I was shocked and saddened to read the recent report by Shelter that highlighted the growing problem of poor quality housing in the UK.
According to their Living Home Standards, more than 40% of people in Britain are living in substandard accommodation. More than a quarter of those were deemed unaffordable.
A safe, secure and affordable home should not be a luxury. Yet for millions of people across the country, this basic human right is still not a reality.
The implications of Shelter’s report are significant.
Affordability of housing continues to pose the most significant problem – a consequence of rising rents and bills that have not been reflected in salaries, or mortgage payments that force a reduction in spending on essentials like food or heating. But beyond the immediate impact of these factors, there is also the ongoing uncertainty of rent increases and length of tenancies. More than a third of those who took part in the report were concerned by the prospect of unexpected increases in rent or terminations in their contracts.
But it isn’t just affordability. One in five respondents were found to be living in homes that failed to provide decent living conditions. Amongst the reasons for failing were a lack of running hot and cold water, properties suffering from damp or mould and infestations of pests. In 2016, it is completely unacceptable that anyone should be expected to live in a home, or raise a family in a property, that does not provide such basic provisions.
In looking at the findings of the report, it comes as no surprise that it is the poorest in the society who are most adversely affected. Pensioners and those receiving welfare support are almost twice as likely to be living in homes that failed on one or more of Shelter’s housing standards when compared to top earners.
The increasing disparity between rich and poor is something we associate all too often with the Conservatives in office. Under former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, a chronic failure to adequately address the housing crisis – both quantity and quality – has left the capital at breaking point.
In London, we have been at the sharp end of the housing crisis for a number of years. Demand has far outstripped supply and local authorities are forced to play catch up.
With Sadiq Khan in City Hall, we now have a Mayor of London who properly understands the scale of the housing shortage. His commitment to affordable housing has been clear from the outset, rightly setting ambitious targets for affordable housing provision.
Brent’s Labour Council is taking up the challenge set by City Hall, finding new and innovative ways to deliver the high quality, affordable housing our borough needs. In Kilburn, a recent council-led housing development delivered 45% affordable homes. Homes of high quality, in a vibrant and exciting part of the borough, without the disgraceful segregated entrances – or ‘poor doors’ – that were tolerated by the previous Mayor.
As a Council, we are also beginning the process of licencing all private landlords in the borough. A move that has already proved so successful in other London boroughs like Newham, licencing our landlords is the first step to ensuring private tenants get the protection they need. Our pilot scheme has already resulted in a number of prosecutions, and I am confident that our consultation process will show overwhelming support from residents to roll out the scheme across the borough.
Housing will continue to be the single biggest issue that councils like ours will face. In Brent, we are leading the way, and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all of our residents have the homes they need.