Housing: Adam Sampson on how the housing market affects homelessness

Shelter chief executive Adam Sampson (pictured) discusses the government’s housing plans and the prospects for ending UK child poverty by 2020

What would be the implications of a slump in the housing market on homelessness?

A slump in the housing market would mean an increase in wider homelessness, triggered by a rise in mortgage repossessions and people falling into arrears.

The buy-to-let market would also be hit hard, meaning many BTL investors having to sell off their investments, with potentially devastating effects for their tenants.

A knock-on effect could mean greater demands on the private rented sector, and this rise in demand could easily see a hike in these rents, which in turn could trigger homelessness as rent becomes less affordable for those on low incomes.

How do we lower council house waiting lists?

It may sound simplistic, but the bottom line is we need more social rented houses to be built. This is the most important – and by far the key factor – in tackling the council housing waiting lists. While these are being built, there are other areas which can help with the housing crisis.

This would include redeveloping empty homes, and making the private rented sector “fit for purpose” to ensure it’s accessible and more secure to those who wish to find accommodation within it.

Are we developing enough affordable housing?

The government’s overall plan to build three million new homes by 2020 is an ambitious, but achievable one. However, in terms of affordable housing, the government must ensure that between a quarter and a third of these three million are social rented, with a further large proportion being built for low-cost home ownership.

Also, the government has set itself a target of building 50,000 new social rented homes a year by the next comprehensive spending review and we welcome this.

The problems have stemmed from successive governments having neglected the need to build social housing. It’s why there are 1.6 million households on the council housing waiting lists in England, and throughout Britain there are nearly 700,000 households living in overcrowded conditions and 90,000 households in temporary accommodation.

We have the commitment, but the challenge is now in making sure these three million homes are delivered, and affordable.

Do social care professionals fully appreciate the impact of bad housing on people’s lives?

In the past social care professionals may not have thought beyond their particular area of expertise. However in recent years there’s been a marked change, with social care ­professionals increasingly linking up with other agencies, including housing experts, to offer a more integrated approach to tackling problems such as those caused by bad housing.

It still beggars belief that 1.6 million ­children live in overcrowded, unfit or temporary housing that can damage their health, education and future chances in life. Badly housed children are twice as likely to be persistently bullied, twice as likely to have been excluded from school and almost twice as likely to suffer from poor health.

Housing also plays a critical role in reducing reoffending, yet prisoners face barriers to accessing suitable accommodation and support when they are released.

Will the government end child poverty by 2020?

The target to end child poverty by 2020 was an ambitious one. Shelter has always highlighted the inextricable link between child poverty and bad housing. A rapid increase in social house building will go a long way to helping children and families out of the ­poverty trap, but clearly there are many other areas to be tackled to meet the 2020 target.

I’m a trustee of the End Child Poverty coalition and our manifesto clearly sets out what the government must do to hit its target. This includes ensuring adequate incomes for families and decent work for all, plus adequate homes and education for every child. This means redistributing more to the poorest families and investing more in the services that support them.

Does the voluntary sector need a new inspectorate, with more meaningful measures of performance?

I do believe charities need greater scrutiny, but we must be careful about how it’s done. The fact that charities have not had to endure the torrent of criticism levelled in recent years at our colleagues in other sectors contributes to public trust in what we do remaining high.

A long-overdue debate about how to use external and independent oversight to improve charity practice has started. But we must be wary. The dangers of rushing to do something may be as great as doing nothing.

This article appeared in the 13 December issue under the headline “‘Three million new homes? Great, if we can afford them'”

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