Finding a safe and secure home is getting harder for people who need it the most

Cuchulainn Sutton-Hamilton, Research Officer

Having a safe and stable home is a fundamental right that too many do not have access to. We rightly talk about the brutal impact of homelessness, but the positive impact of having a stable home is often taken for granted. Concerningly, more people face losing their homes due to rising cost of living pressures, which has led to an increase in rents, energy and food costs. Increasingly the foundation that many people to have even a basic standard of living – a settled home – just isn’t there.  

I know first-hand the importance of stable housing. As a child, my family was evicted from our home. We were fortunate enough to secure social housing, which provided us with ongoing security and the stability we needed. It gave me the base that I needed to grow and the security my family needed to progress in work and raise my sister. We are now a part of a strong community and are there for others. This would not have been possible without social housing.  

The current situation facing people who need somewhere affordable to live is bleak. Only 8% of private rented accommodation is accessible to people who receive housing benefit. There are currently 101,300 families and individuals staying in temporary accommodation and over a million households on social housing waiting lists in England alone. This means that even those who have the highest need for suitable accommodation have to wait years for a stable home.  On top of this already bleak but avoidable housing crisis is the ongoing cost of living crisis and rising inflation which means even those with mortgages are struggling to remain stably housed. 

Against this backdrop, social housing stock only increased by 0.7% last year. These 31,581 properties, while welcome, do not get close to relieving the considerable pressure on those needing a stable home. Added to this, 23,349 of these new properties are only available at what are called ‘affordable’ rents. While termed ‘affordable’ they can in fact be much more expensive than traditional social housing, with the weekly average affordable rent for England being £136.29 compared to £94.31 for social rent. The number of social rent homes, which are particularly important for housing people experiencing homelessness, actually decreased by 9,936. This scarcity means we find ourselves in a situation where staff working in councils describe people wanting to access social housing as being "unrealistic" about their options. 

As a result, people facing homelessness, councils and homelessness services have to try and make the best use of the often unaffordable and unstable private rented sector. Finding properties that are both affordable and accept tenants on benefits in a suitable area is increasingly difficult. So much so that we at Crisis have decided to intervene directly in the housing market and provide homes for our members that are genuinely affordable so that they can live their lives away from homelessness and with the firm foundation only a secure home can bring. With the support of Lloyds Banking Group, later this year we’ll be launching a new not-for-profit lettings agency that will make renting easier for people who would otherwise be homeless. We won’t be asking for rent in advance, people won’t need to meet strict reference requirements and they won’t need guarantors.  

Improving access to the private rented sector will help ease some of the pressure on those facing homelessness, but it’s required because successive governments have not prioritized building enough genuinely affordable homes. Working in homelessness, I look on with fear as having somewhere settled to call home is increasingly becoming a rarity for families like my own due to the lack of options. Social housing gave me and my family a foundation to build more stable lives. The reality is that unless something changes, we will continue to see fewer and fewer families and individuals having a permanent place that they can call their home.  

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