We can’t afford to ignore London’s housing crisis

How current housing associations are failing our capital’s citizens

As anyone who watched Channel 4’s recent documentary How to get a Council House will have seen, the social housing situation in Britain as a whole is truly dire. As with the private sector, property only becomes pricier and much more difficult to get your hands on as you move closer to the capital. The first programme in Channel 4’s series focused exclusively on the East London borough of Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived in the UK. In doing so it revealed some of the most shocking details about the state of the British housing system. Some of the examples given in the programme – such as a couple (the woman heavily pregnant) being forced to sleep on a bed-bug infested mattress, in a flat without a working lock – seemed too medieval to be true. The couple in question were in a queue that was over 2,000 places long. There are 22,000 people waiting for houses in Tower Hamlets alone and a meagre 40 vacancies per week.

Clearly the current system is failing. What then, can be done to re-vamp the sector and make sure that citizens are provided with the homes that they want and need? Well, according to some commentators, simply increasing the social housing stock is not the answer. Britain, after all, already has a significant proportion of local authority run properties – one of the highest in the world in fact. Plus, shouldn’t we really be encouraging people to be more self-sufficient and ensuring that they move into ‘affordable’ housing?

There are a few problems with this. Firstly, as Steve Nash alluded to in his recent piece for the Institute of Opinion, Mayor Boris Johnson’s controversial affordable rent plan – which allows developers to charge a maximum of 80% of the market value (and let’s face it; if they can, they will) – is not likely to solve the problem. The trouble is that the plan will have little if any impact on moving poorer Londoners out of crisis. Equally, the fact that the country has a high stock of social housing does not negate the fact that there is an infamously lengthy queue for said houses.

Many of those in need are deemed ‘vulnerable’ or are elderly individuals who cannot work or afford to pay 80% of the average monthly rent (which, by the way, in March of this year stood at £1106). The scarcity of suitable housing was also brought to light in Channel 4’s programme with the case of an elderly man who – due to his frailty – was asked to move not only away from his local community (a severe blow to him) but also into a property that was blatantly unsuited to his needs.

An adequate source of shelter – in this case, good-quality housing in which people do not feel threatened, trapped or isolated in sub-standard dwellings – is a basic human need. It’s about time that need was met and met properly. Is that really too much to ask?

Written by Anna Carnegie. The Social Policy Forum challenges social policy by stealth in the age of the Big Nudge. We are on Twitter @SocialPolicyFor.

Picture by: Oast House Archive