Government ‘must get chequebook out’ to halt social housing decline

New figures show that social housing waiting lists have risen four per cent to 1.15 million households as Government unveils £112m funding to help councils tackle rough sleeping

The number of households stuck on a waiting list for a social home has risen by four per cent in the last year, triggering pleas from housing charities for the Government to halt the “haemorrhaging” housing supply.

A total of 1.16 million households are playing the waiting game in England, according to the government’s own Social Housing Letting figures for March 2018 to March 2019.

Despite continued campaigning from housing charities and activists calling for social house building to be ramped up to combat the housing crisis, social home stock was subjected to a net loss, according to Shelter.

The charity cited the 23,470 social homes that were sold into the private rented sector or demolished in the last year or the 6,287 social rent homes that were delivered, with others lost through conversion to less affordable forms of renting, to conclude that there were more than 17,000 less social homes available on the market.

With over a million families in desperate need of social housing, it is absolutely outrageous that we are haemorrhaging thousands of secure social homes every year. These homes cannot afford to be lost

The government figures showed that social house lettings remained virtually stagnant in the last year, rising by 0.3 per cent or 1,000 from the previous year, with a total of 314,000 new lettings made last year. This is still 22 per cent behind the peak of 396,000 lettings made in 2013/14.

And that goes a long way to explaining how supply is not keeping up with demand and leaving more families stuck on waiting lists.

Of the new lettings, 35,000 went to families stuck in temporary accommodation, while 7,000 households were rough sleeping prior to being housed and 67,000 were living with family and friends.

There remains little progress here. The temporary accommodation figure is 10,000 less than last year while the number of rough sleeping households receiving a social home is down by 3,000.

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And the lack of movement in building new social housing is to blame, according to Shelter chief executive Polly Neate.

“With over a million families in desperate need of social housing, it is absolutely outrageous that we are haemorrhaging thousands of secure social homes every year. These homes cannot afford to be lost.

“Homes are being sold off or demolished with no replacements built. All the while families are forced to live in overcrowded conditions, single parents are making the impossible choice of eating or paying the rent, and children are growing up homeless in grim B&Bs.

“Too many people are spending years waiting for a social home that isn’t coming. The government has said now is the time invest in the future – they must ensure a new generation of social homes is part of that future. With the budget just around the corner, housing cannot be ignored when the government gets its chequebook out.”

For too long local authorities have been left trying to pick up the pieces of people’s lives

However, the Government did choose today to announce they would be getting their chequebook out to tackle rough sleeping directly, promising an extra £112 million funding for councils to help get rough sleepers into safe accommodation.

The move is part of the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative and Rapid Rehousing Pathway funding, with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick promising that the funding represents a 30 per cent increase in funding for the 270 local authorities in England.

It is hoped that the cash will give councils and charities the chance to create 6,000 new bed spaces and to employ 2,500 more support staff.

No-one should have to face a night on the street and we have a moral duty to support those who need help the most,” said Jenrick. “It is encouraging to see more people getting the support they need, but there is always more to do.

“This is why we are providing this funding so vital work can continue as we set out to end rough sleeping once and for all.”

Homelessness Minister Luke Hall added: “Our Rough Sleeping Initiative is proving to be successful, and this funding will mean this vital work can be continued as we set out to end rough sleeping once and for all.”

However, The Salvation Army’s assistant director of homelessness services, Malcolm Page, has questioned the impact of the funding while cuts to support services and a lack of supported housing continues to bite.

He said: “For too long local authorities have been left trying to pick up the pieces of people’s lives; central Government needs to provide targeted funding so that councils can provide tailored local support for homeless people in their areas.”

Big Issue Changemakers Museum of Homelessness share Page’s concerns about the impact of austerity and also called for more action on homeless deaths. MoH are the current custodians of the Dying Homeless project, a crowdsourced count of homeless deaths originally started by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

“Whilst the announcement is welcome in some respects, we remain concerned about the overall long-term funding gap for local services and councils, which has been estimated by the LGA to reach 7.8 billion by 2025 and will no doubt affect homelessness,” said Matt Turtle, co-founder, Museum of Homelessness. “We would like to see the government go much further on homelessness and health, and their announcement does not address increasing concern about the rising numbers of deaths of homeless people. We also think it is a shame that the government has focused on non-UK nationals, when it is clear that drastic cuts to social welfare including the punitive hostile environment policy are behind the homelessness crisis.”

Image: Alex Liivet