With the election done and dusted you’d be forgiven for thinking from some of the rhetoric flying around that the question of Britain’s direction for the next five years is set in stone. In reality nothing could be further from the truth and Generation Rent is already looking forward to continuing our vital work in alerting the government and opposition to the question of housing.
In the month that saw the election we also saw campaigners occupying the space outside the Central Library, and later in St Anne’s Square, to protest about homelessness.
Generation Rent visited the Homeless Rights of Justice Camp, over the bank holiday weekend, and heard from one member whose identity is protected:
“I came to Manchester in 2007, as a political refugee from Libya. I was 17 years old. I've been homeless ever since, and live on a construction site.”
Many of the activists and homeless camp members are under 30 years of age, and some are victims of landlord's using Section 21 to issue revenge evictions and, others are victims of domestic violence.
During the time I was at the camp, a group of young teenage men verbally attacked the camp members, for being ‘scruffs’. The social disconnect between the public perception of Manchester’s homeless population, and realities faced by these individuals, was truly highlighted.
UK citizens who are victims of domestic abuse and political refugees, inhabit the same utter lack of choice: to stay home and face violence and even death or to leave home and try to survive.
The situation the camp members find themselves in is not a lifestyle choice, but a will to survive. That becomes glaringly apparent on meeting them.
Daily life is a struggle and the level of suffering is high, which is exactly why they began the occupation, to give visibility to the human impact of the housing crisis; and to demand local accountability from the Council. Like Manchester's 'concealed families' living in over-cramped conditions to avoid homelessness, Manchester's homeless population are no longer a hidden demographic.
As of May the 4th Manchester City Council issued the following statement:
In response to the homeless rights of justice protest, Manchester city council has plans to ‘create a new strategy' for homelessness in Manchester, and have ‘embarked upon a review on homelessness’.
Less striking, but no less relevant, was the most recent reveal by Salford Star news, that private developers have side-stepped their obligations to build affordable homes or pay planning fees on the grounds of ‘economic viability’, hiding behind Section 106 of the Planning Act.
£19 Million in unpaid planning fees and over 830 affordable homes which weren't built over the last 12 months alone, has shaken residents to their core, as developers themselves admit to ‘social cleansing’.
This year’s election campaign saw an extension of the Right to Buy policy by the Tories, threatening the last vestiges of affordable housing and qualifying a final sell-off of Housing Associations and Social Housing into the hands of private buyers. Or, as the Conservatives would have you believe, first-time buyers, less than 40 years old.
We’re not too sure how this helps the 2 million children growing up in the rented sector, and half a million in unsafe housing.
Rents are set to increase by 5% year on year, for the next 5 year term. A 25% increase in the cost of renting, with a retracting social housing stock and ever less affordable buyers-market, means people are running out of options.
Clearly these shocking facts need answering with sound housing policy?
As yet the Tory policy response promises further damage, with a removal of housing benefit support for 18-21 year olds. This means we could see a huge spike in young homeless, even larger than the 50% increase over the last ConDem government.
With Manchester’s homeless number’s soaring to over 79% increase in the last year alone, we need Government action now to halt the momentum of this crisis.
So what’s the overall state of the nation in this, the first few weeks of a majority Conservative government, one which has said it wants to build a stable future for Britain? Does this vision of a stable Britain include the 90,000 children who are homeless around the country? Does it have the will to investigate why evictions are at a record high, with 11,000 families evicted in the first three months of 2015? Does it care about the millions who live in rented accommodation which is substandard, or outright dangerous?
On the street level, in Manchester and Salford, Generation Rent are meeting more families than ever who are trapped in appalling conditions, in expensive rented homes. One mother of two in Manchester told us that she nearly died thanks to the mould in her home which caused a post-operative infection and that she had ‘pleaded’ with her landlords to be rehoused to avoid the inevitable impact of her home’s conditions worsening her and her family’s health.
Another tenant told us they had been shown around a property in Rusholme when searching for a single-room to rent, and they saw a house which had been split into bed-sits, with each containing as many as 6 family members living in one room.
If we want a stable Britain we need to look at the problems which cause instability. If we want a strong economy then we need to understand that poor quality housing causes illness in working age people which is depriving both public and private sectors of many thousands of work days a year, at a cost of millions. If we want an effective NHS then we should recognise the burden placed on it by childhood asthma and other illnesses caused by living in damp and unsuitable accommodation. If we want to raise educational standards then we should acknowledge the disruption caused by children having to move home, something which is more likely for families in the insecure rental sector in Britain today.
Generation Rent is a campaign group looking to give renters a fair deal, but our work goes far beyond this. Good housing is intrinsic to a functioning society, and if the new government is serious about delivering this then it needs to begin addressing the problems in the rental market as soon as possible. If the opposition parties want to win seats back then they could do worse than look at the large and growing sector of the population who live in rented accommodation.