Poverty: Home is Where the Start Is By Kelly Grehan

Home, the place you should feel the most comfortable and the most secure has become the very thing which enslaves many Brits to poverty.

Around 14 million people in the UK live in poverty in the UK (according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) which is over one in five of the population.

At least 8 million of them live in families where at least one person is in work.  

How has it happened that a continued rise in employment is no longer reducing poverty?  

Whilst the reasons are multiple and doubtless include the rise in zeros hours contracts, state support for low-income families through benefits and tax credits falling in real terms and stagnant wages, housing must now be seen in terms of the devastating impact it has on so many. 

 The chances of owning your own home have halved in the last 20 years.  For those on middle income jobs, which once guaranteed a good standard of living the chances of owning a house is now diminished.  

Just 27% of 25 to 35 year olds in this bracket now on the property ladder, which is unsurprising when you consider that over the past 20 years, average house prices have grown about seven times faster than the average incomes of young adults (according to the IFS). Yet average house prices have increased by 152% whereas wages for 25- to 34-year-olds have only risen by 22% in real terms over the same period.

 

This means that many people who would have been home owners in the generation before theirs are now at the mercy of the private rented sector.

Their income should have meant they could comfortably afford the mortgage on an average property in an average area, but instead rising rents and the costs of deposits and upfront rents leave many struggling to manage.  

Unsurprisingly if those on good incomes struggle to afford the roof over their head then for those on low incomes the situation is even worse.  

47% of working-age adults on low incomes spend more than a third of their income (including Housing Benefit) on housing costs.

More than a third of working-age adults receiving Housing Benefit now have to top it up out of their other income to cover their rent.  

Let us not forget that many people on low incomes do important jobs like health care assistants and teaching assistants. 

Right to Buy has left pressure on the UK’s limited and often antiquated housing stock which simply means the social housing system can not operate in any way which works.  

Pressure on local authority housing lists means many desperate families  are stuck in temporary accommodation which radically undermines family life.  It also means many people with specific needs such as mobility and disability issues are in properties completely unsuitable for them which further impacts their health and ability to access services – for example there are people whose inability to get a wheelchair through their doorways effectively leaves them trapped in one room – isolated from any groups or activities outside the property.

As public housing stocks has fallen public housing has become almost synonymous for some with problem families; stigmatising children and adults alike and playing into a dangerous ‘us-and-them’ mentality.  

At the same time lack of access to the limited housing stock leads to raised tensions in communities as people instinctively resent those fortunate enough to be allocated a property.  

None of this is good for communities.

As demand outstrips supply; landlords are able to be less and less responsible, and as the costs of moving are always with the tenant, people are increasingly afraid to complain about the poor standards or their home.  

From the taxpayers point of view, this causes further costs as poor quality housing damages health, through for example more accidents and asthma being caused by exposure to damp environments. Furthermore; people with mental health conditions are one and a half times more likely to live in rented housing than the general population.

 Children who have lived in temporary accommodation for over a year are three times as likely to have a mental health condition than other children, including depression and anxiety.  

This might be because they lack space to do homework or have friends over.

10% of mothers who lived in acutely bad housing were clinically depressed, further impacting on family life. 

Rough sleeping had almost been eradicated by the Labour government of 1997-2010. However since the election of 2010 there has been a catastrophic rise of 169% in the number of rough sleepers with an estimated 4,751 people sleeping outside overnight in 2017.

 

While rough sleepers are the ultimate victims of the UKs crazy housing systems, other types of homelessness have also risen: homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless.  

Every person in this situation is suffering unimaginable amounts of stress.

Even the houses we are buying are not seeing occupants have a better standard of living than their previous generations.

New homes are now 20% smaller than those built in the 1970s, whilst this means raised bigger profits for developers, as kitchens and living rooms get smaller family life is inevitably negatively impacted.

 In short every single part of our housing system is dysfunctional and a failure to fix it means more and more people are dragged into a poorer standard of living which, in short means there is more misery and more suffering.

 How long are we going to let this madness continue?  

 

Private Renters Deserve Pets Too! By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday was National Pet Day.  A frivolous occasion, you might expect to be marked with humour in a country famed for being full of animal lovers.

But pet ownership is on the decline in the UK, falling by 7% in the last 5 years.  I believe much of this can be traced to the rise in renting.

The proportion of people living in the private rented sector has doubled over the last decade, as rising house prices coupled with stagnating wages have put the dream of owning a home out of reach for many, especially the young.

Around 5 million households, or 21% of the total are living in private rented accommodation, a quarter of whom are families with children.

Renting, is now often a stressful way of life, with renters without security knowing their landlord can raise the rent at the end of their tenancy agreement, evict them, and that they will pay the costs associated with moving.

In addition research indicates tenants are increasingly afraid to complain about poor conditions and disrepair for fear of eviction as landlords seek an ‘easier tenant.’

Pet ownership is another area (of many) where private tenants are denied opportunities taken for granted by homeowners and council tenants.

The benefits of pet keeping are well known.

For example they can offer relief from loneliness –  a growing problem in the UK, which has been recognised as a health issue.

On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Having pets teaches children responsibility, in the case of dogs can be a way of meeting new people and getting more exercise and fresh air.

Being excluded from keeping pets means private tenants are excluded from a traditional and beneficial part of British family life.

The expectation that tenants are not allowed pets, is part of the culture that persists where houses are seen as being the cash cow of the landlord rather than a home.

The fact that landlords have been allowed to ban pets is indicative of the way the UK sees landlords rights as more important than those of tenants: family life and childhood are second to the rights of profiteering.

In February, announcing plans connected to animal welfare, the Labour Party announced that when in power it will bring in an assumed right of tenants to keep pets in their home.

This may seem a minor policy, but I believe it will improve the quality of life for many people.