Sally-Ann Hart: This crisis has highlighted the urgent need for affordable, secure and comfortable homes

17 Sep

Sally-Ann Hart is the MP for Hastings and Rye and was a councillor in Rother.

Over the past few months our country has suffered from a debilitating and distressing illness which has affected each and every one of us to varying degrees. Some of the most vulnerable, those who sleep on our streets, were scooped up and housed. The Government showed its heart and there should be no reason why homelessness should persist. We now need to ensure that the once homeless do not become so again.

As a Conservative, I fundamentally believe in home ownership – that everyone should have the opportunity to own their own home. The Government is rightly engaging in an ambitious policy to “build, build, build” good quality homes that people want to live in. But, we cannot, and should not, forget or ignore the necessity for a safety net; for good quality social homes that people enjoy living in. We know that not everyone can afford to buy their own home and that some people will spend their whole lives in social housing whilst many will use it as a springboard to buy their own home.

On becoming the MP for the beautiful constituency of Hastings and Rye, which has some of the worst levels of deprivation in the country, I met up with a number of children’s, family and homeless charities and organisations to gain a clearer picture of the needs and issues affecting disadvantaged people and families.

It is painfully obvious how housing can make or break a child’s chances in life. Coronavirus has highlighted not only how important our homes are to us, but also the extent of our housing crisis and the need for affordable, secure and comfortable homes. The Homes at the Heart campaign, run by the National Housing Federation, urges the Government to focus on building social homes as the heart of our social and economic recovery.

Building new homes will help the country recover from this health and economic crisis by creating jobs and boosting the economy. Last year, housing associations in England built more than 45,600 affordable homes – more than a quarter of all new homes. This added an estimated £2.4 billion to the national economy, supporting more than 43,500 jobs. Housing associations’ day-to-day management of their existing homes adds an estimated £8 billion to the national economy, supporting more than 130,000 jobs.

Building social homes will also improve the lives of so many people; families living in temporary accommodation or living in overcrowded homes, rough sleepers and those struggling to pay rent. According to the National Housing Federation, 62,580 families are living in temporary accommodation, with 3.7 million people living in overcrowded homes. 30,000 people spent lockdown in a home that consists of one room.

It is unacceptable that millions of people across the country spent lockdown in homes that are damp and mouldy, insecure or pushing them into debt. In my own constituency, I have witnessed the health consequences of people living in homes that drip with condensation, covered with black mould.

There is no doubt that the lack of space and cramped living conditions have played a big role in causing health problems for huge numbers of people during lockdown. According to the NHF, more than half of those (52 per cent) who said their homes were not big enough said they had suffered from health problems. In parts of the country, evidence suggests that overcrowding may have accelerated the contraction rates of Coronavirus.

I recently visited Brighton Housing Trust, which is a housing association and charity operating throughout Sussex, employing over 250 people. It also provides advice services, including advice given to tenants facing eviction (funded by the Ministry of Justice through the Legal Aid Agency) in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings and last year prevented 927 households from becoming homeless.

Brighton Housing Trust is rooted in combatting homelessness, creating opportunities and promoting change. It supports rough sleepers and those who are at risk of becoming homeless. The Trust provides a range of valuable services to disadvantaged local residents including 83 permanent homes in Hastings and St Leonard’s. Its Hastings Advice Centre worked with 498 households in 2019/20, the majority of whom were over 45 years of age.

It also provides advice and support for young people through Hastings Young Peoples Service, providing homes for 31 homeless young people. The Trust leads an eight year National Lottery funded £9.2 million partnership across Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton – the Fulfilling Lives Partnership – that looks at systems change for those with multiple and complex needs. It also provides the Macmillan Welfare Benefits Advice Service giving free and confidential welfare benefits advice for people in East Sussex living with cancer, their families and carers.

Locally-focused housing associations do more than providing homes; they are well placed to provide support with sustaining tenancies, help with skills training and employment advice, provide the wrap around care to those who need it to sustain their tenancies following rough sleeping as well as providing local jobs. It is important that the Government incentivises the building and delivery of homes for social rent. If we increase the supply of homes for affordable social rent, it will not only save taxpayers money, boost the economy and will provide the bedrock of safe and secure homes from which many of our residents will flourish.