Don’t let the housing emergency divide and conquer
Rob Simkins, Campaigns Manager at Shelter Cymru
Over the last 12 months, the debate surrounding Wales’s toxic housing market has kicked up a gear, to say the least.
On the surface of it, you might be forgiven for not immediately noticing the common ground between your stereotypical Generation Rent case study – young urban renters stuck paying expensive market rents – and the growing crisis affecting rural Wales, where communities are being priced out of where they’re rooted by second homes and AirBnBs.
However, what both of these groups share is that the people behind the numbers are among the one million people in Wales, who are affected by the housing emergency.
That’s right – one in three people in Wales has been impacted by the housing emergency.
Rough sleeping, hidden homelessness, waiting lists for social homes, people trapped privately renting, rural housing markets where prices are through the roof – these are all symptoms of this wider political pandemic.
Now this is normally the point where the salvos start to fly in the comments section, as to who is ultimately to blame for this rather challenging predicament. Is it Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, decimating social housing stock but transferring vast amounts of wealth from state to citizen? Is it those lazy millennials who squeal about not being able to scrape together over £10,000 for a deposit to pay their own mortgage instead of someone else’s 2nd, or 3rd? Isn’t it about time they cancelled their Netflix subscriptions, stopped eating so much avocado and forego their excessive coffee habit?
Thankfully for the sake of my own inbox and everyone else’s patience, this man is not about to offer yet another unhelpful take on who gets to stand under the magic money tree and shake it until some mortgage-shaped fruits fall off.
No, what we need to do now is to recognise each other’s very different but equally difficult challenges and work together – as people impacted by the housing emergency – to press for solutions. Because, as we’ve seen first-hand, the symptoms of our sickly system are playing out across the length and breadth of the nation and manifesting themselves differently depending on who they impact.
The root causes and thereby the way to make inroads into tackling our shared emergency, are – like our challenges – very much shared:
- A totally dated, unfit for purpose perception of land, its uses and value;
- A chronic lack of supply to meet the desperate demand in the housing market, whether that be buying, renting or social lets;
- A lack of regulation, allowing market forces to run rampant through local communities; and
- Much of the last five years having been spent wrangling over the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Regardless of what side you took, or how you voted in 2016, it’s impossible to ignore the drain on resources for other vitally important roles of governments across the UK.
While perhaps expectedly, we’d have loved to have seen even more commitments from across the political spectrum on housing during the recent election, the debate around its importance was welcome and much needed. While many of the issues facing our housing sector are perhaps not particularly new, being locked in our homes for a good portion of the year helped to shine a renewed light on the importance of home.
As our Life in Lockdown report shows, not having a good home significantly impacted upon people during the early stages of the Coronavirus crisis. Nearly one in three families with children experienced problems in their home during the pandemic, such as damp, mould, electrical hazards or leaks.
Space was also at a premium, with 10% of all households not having access to enough outdoor space and nearly 80% of people who said they didn’t have enough space said that this had a worsening effect on their mental health.
To us, in Shelter Cymru, no matter where you live and what your challenges are – home is everything. And that’s why we’re calling on the huge number of us affected by the housing emergency to join us in the fight for home.
We’re moving into a new era: for Shelter Cymru this is our 40th year supporting people up and down Wales in need of support and using people’s stories to campaign for change. We have a new Welsh Government and many new MSs in our Senedd. Societally, we’re cautiously charting the course to recovery from the greatest challenge we’ve faced since the Second World War.
Whatever your challenges, old or young, urban or rural, renting, owning, social tenants – we all have a duty to make our housing system fit for the future.
Home is everything, fight for it.