Housing policy has travelled a long way from post war Britain. The modern approach was described by Housing Minister, Aneurin Bevan. When announcing major investment in building social housing he said he wanted to see places, “...where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street. I believe that is essential for the full life of a citizen... to see the living tapestry of a mixed community.”
Today, housing policy has regained its Victorian ethos; a tool used to divide. A scalpel is being applied to the ligaments that bind community. Where there is harmony, they bring discord. The gap between the haves and the have nots, the deserving and the undeserving poor, is growing wider. For individuals, that divide is increasingly difficult to breach.
Remember 2016. It is not just the year that for the first time the state permanently stopped subsidising the building of social rented housing, it is also the year that the undeserving were chased out of their homes. After previous voluntary arrangements failed to take off, legislation is now introduced to force councils to only offer fixed term tenancies - limited to between two and five years, with an extension to 10 years for some groups.
The legislation implicitly casts social housing as the exclusive preserve of those on benefits. Home ownership is seen as the default tenure for normal people; welfare housing is for the poor and deprived. Exposed in the Government’s ‘Lifetime Tenancies - impact assessment’ published this May, the main aims of the policy are to:
- improve landlords’ ability to get the best use out of social housing by focusing it on those who need it the most for as long as they need it
- ensure that those who need long term support are provided with more appropriate tenancies as their needs change over time
- support households to make the transition into home ownership where they can
Statutory guidance will set out the circumstances in which local authorities will be expected to use tenancies of different lengths. 5 years will be the normal maximum (for households without children of school age), with 10 years applicable for those with longer term needs, such as older people, the disabled and their carers.
The justification for this policy is that 1.24 million households are on social housing waiting lists, 247,000 social tenants are forced to live in overcrowded conditions due to lack of suitably sized properties, whilst 338,000 households occupy social housing with two or more spare bedrooms. But instead taking a collective responsibility by building new homes, regulating the privately rented sector or changing preferential tax arrangements for home ownership, the individual must pay with the loss of their home. The assumption is that people only have a temporary need for the welfare safety net.
Young people in particular, will find it difficult to keep hold of a social housing tenancy. Already subject to the highest proportion of sanctions on their benefits, there is now the combination of the freeze on Local Housing Allowance and the benefit cap at £13,400 p.a. (outside London). For 35s and under only the shared room rate of benefit applies. For 18 to 21 year olds, all benefits for housing are removed completely. At least one housing association in England has already stopped housing those under the age of 36.
Many have serious concerns that this will inevitably lead to an increase in youth homelessness. Homeless charity Crisis reports that it’s already on the rise: 8% of 16-24 year olds report recently being homeless and in four years the number of young people sleeping rough in London has more than doubled.
Even those with a job and some money will struggle. Sky high house prices mean that many young people are locked out of buying a home. If you are young and lucky, it is generation rent; not so lucky, uncertainty, poverty, a shared home and the risk of homelessness awaits.