

We have to recognize that many people have been forced into this position due to economic problems far beyond their personal control and that the cost of living has a large part to play in this. In resolving this, more modern solutions are needed that accommodate this.

Having the availability of housing and the ability to get that housing go hand-in-hand – something the Government has missed altogether when it comes to people with a poor credit history or people with life-long progressive illnesses, conditions or disabilities.

There is yet a further group of people who are often unable to buy. I am not talking about a choice they have made; this is a group of people who, for some other reason or reasons, simply cannot buy.

As a result of this, they are forced to rent. As we know, with a dire shortage of housing (which is much higher than the number of new houses the Government is planning), this usually means looking to the private rental sector.

This is another huge hole in the Government’s policies. The Government wants private rent prices to go up. However, I believe their premise to be flawed.

In addition, it fails to deal with potentially millions of people. For example, what are those who are unable to buy and who cannot afford private rents to do?

We already know there is not the available social or council housing. So, what to those people do?

If rents in the private sector were more reasonable (or even capped), this would open up opportunities for thousands of people and families up and down the UK who are unable to buy.

However, the Government wants the opposite; they want to see price go up. The problem is, it’s not a solution for people, and it’s not part of a more comprehensive approach, which is why it is fundamentally flawed. Their ideology assumes we all fit neatly into pigeon holes. But people don’t.

With a shortage of social and council housing, what do people who are unable to buy and cannot afford the high private rents do?

A recent news item quoted three main reasons for rising rents.

• Not enough homes have been built
• Renting is a lifestyle choice
• First-time buyers cannot get on the property ladder

The first reason is clear and obvious and one with which few would disagree.

The second I do not subscribe to. For many people, for many reasons, renting is the only option. A choice of one is no choice at all.

The third I agree with but does not express explicitly enough the wide spectrum of personal and family circumstances that exist.

The essential problem in the private rental market seems to be one the Government fails or refuses to recognize.

People have complained about people highlighted in BBC TV programmes in London who have been paid £2K+ in Housing Benefit per month.

However, the BBC programmes, such as Panorama, have been one-sided and not objective.

For example, the programmes did not show a typical family or person in receipt of Housing Benefit and how little they receive. In fact, most dependent solely on benefits live 40% under the minimum standard of living, which is significantly lower than the minimum wage.

It did not show how the levels of Housing Benefit differ around the UK (as they are based on a local percentile basis) – that in some areas, some families would not even get £280 per month towards a 4 bedroom house, leaving them with a shortfall of several hundred pounds to find somehow.

Because of these points, viewers were left with the impression that what was shown in the programme is what it is like for all people claiming Housing Benefit, right across the UK. It tarnished everyone with the same brush. But that is not the case at all.

It’s important to remember too that the Housing Benefit, directly or indirectly, goes to the landlord – and that the landlord determines his/her rent.

So, though the Government’s policy may mean fewer people can rent in expensive London, the ripple effect across the country will devastate families.

Outside London and across the UK, where Housing Benefit Local Housing Allowance levels are MUCH lower, thousands of people and families on the lowest incomes now face a huge shortfall each month that they will simply be unable to make up.

This is already making people homeless and has pushed people out of work.

The effect on families with a disabled parent/child or both has been particularly devastating.

The cost of renting in London is phenomenally high. In fact, London has some of the highest rent prices in the world.

It is for that reason that Housing Benefit levels are high there, due to the Local Housing Allowance mechanism. The local market determined the price, and local Housing Benefit levels reflected that.

So let’s be clear on this: Housing Benefit levels REFLECTED rent prices NOT AFFECTED them.

The Housing Benefit Local Housing Allowance levels were based on the 50th percentile. So you can imagine for yourself how much per month properties on the 90th percentile would rent for in London.

The Government has failed to acknowledge this and as a result, the poorest, least well off and most vulnerable are the very groups that will suffer the most, not just in London but across the UK.

These are the very people a civilized nation should strive to care for and protect – children, the disabled, long-term ill, injured soldiers, those with progressive conditions and the elderly.

Putting the scroungers aside for a second, can any of these people, including severely disabled people and children, help or influence housing rental prices?

Is it their fault that they prices have been over-inflated?

Were they the people who created this problem?

Were they the greedy landlords who were quite happy to charge extortionate rents during the boom?

I think not. So why is the Government punishing and demonizing those people now?

It is possible, feasible and affordable to put measures in place to root out scroungers and those taking advantage of the systems whilst still paying for, caring for and protecting the most vulnerable people in our country. So why have the Government not done this?

When it comes to disabled people, children, families and housing, there is quite often simply no suitable social housing available. This can be resolved via the private sector, but then the rent is much higher or unaffordable.

Quite often, such people need an extra room or bedroom. There is, for example, extra equipment that is often large, expensive and takes up space. For example, special beds, commodes, wheelchairs, hoists, special chairs, adaptations and medical equipment.

There are many circumstances, also, where a disabled child or disabled adult is unable to share a bedroom and this necessitates another bedroom.

These reasons and others often mean that a disabled person, parent or child needs an extra room. It is not a choice but a necessity due to disability and purely on the grounds of that or medical reasons. Disabled people do not chose to need another room in the same way as they did not choose to be disabled.

There are many places in the UK where there are simply no suitable properties on the 40th percentile (let alone the 30th percentile) for disabled people and families with a disabled parent, disabled child or both.

There is no provision in the Welfare Reform Bill for these situations or these people. It is almost as though the cuts have targeted the most vulnerable the most, especially as Discretionary Payments do not come close to the hundreds of pounds per month shortfall that such vulnerable people face.

Yet, the Government has failed to recognize this also – despite a plethora of evidence and impact assessments that prove otherwise.

The Housing Benefit changes and the Welfare Reform Bill will only add to the housing problems and, in the medium-long term, cost the nation far more money. It is also creating new problems that we did not have before.

However, the real cost of this is the effects on people’s health. There have already been cases of this and fatalities.

This is simply unacceptable. We have brave soldiers who have returned home injured and permanently disabled from fighting in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t they deserve more?

I am sure that those who fought for our freedom during two world wars would be ashamed of a nation intolerant of those that need help the most.

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Male. Married. 3 Children. No Pets. Concerned about the changes the new Conservative Government are introducing. Very concerned about changes that adversely affect the vulnerable and disabled people. Commenting on current affairs, music and life in general.

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2 comments on “Housing
  1. Excellent piece. I wish I could be that eloquent.

  2. my thoughts exactly Mike – no aggression or emotional political points scoring either – just good and balanced perspective. How refreshing.

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