Ross Kemp: ‘Let’s build houses to solve Britain’s biggest issue’

The actor and journalist spoke to The Big Issue ahead of tonight’s Living With ‘Forced Out’ Families documentary

“It’s either move 220 miles or lose your kids and end up on the streets – what choice is that?”

Ross Kemp’s new documentary, airing tonight on ITV, lifts the lid on the scandal of families being left with little choice but to move out of the boroughs where they live because councils have no place to offer them.

In Living With ‘Forced Out’ Families, Kemp once again draws attention to a facet of homelessness that is not often given much attention.

And the scale in which the housing system is “playing chequers with people’s lives” is staggering. Kemp’s investigation found that 24,000 people are left with little choice but to move sometimes hundreds of miles – “South to North, North to South, Norwich to Northern Ireland” as he puts it – out of the boroughs in the last years.

‪Tonight 7.30pm ITV…Living with Forced out Families. Last in the series and such an important issue, hope you can watch‬. RK

Posted by Ross Kemp TV on Thursday, July 2, 2020

The moves equate to a distance of more than 350,000 miles – 16 times around the globe.

And often councils don’t even know that people are being moved into their area. Kemp found 60 councils have failed to inform other local authorities that they are housing people in their area, despite a legal duty to do so. The result puts a strain or services and school places.

“It’s beyond belief that that is the case – but it is,” he tells The Big issue. “This is an issue that has been out there but I don’t think it has been unravelled and made as digestible as we have attempted to do.”

Kemp has a knack for bringing homelessness issues into the spotlight – it’s why we decided to name him a Big Issue Changemaker for 2020, an accolade he assures us he is “chuffed” with.

Let’s do something about possibly the biggest issue facing Britain

Last year his Living With series saw him sleep rough and spend a night in a homeless shelter in Cardiff while. He met a man who official statistics say shouldn’t exist – a rough sleeper in South Derbyshire – as he drew attention to the system used to count people living on the street.

His trademark style of getting as close to an issue as possible is in evidence again this time around. He meets people stuck in a converted office block in Wimbledon after being moved across London from Tower Hamlets and he meets people in Bradford who have also been moved up from the English capital.

And Kemp is pretty clear on what the cause is.

“We know before going into lockdown 2.5 million people were unable to afford their rent or their mortgage, so you can see that number at least being doubled, maybe tripled, during the pandemic,” he says. “Many of the people we came into contact with had just fallen behind into rent arrears and it was just because landlords are charging so much money.

Ross Kemp ITV
ROSS_KEMP_LIVING_WITH_drop in
Nick, previously of Chatham in Kent, says Medway council told him: "Because I was in temporary accommodation, if I didn't move [to Bradford] they would take my five children off me and put them in care." (Credit: ITV)

“If there is no social housing whatsoever then councils have to rely on private landlords and if they are there to make a profit and can get more money from another borough then they take it.

“But councils are strapped. You can’t lay it at the feet of these councils and you can’t lay it at the feet of the present Government, as much as I would like to because it’s 30 years of neglect from Labour Governments, Tory Governments and coalition governments who have failed to build social housing.

“We’re not a population that looks like it is going to decrease at any point so it looks like that situation is only going to get worse. If 2.5 million people are not able to afford rent and mortgages at the start of the pandemic, how many more of them are there going to be by Christmas? Anyone to be pushed out on the streets is bad, particularly at that time.”

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This week the message from Boris Johnson was “build, build, build”. As part of his New Deal speech in Dudley, the Prime Minister re-revealed a new £12bn affordable homes programme that would build 180,000 new affordable homes for rent and ownership over the next eight years.

He also promised “the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the second world war”.

Housing charity Shelter had earlier revealed the sign of the challenge to fix Britain’s housing crisis, warning that the country would be down 84,000 homes due to be built this year, thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown.

This is an issue that has been out there but I don’t think it has been unravelled and made as digestible as we have attempted to do

But in a rallying cry that bears similarities to the one issued by another presenter and social housing champion George Clarke, Kemp is keen to stress that the homelessness issues that he continues to investigate will not be sorted unless the houses are there to keep people off the streets.

He says: “We’re four million houses short in the UK and we are heading for a predicted economic downturn. And there are a lot of young people who are out of work. So let’s get some apprentices together and get them to learn how to build houses.

“Let’s do something about possibly the biggest issue facing Britain. Now we’re out of Brexit, we have to get on with it, let’s start building houses. Let’s not have a system where landlords can manipulate it for their own ends at the cost of destroying families.”

Ross Kemp: Living With ‘Forced Out’ Families is on ITV on Thursday 2 July at 7.30pm

Images: ITV