When we reach milestones it generally provides opportunity for a time of reflection and at this time of year I tend to write internally to staff through our briefings about the various achievements of the past year.
This year has been particularly successful: we have supported 1,700 people during the course of the year, carried out 705 lettings and had over 300 successful move ons. There is no doubt that if you said to me 4 years ago that we would have a rapidly expanding housing and support service with 65 staff on the payroll, I would have been a very happy man indeed! In the last year alone, our staffing has increased by 27% and our accommodation by 17%.
Despite our successes this year, there is something that has continued to nag away at me. We are seeing more and more crisis led housing solutions and people in very desperate situations when they access our services, often being housed on the day we meet them. Let’s be frank, Spring is pretty good at this stuff and it has been the bedrock of our ability to grow but it’s not as it should be. The impact of austerity is now fully upon us and we, as a country, have designed a very expensive system with a myriad of inequalities throughout it. We have decommissioned most of the non-statutory services that prevented people needing state aid – most of the costs have been directly pushed into A & E departments. Our NHS is literally buckling, yet as recently as 2010 satisfaction with the NHS was at its highest levels since its inception in the late 1940s, so we can’t just say that the NHS isn’t able to cope with the modern age, as from a Public Health point of view – 2010 isn’t radically different to 2018. We are seeing the police and the criminal justice system as the primary responder’s to many mental health crises. There have been some seriously regressive housing policies that have exacerbated the housing issues that many face which are symptoms of what is becoming an issue of our age (alongside the small issue of Brexit of course!).
With regards to housing specifically, we know through our weekly calls that young families are desperate for suitable affordable housing. The shrinking stock of social housing has seen the share of young families who live in it fall by around a third over the past 20 years, leading to 400,000 fewer living in council and housing association homes. The shrinkage in stock continues to come despite the rising need for low-cost homes.
Research carried out by the Resolution Foundation in 2017, highlights another aspect of the inter-generational divide. The Resolution Foundation found that the decline in social renting by young families has coincided with rising levels of “housing stress”, and the proportion of families spending more than a third of their disposable income on housing costs has risen across the population. This is partly a result of David Cameron’s retro and rather leftfield return of the popular right to buy policy, which saw those in council houses allowed to buy their home at a discount. This means that older occupiers of social housing have had access to properties and have been helped into home ownership, but the depleted stock of social housing has never been replenished which has left the young increasingly reliant on high cost and insecure private rentals.
Spring are now finding that a big part of our work in Birmingham has had to focus on the situation with temporary accommodation. Birmingham has close to 3,000 households in temporary accommodation and the good old Section 21’s in Assured Shorthold Tenancies in the private rented sector and from housing associations (albeit to a much lesser degree) are the second biggest reason that people become homeless. Research finds that, for many young adults, their best hope of living in social housing is to stay in their parents’ home as part of the so-called “boomerang generation”.
There are, however, hopes that a long-term decline in social housing is beginning to turn around. Last year ministers vowed to build more homes for social rent, backed by the 2 billion pounds worth of support from the government. Yet we are only seeing modest numbers of social rented homes being built, as affordable homes (a nebulous term in our view) remain the go to product for most housing associations.
In the Guardian today, there is further evidence of decisions leading to massive waste. Close to a billion pounds has been spent on the private rented sector for temporary accommodation in the UK – private landlords are actively targeting government money in this lucrative ever-increasing market. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see the folly of this high cost, low outcome strategy from our central government who have demolished local authority budgets but placed increased demands on local authorities, such as with the well intentioned Homeless Reduction Act.
The answers aren’t simple. Housing policies, like those for the environment, need to have long term thinking. The government does its thinking in election cycles rather than in patterns that would benefit our country in 30 years’ time. Change will need successive governments, of whichever colour, to look at suitable sustainable housing solutions. The alternative is to stick to what we have now, where people’s life chances are diminished, inequality in every sense is encouraged, and expense is created within the system. I would hope that whatever side of the political divide you are on, nobody wants an expensive and inefficient system that serves no one except for the already financially successful private rented sector.
This may sound incredibly strange to some, but our aim at Spring is to become a smaller organisation that is focused on sustainable, long term housing solutions rather than on being the first responders in crisis led situations which much of our work has become. I’m very conscious that we have been able to cross subsidise really important work and grow at a decent pace due to our successes. Our Rent Relief Fund subsidises rent for those who start employment following a period on Welfare Benefits (we spent £25k on this alone in 2018). In our work with trafficked people and families, (who are often in the system without recourse to public funds), we have been able to fully fund all housing costs and a good proportion of living costs.
I know that the people we support now need long term affordable housing that can really give them the stability to build their lives and at the moment it is only the lucky few that gain this opportunity. It has to be our ambition that this is the “Spring Offer” for all that access our services. Good quality housing is a basic need for all of us and we shouldn’t compromise in our ambition in making this a right for all.
Published date: 03 January 2019