For many people in the UK there aren’t many things more important or personal than where they live. Most hope to live in a place of consistency, comfort and security, a home. In the UK, the housing crisis has taken this hope away from many.
A decent place to live, a new report commissioned by UNISON and produced by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) was released on 20 July. It identifies the shocking extent of the housing crisis in the UK and outlines a clear, positive vision for the future of affordable housing – one spearheaded by local government and with the potential to kickstart the UK’s post-COVID economy with a focused move into green sectors.
“The housing crisis” is not a new phenomenon and it is no surprise that the pandemic, with its catastrophic effect on income consistency, combined with the transformation of many homes into makeshift workplaces, has deepened this crisis. UNISON’s goal, for access to safe, secure, affordable housing to be a basic right for all UK citizens, seems a long way off.
A complex problem
As with any complex problem, finding a good solution requires a clear understanding of the issues. As UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards says: “Many would argue that the UK doesn’t have one housing crisis but multiple housing crises, played out differently, dependent upon the geography and supply of housing within local areas.”
That’s why APSE’s in-depth research identifies and lays out both the wide range of housing issues and how these issues play out across different areas in the UK.
For example, on supply, the report finds that the decline in funding for council housing has been matched by a decline in the new homes being built. On affordability, it finds that workers in some areas of the UK would need to earn over 12 times their salary to afford a home in which to live and that a 27 to 30-year-old would need 18 years to save for a deposit as house-prices continue to outstrip earnings, year after year.
The report also highlights the effect of the crisis on public sector workers and concludes that in many areas of the UK, particularly the East, South East and London, public sector pay cannot keep up with the rising cost of housing, and the lack of affordable homes to either rent or buy means workers are struggling to live near their work.
It concludes that the developer-led market is failing generations of workers who are unable to access a decent home and that unmet demand for affordable homes is growing exponentially.
It’s easy to think of the housing crisis in purely statistical terms, look at supply and demand curves and conclude that we just need to build more affordable homes. But the report also moves past the facts and figures, drawing on UNISON surveys to understand the personal aspects of every housing story and identify examples of success at council level.
Just last year UNISON heard countless harrowing stories when we surveyed our public service members about housing during the pandemic.
One registered mental health nurse from Camberwell said: “I’m a newly qualified mental health nurse. Single mother. No hope of council housing. I relied on friends for food. I do not have a contract with my landlord as he wanted to increase the rent to £1800+ pm for a run-down flat in South-East London. I will have to move as there is no hope of cheaper accommodation for me and my daughter.”
Another worker from Southsea said: “I had to take out loans to help cover bills. Scraping every last penny to cover rent and monthly bills. My partner can’t even afford his half of the rent and bills and I am having to try cover it all. I don’t think it will be long before I am on the streets.”
A bold vision
UNISON and APSE’s bold vision aims to put an end to stories like this. It outlines how a well-funded, forward-thinking approach can not only solve the housing crisis, but kickstart the country’s economy after the pandemic and provide the foundations for huge job growth into the green tech and construction sectors.
The report outlines seven primary recommendations including:
- Investment in a new generation of council housing, at scale;
- Maximising opportunities within that investment for green growth and green upskilling;
- Re-empowering local authorities with meaningful control of planning; and
- Restoring the link between local housing allowance, housing benefit and rent.
The report concludes: “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic there is a real opportunity to take-up the slack created in the economy to inject public sector led investment in social housing – new homes, that are green homes, and which generate spending in supply chains, jobs and reskilling displaced workers from industries that have either not survived the pandemic or are simply hanging on by a thread.
“A green-growth investment plan, in a new generation of council homes, may be the very route-map to post-COVID recovery that ministers have promised.”
In her foreword to the report, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea says: “As a nation, we managed to build a whole new generation of council housing, when the UK emerged from the horrors of war in 1945. Surely it is possible to capture that spirit and innovation now?
“Let’s kickstart our post-COVID recovery with a commitment to building new green council homes and developing green construction skills. Let’s be ambitious in our vision for council housing that provides high quality homes for generations to come.”