The housing safety net is being dismantled at the time it’s going to be needed most
There’s no doubt that these are some of the toughest economic times we’ve faced for decades. While figures out last week showed a slight fall in repossessions, a record number of people called Shelter’s homeowner helpline last month. Unemployment is increasing, inflation rising and an inevitable rise in interest rates lies ahead. As our housing advisers see every day, just one little thing like a drop in income or bout of illness can be all that’s needed to push people into a spiral of debt and arrears that can end in the loss of their home.
With so many living on a knife edge, now is the worst time to make it more difficult for people to keep a roof over their head. Yet it is at this very time that a deep and profound change is taking place: the housing safety net keeping so many people in their homes is being quietly and systematically dismantled.
Over the next few months, changes will come into force that will drastically reduce the protection people have if their home comes under threat. The mortgage and rent support that helps people who temporarily lose their job will be reduced; the legal advice that thousands rely on to tackle rogue landlords and stop banks from unfairly evicting people will be cut; and the stability that homeless families need to rebuild their lives will be undermined, forcing many into insecure and substandard accommodation when they need a decent and secure home the most.
At a time when every two minutes someone faces losing their home, the door is being firmly closed on anyone who, however briefly, needs support to keep their head above water. And for most, the short term emergency is symptomatic of a long term problem – our desperate shortage of affordable housing.
The failure of successive governments to build enough houses has pushed the right to a decent and affordable home out of reach for millions, with rising numbers of young people priced out of home ownership and consigned instead to bring up their future families in an expensive, insecure and unregulated private rented sector. Recent research by Shelter showed that almost 4 million of us are constantly struggling to pay our rent or mortgage.
Rather than reverse this trend, investment in affordable housing was one of the biggest losers in last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review. And while it’s too soon to judge the success of locally-set building targets and a localised planning system, it’s hard to see how this will be able to significantly impact on our urgent need for new homes when budgets have been so dramatically reduced.
We accept our housing and welfare system needs reform. But reforms that take away the housing safety net at the very moment it is needed most, that fail to tackle the private rented sector, that reduce investment in new homes are not the way to do it.
The reality is that in the current economic climate, any one of us could be in a position where our home is under threat. While the opposition parties remain silent as these changes take place, now is the time for us to come together to stop legislation that reduces the housing safety net and create a new vision for housing which ensures everyone has the right to a decent and affordable place to live.
Campbell Robb is the Chief Executive of Shelter. To find out more about Shelter’s Housing Safety Net campaign, visit hereTagged in: charity, HOMELESS, housing, Shelter
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