The housing crisis in this country is also a health crisis.
Last week in Parliament M.P.s debated the health costs of poor housing. Given recent reports in the Gazette about poor housing conditions in Canterbury this was particularly relevant to this district.
Research by the Building Research Establishment in March 2015 estimated that poor housing costs the NHS at least £1.4 billion a year. The University of Birmingham’s housing and communities research group state that 1 in 5 homes in the UK do not meet the decent home standard. Bad housing causes and exacerbates health problems. Being forced to live in cold, damp conditions, significantly increases the risk of experiencing cardio-vascular, respiratory and rheumatoid conditions and is very harmful to people with arthritis.
Poor housing is an ever-increasing national problem and must be addressed urgently. In July 2018 Canterbury City Council published a report entitled “Housing and Homelessness”. It highlighted that there are more than 2500 families on the Authority’s housing needs register-that’s more than 2500 families who don’t have a suitable place to live, many of whom are living in cramped and unsuitable “temporary” accommodation. The term “temporary” is misleading as many families are forced to live in such accommodation for long periods of time because there are no suitable council properties available and because they cannot afford to rent in the private sector.
The problem is affordability and lack of council housing. The report stated that the cost of housing to buy or rent privately in the Canterbury district is 13 times higher than average local wages. This forces many people to live in cramped, unsuitable conditions because that is all they can afford. The Council, like many others in this country, has built very few council homes in the last decade. Residents are forced into the expensive private rented sector which is largely unregulated and where tenants have few rights and very low security of tenure. Many tenants are frightened to complain of poor conditions for fear they will be evicted at short notice. The cost of rents forces many people to spend less money on both food and heating, causing damage to their health.
In the 1945-51 Labour Government Aneurin Bevan was Minister for Housing and Health. That Government recognised the link between good housing and good health. At the same time as it founded the NHS, that Government introduced a programme of slum clearances and council house building. Bevan insisted on council housing of good, minimum standards where everyone could live in spacious, dry homes.
This country needs such a programme again today. The private house-building sector cannot solve the housing crisis and unless bold new policies are implemented, all the problems of poor housing that I have referred to will persist.
The following policies need to be implemented;
- An end to the right to buy which has merely led to large numbers of former council houses being acquired by private landlords.
- The imposition of local rent controls in the private rented sector, so that rents are linked to average local wages.
- The regulation of the private rented sector to ensure that minimum standards are complied with.
- A sustained and widespread programme of council house building over the next two decades. Local Councils must be both empowered and instructed to build these homes with specific targets for each local authority.