Over two million Northerners endure the reality of England’s failed state of housing

A new report laying bare the severity of the nation’s housing crisis has revealed over two million people in the North of England are forced to endure poor housing conditions.

All told, 8.4 million people in England are living in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home according to the first ever ‘state of the nation’ report released today by the National Housing Federation (NHF).

The report is claimed to capture the full extent of the housing crisis to lay bare the dire circumstances people face, in what is supposedly an advanced society; yet it reveals a nation struggling – or unwilling, depending on one’s viewpoint – to adequately house its citizens.

The crisis cuts across regions and generations, with homelessness, serious debt, overcrowding and ill-health all part of the sorry mix.

For the first time, the NHF’s research reveals how many people are hit by different aspects of the housing crisis. Here in the North, more people are struggling to afford their rent, while in the south of England, people are more likely to face overcrowding, or living with their parents because they can’t afford to more out.

According to the research 3.6 million people are living in overcrowded homes, while 2.5 million people can’t afford their rent or mortgage. Another 2.5 million adults are “stuck” living with their parents, with an ex-partner, or with friends because they can’t afford to move.

At the heart of this report is another ‘revelation’ of the desperate need for social housing: almost half (43%) can only afford to live decently if they are in social housing. That’s 3.6 million people struggling because of a historic preference by ministers – and even some within the industry – to build anything but social housing. The net result has been the tragedy unveiled in this latest report.

“Today’s research reveals the full enormity of the housing crisis – clearly, it is the single biggest domestic issue we face,” said Kate Henderson, the NHF’s chief executive. “The Government risks losing votes if it doesn’t take action to tackle the consequences it has for the lives of young and old alike, all across the country.

“From Cornwall to Cumbria, millions of people are being pushed into debt and poverty because rent is too expensive, children can’t study because they have no space in their overcrowded homes, and many older or disabled people are struggling to move around their own home because it’s unsuitable.”

The research was carried out by a team from Herriot-Watt University. In terms of its regional breakdown, the report revealed that 2.2 million people in the North endure the direct impact of the housing crisis; 2.5 million are affected in the south of England; 2.1 million in London; and 1.6 million in the Midlands.

When it comes to the issues people face across England: there are 3.6 million people living in overcrowded homes, while 2.5 million are unable to pay their rent or mortgage.

There are 2.5 million people living in so-called hidden households. These include people living in house shares and with friends who can’t afford to move out, adults living with their parents, or people still living with an ex-partner because they can’t afford to move out.

There 1.7 million people living in unsuitable housing. This includes older people and people with physical disabilities, or families in in inappropriate properties because, for example, they lack outside space.

A further 1.4 million are living in poor quality homes.

Meanwhile 400,000 people are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This group include people sleeping rough or in homeless shelters. It also includes people living in temporary accommodation or sofa-surfing, along with people discharged from hospital or other institutions who have nowhere to go.

The answer, according to the NHF, is more social housing among others. To meet demand, the country needs 340,000 new homes every year, including 145,000 social and affordable homes.

Along with Shelter, Crisis, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Chartered Institute of Housing, the NHF is calling on the Government to build these social homes by investing £12.8 billion every year for the next decade.

Affordable housing provision must, the organisation says, include: 90,000 homes for social rent; 30,000 homes at intermediate affordable rent; and 25,000 shared ownership homes.

Henderson added: “This crisis cannot be solved by tweaks around the edges of the housing market. What we need is a return to proper funding for social housing, to the levels last seen under Churchill. Investing in housing is a win-win for the Government – it would bring down the housing benefit bill, provide everyone with a secure and stable start in life, and kick start an economic boom creating thousands of jobs.”

Responding to the report, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, said it was urgent the Government address housing issues in the Queen’s Speech.

“The findings of this report reinforce how critical it is for the Government to use the Queen’s Speech to give councils the powers and funding they need to get building the social housing the country desperately needs,” said Councillor David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesperson.

“The last time the country built more than 300,000 homes a year was 1977/78, when councils built 44% of them. Latest figures show councils built just over 2,500 homes last year – the highest level since 1992 – but need to be able to do so much more.

“By scrapping the housing borrowing cap, the Government showed it has heard our argument that councils must be part of the solution to our chronic housing shortage.

“It should now go further and devolve right to buy so that councils retain 100% of their receipts to reinvest in building new homes accompanied with the right infrastructure, and can set discounts locally.”

Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey MP said the NHF’s research show the consequences of the “Conservative failure” as well as confirming the scale of the housing crisis.

“It’s clear that the Government should be doing much more, but deep cuts to housing investment since 2010 mean the country is now building 30,000 fewer social rented homes each year than we were with Labour,” he added.

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