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Are our homes fit for the 21st Century?

Housing Social Housing


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As Shelter found, the ‘housing effect’ is especially pronounced in relation to a child’s health – with damp and overcrowding leading to respiratory issues and infections, which impacts on their ability to attend school. Our latest research, The State of our Estates, reviews the amount of repair and maintenance work carried out across the UK from 1997 to 2018. Analysis shows that the annual value of repair and maintenance work on our homes has decreased by £434m – despite the number of homes increasing by 3.8m during this period.

A less than decent environment

A concerning number of homes also continue to fall short of being considered decent by today’s standards. The latest government data shows that a fifth of homes in England, 4.5m, are failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard, and that this is a nationwide problem. Across the UK, we are seeing homes, especially rented homes, falling way below acceptable standards. Nearly two-thirds of tenants in Wales have experienced damp, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, mould, animal infestations or gas leaks in the last 12 months. While in Northern Ireland, people living in private rented homes saw the lowest investment, with just 19 per cent of homes undergoing repairs in the last five years, compared to 53 per cent in social housing. Recent reports show that thousands of children are living in cramped conditions as families are placed in converted office blocks or shipping containers. These living situations, which see whole families living in spaces measuring 18 sq. m., are a result of our housing crisis and demonstrate the difficult decisions councils are having to make to provide a roof for their residents.

The North-South divide

There is a stark regional divide in the amount of repair and maintenance work being carried out on an annual basis too. In 2018, London and the South East saw the highest amount of work at £1,480 per property and £1,410 per property respectively. This sits in direct contrast to the amount of work seen per property in 2018 in Wales, the North West, the North East and Northern Ireland, where annual spend on R&M per property sits below £700, half that of their southern counterparts. Even taking into consideration regional differences in the price of labour and materials, more needs to be done to redress the balance and improve our homes up and down the country.

The challenge for buyers

Home-ownership is becoming less and less achievable. To buy in one of the UK’s 20 major cities you now need an average income of £54,000, in London this rises to £84,000. As a result of house price growth outstripping wages, people are buying later in life and spending longer in rented homes. Changes to tax regulations, including reforms to stamp duty land tax (SDLT) and increased demand in the market also means landlords are spending less money on the upkeep of their houses.

The challenge for councils

Local authorities are also continuing to face funding cuts and having to make difficult decisions on spending priorities. A considerable amount of our social housing was provided under the Conservative government in the 1950s when Britain saw over 200,000 homes being delivered each year.

In England, 13 per cent of social homes still fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard in terms of energy efficiency or compliance with modern standards of living.

Mark Robinson

Chief Executive, SCAPE

One in three local authorities fear they will run out of money to deliver statutory services by 2022/23. While councils make excruciating decisions over where to allocate already stretched funding, people continue to live in homes that are unsuitable and damaging to their mental and physical wellbeing.

We need the government to provide the funding to make sure all social housing is of a decent standard. At the same time, we also need better oversight and scrutiny of landlords to provide tenants with more protection and give councils the ability to hold landlords accountable through tighter regulations. Imagine if your home made you ill and restricted your life chances. For millions of people in the UK, this is their reality.