Winds of change: The legacy of Storm Ciara and Dennis

by Dewi John

The sky above us is grey… It is that time of year yet again, storm season, which for many people across Wales can only mean one thing… flooding. This will mean sleepless nights for hundreds of households across Wales – who worry about their homes every time it rains, thinking back to the memory of what happened this month two years ago. February 2020 brought with it record levels of flooding across Wales. Our communities are still dealing with the scars of these storms.

Shelter Cymru believes we must tackle our un-readiness to deal with the symptoms of climate change, especially as the Deputy Climate Change Minister warns that “the consequences of not acting will be profound for Wales”. Climate change will see sea levels rise by at least 1.3 – 2.6 feet by 2100. If we do not act now to mitigate the impacts of flooding and extreme weather events, we will further exacerbate existing inequalities, which will result in disruption to our infrastructure and will  cause some of our coastal communities to  disappear forever by 2050.

Together with our partners Tai Pawb and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, we are campaigning to enshrine the right to adequate housing into Welsh law. We’re pleased that the recent Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru includes a commitment to a White Paper to explore such a right. A right to adequate housing can help us to combat both the impacts of climate change but also catalyse our journey to achieving net zero.

A right to adequate housing will mean investment in flood defences for parts of Wales which are more susceptible to flooding, bringing a cost/benefit ratio of more than 5:1. It will help spur on the current Welsh Government’s ambitious housebuilding commitments, and, in the uncertain future, it will hardwire a commitment to improving people’s homes –  ensuring that good quality, greener homes are front and centre of the delivery agenda as well as defending and decarbonising our existing homes across Wales.

We welcome the commitment within the Cooperation Agreement to commission an independent review of the Section 19 reports produced into extreme flooding in Wales in the winter of 2020 and 2021, with the commitment to act on the recommendations made. We also welcome the commitment to deliver an increased investment into flood and coastal erosion risk management and mitigation over the course of this Senedd term to minimise the likelihood of flooding of homes by 2050.  We must not however, underestimate the scale of the challenge we face and its importance. Realising a right to adequate housing will require agile and deliberate collaboration across the layers of governance. This however, is the right thing to do, to ensure that the painful lessons of two years ago are repeated as infrequently as possible in the future.

Shelter Cymru believes that home is everything and that everyone deserves a good home. But unless our current and new homes can withstand the pressures of extreme weather events, our shared housing emergency will only become further entrenched by climate change.

There’s no place like home: dealing with LGBTQ+ discrimination within the housing sector

As we mark LGBTQ+ History Month, it is important that we reflect on the past and take note of the progress that has been made, but it is equally important to look towards the future and learn from our shared past to create a more equal Wales. Recent surveys have consistently shown that the Welsh public supports LGBTQ+ equality and it is imperative that we deliver on this goal.  A 2019 BBC Wales report showed that 56% of the population felt very comfortable about an adult being in a same-sex relationship, whilst only 8% felt not comfortable at all. At Shelter Cymru we welcome these statistics and the recently published Welsh Government LGBTQ+ action plan.

A recent story from BBC London has shone a spotlight on the issue of LGBTQ+ discrimination within the housing sector, which is still a problem in 2022, with a gay couple being refused a house viewing and purchase. It is important that we take notice and stand together against prejudice and discrimination. We know that this issue isn’t just limited to LGBTQ+ people purchasing properties but also trying to access private rental properties. Our soon-to-be-released report based on a survey of private landlords in Wales shows that although the vast majority of landlords are accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, a minority of prejudiced attitudes still persists. Although over 90% of landlords said they would let a trans person, 4% of landlords said that they would not rent to someone who is transgender on the basis of old stereotypes directed at the LGBTQ+ community such as promiscuity, with one landlord saying “with regular different partners you would have your property trashed.”

We know from our research that LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately at risk of homelessness due to familial rejection. The same report showed that this disproportionate risk is even greater among transgender people due to family rejection, relationship breakdown and economic precariousness. To make matters worse there is a mental health crisis within the LGBTQ+ community, with an increased risk of mental illness and an increased risk of suicide as a result of bullying and discrimination. Clearly more needs to be to encourage and facilitate joint working between public organisations to tackle the scourge of hate crimes in Wales. A recent Vice report highlights the true extent of what discrimination can lead to: homophobic hate crimes have risen by 210% over the past six years in the UK, whilst transphobic hate crime has risen by 332%. To help tackle the higher risk of mental illness and suicide within the LGBTQ+ community, we must all work together to end the scourge of violence and discrimination, otherwise we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our shared past.

Shelter Cymru welcomes new Chair of Trustees, Mike Theodoulou

Following a successful open recruitment campaign, Shelter Cymru has identified its next Chair of Trustees, the housing and homelessness charity is pleased to announce.

Mike Theodoulou is a confident and motivated leader with a strong track record of strategic direction and management. He is highly experienced in working with multi-disciplinary teams across multiple sectors, including leadership roles in a number of housing associations, government agencies, private sector and third sector organisations.

He’s National Chair of One Voice Wales, the organisation representing town and community councils in Wales. He is Chief Executive of the Centre for Building Social Action, a Carmarthenshire-based social justice charity, and is an independent Community Councillor and Mayor of Pembrey and Burry Port.

Mike will be taking over from the outgoing Chair of Trustees Shayne Hembrow at Shelter Cymru’s AGM in March 2022.

Mike said:

‘I am really pleased to be taking on this new role with Shelter Cymru, a national charity that has the strongest voice and delivers unique support to people in housing need across Wales. I am passionate about fighting for social justice, I am passionate about improving outcomes for  the most vulnerable people in our communities, and I’m looking forward to supporting Shelter Cymru in its fight for everyone in Wales to have a good home.’

Shelter Cymru’s CEO Ruth Power said:

‘It was humbling that our Chair position attracted interest from many high-calibre applicants. Mike stood out in a strong field with his experience, his abilities and his deep commitment to ending homelessness. Over the last five years we’ve been privileged to have Shayne Hembrow  as our Chair; his strategic leadership of the board has enabled  us be ever more effective in our mission. We’re looking forward to working closely with Mike as we move further forward with our ambitious 2025 Strategy.’

One of Mike’s motivations in wanting to work for Shelter Cymru is his own experience of homelessness as a young person. Read Mike Theodoulou’s full statement here:

“When I was 17/18 we were made homeless. I was the oldest of five siblings and I watched my mother trying to raise five children, trying to feed five children under difficult circumstances until I started earning. That had a huge impact on my life.

It influenced what I did and what I want to continue to do. I am passionate about fighting for social justice, passionate about homelessness, passionate about looking after the most vulnerable people in our society.

Why Shelter Cymru? Shelter Cymru has the loudest voice in the fight against homelessness. Shelter Cymru offers services for those in housing need across the whole of Wales. I want to be part of it.”

ENDS

Green, Green Grass of Home: A greener future for our homes

OVER 1,500 CHILDREN IN WALES WILL WAKE UP THIS CHRISTMAS WITHOUT A PLACE TO CALL HOME

This Christmas an unprecedented amount of children in Wales will be homeless and living in temporary accommodation with no place to call home.

The number of people living in emergency accommodation has nearly doubled in the last year and our services are seeing a huge increase in the number of children who are experiencing homelessness.

An alarming number of children will be living in hostels, bed and breakfasts, hotels or other ‘temporary accommodation’ with insufficient space for eating, sleeping and playing. And it’s often not ‘temporary’  – the housing crisis means that people could be stuck in poor conditions  for several months or even years, with little hope for a permanent home.

The number of children whose families have come to Shelter Cymru for help because they are stuck in temporary accommodation has gone up by a third in the last year. It is estimated that this year approaching 7,000 people will spend Christmas homeless, with uncertainty regarding finding a suitable home for the future.

A perfect storm of welfare cuts and rising rents, together with a lack of social and affordable homes is creating impossible pressure for local authorities. This, coupled with the devastating effect of the Covid pandemic, paints a very bleak picture for these homeless families and other people struggling to get by in these uncertain times.

Ruth Power, CEO of Shelter Cymru, said:

‘We know first-hand the negative impact that not having a home and living in temporary accommodation has on people’s mental and physical health. And we know that homelessness affects children and young people’s education, and can have lifelong impacts. This Christmas in Wales too many families will be living in poor conditions where it’s difficult to cook a proper meal. Some will spend Christmas living in one room, where they are forced to eat, play, dry their washing and sleep.

We need your help to stop this from happening. Every child deserves a safe place to call home. Every donation will mean that Shelter Cymru can be there for those who need us, this Christmas and beyond.’

 

NATALIE’S STORY

Natalie and her four year old daughter have been without a home since February. With low windows and exposed wires, their temporary small flat does not provide a safe and settled home for her daughter, and Natalie is fearful of her coming to harm. “She hates it here. She cries every time we return and the noise from outside frightens her. I just don’t want this life for her.’

Shelter Cymru is supporting Natalie to secure a permanent home in a suitable area; somewhere her daughter can play and get a good night’s sleep and where they can build a secure future together.

**Natalie’s story is based on real events. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

To donate to Shelter Cymru’s urgent Christmas appeal please visit www.sheltercymru.org.uk/donate.

ENDS

The fight for home must also be a fight against discrimination

Supported by Shelter, Stephen, who is disabled,  successfully proved ‘No DSS’ discrimination is unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act
By Matthew Palmer

Did you know that if a landlord or estate agent discriminates against someone claiming housing benefit in Wales, then they are in breach of their licensing conditions? Many people may not know, which may be why we are still seeing cases of discrimination against people across Wales who are in receipt of housing benefit.

Even before the pandemic, around half of the Welsh population received some kind of benefit. Unsurprisingly, as the effects of the pandemic hit, more people claimed benefits as incomes fell.

Despite this additional pressure falling upon so many people, we are still seeing cases of people entitled to housing benefit being discriminated against when trying to secure somewhere to call home. Discrimination should never deny the right to a safe home.

This discrimination can take many forms. From blatantly unlawful ‘No DSS’ or ‘no Universal Credit’ adverts, to more creative approaches, such as advertising for ‘professionals only’ or asking for multiple months’ rent in advance.

Our recent research showed that around 75,000 (3%) of adults in Wales said they had experienced discrimination when they tried to find their current home and felt it was because of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or disability. While we know that it is a minority of landlords wriggling through loopholes or brazenly breaking the law to discriminate against people on benefits, one instance of discrimination is one too many – as it means yet another person in Wales is denied the right to a safe home.

At a time where incomes for many are stagnated or still falling and the cost of living is increasing, it’s vital that we take action. That’s because home is everything, and without it we cannot lead happy, healthy and productive lives. We’re campaigning to end housing benefit discrimination, by ensuring that landlords and agents who breach their licensing conditions in this way don’t get away with it.

So, if you agree with us – and the law – that one instance of discrimination is one too many and you want to do something about it, then drop Matt an email (campaigns@sheltercymru.org.uk) and we’ll let you know how you can help. As little as one hour of your time will help us take discriminating landlords to task.

Together we can end this awful practice and take another step forward in our fight for home.

The 6th Senedd

On behalf of Shelter Cymru, I congratulate each and every new and returning member of the Senedd. We look forward to working with you all over the course of the 6th Senedd.

The 6th Senedd starts during a period of immense challenge across Wales. As we look to build back better and fairer from the pandemic, we must ensure that people’s homes are front and centre. We cannot expect people to get back into work, children to excel in their education and for people to live healthy and happy lives without good homes. Home is everything.

All parties gave housing attention and focus in their campaigns. We now need to start address the housing emergency. We’re keen to work with the new Welsh Government to deliver on their key commitments to housing. From 20,000 new social homes, more protections for renters across Wales and  ensuring that people in temporary housing are helped into long term homes, and no-one is forced to return to the streets. The challenges are immense. Only by working in partnership, will Wales be able to achieve the ambitious goal of ending our housing emergency, once and for all.

Shelter Cymru has a proud record of supporting people in housing need and fighting for good homes for everyone. We stand ready to help all of our new MSs as they face some of the biggest challenges of our time. We also stand ready to push and drive change where needed, being a critical friend to government and making the  voices of people – people across Wales whose daily lives are affected by homelessness or poor and unaffordable housing –  heard at the highest level. There is lots to do, but we look forward to contributing to ending the housing emergency in Wales.

We wish you all success in rising to the challenges and opportunities of the 6th Senedd.

Yours,

Ruth Power | CEO, Shelter Cymru

 

 

Wales goes to the polls, what next for housing?

By Rob Simkins, Campaigns Manager

 

Tomorrow, Wales will go to the polls to elect our next Welsh Government and members of the Senedd, MSs. In the midst of a housing emergency – among the other crises gripping our nation – we’ll take a look at what we think our next MSs will be grappling with when it comes to housing during the 6th Senedd.

 

Social Homes
Each of the main parties have made strong commitments to drastically increase the number of social homes in Wales. Shelter Cymru have long argued that another 20,000 social homes are needed to help alleviate some of the pressure on waiting lists across the nation and get families into homes they can afford. We will be watching closely to make sure that targets are met and that these homes are of a good quality, meet local need and are genuinely affordable to rent.

 

Supporting Renters
A Resolution Foundation report released earlier this year helped to paint the picture of: a growing crisis of debt and rent arrears in the social and privately rented sectors. 24% of private renters saw their incomes fall compared to 16% of adults with a mortgage and there are three times the amount of private renters behind on their rent as people behind on their mortgage payments. This figure increases to nearly five times the amount of social renters behind with their rent when compared to people with mortgages arrears.

While the current Welsh Government put in place the Tenancy Saver Loan scheme, the take-up of this has been limited and whoever forms the next Welsh Government will need to take swift action to stop the build-up of debt and arrears among renters. Failure to take action could result in a tidal wave of post-pandemic homelessness, damaging lives and perpetuating inequalities.

 

Priority Need
The Covid-19 pandemic saw a multi-partner effort from government, councils and the charity sector to provide temporary accommodation to everyone who was homeless for the duration of the pandemic. This was a huge success, dramatically driving down the numbers of people sleeping rough and providing a safe place to stay for thousands of people who normally would not have the right to temporary accommodation, due to not being deemed ‘priority need’. But the strain this put on temporary accommodation providers and the wider system across Wales cannot be underestimated. There are now more than 6,000 people now in temporary accommodation compared to a little over 2300 in March 2020. The next key step for whoever makes up the next Welsh Government will be to ensure that there is:

  • No return to the streets for people who were previously sleeping rough, and that
  • Households are not trapped in temporary accommodation and are moved into suitable, stable and long-term homes as soon as possible

To do this, we mustn’t be constrained by the old way of thinking when it comes to homelessness. The priority need test saw many homeless people fall through the gaps of a complex system of gatekeeping. It’s time to consider each person who is homeless or at risk of homelessness  as equally deserving of help.

 

The challenges in getting a social home
It is high time we reviewed the way social housing is allocated in Wales. Housing is devolved and yet allocations are still based on the non-devolved Housing Act 1996. One of the factors currently keeping many people trapped in temporary accommodation is the inflexibility of local allocation policies. Over the years various unhelpful practices have developed such as the automatic exclusion from waiting lists of people with old unpaid rent arrears. While there is much good practice out there (and much creative interpretation of old, inflexible local exclusion policies), too many people are still excluded from social housing because of past mistakes or misfortunes. Our good practice guide describes how landlords can ensure they get some of their rent owed paid back, while tenants are not stuck in homelessness but can get a fresh start. The bigger challenge, though, is how we get more consistency and fairness in how social housing is allocated across Wales – a new Government, committed to a large-scale programme of social housebuilding, must quickly give attention to this issue.

 

The Housing Emergency
Thought we’d save the little one for the end…

Wales is indeed in the midst of a housing emergency, which began before Covid-19 turned everyone’s world upside down. Waiting lists for social homes are at record levels, a generation face being trapped in high-cost, low-security private rented accommodation  and people in parts of Wales are being priced out of where they are rooted by a surge of second / holiday homes.

These problems are not new, nor are they small. They are, however, fundamental to the health and wellbeing of our society and the next Welsh Government must be bold and proactive in addressing them. Many of the issues talked about above are essentially rooted in the wider housing emergency, driven by the gap between ordinary people’s incomes and the cost of a home – this is not a time for tinkering with a system, which fails so many people in Wales.

It’d be remiss not to acknowledge, that the renewed focus on housing – reflected by party pledges and manifesto commitments – is both very welcome and a positive first step. We look forward to working in partnership with whoever takes up office after the 6th of May, so that together, we can radically re-think how we enable every person in Wales to have a decent home. Homes that provide the foundation of people’s personal, social and economic wellbeing.

We must end the housing emergency in Wales once and for all.

We’re excited to get to work with the next Welsh Government, fighting for good homes up and down Wales.

Politicians have listened to our social housing campaign. Now it’s time for them to take action.

by Rob Simkins

The Welsh housing crisis. It’s a term often bandied around by a range of groups and individuals. Type it into a search engine and you won’t be short of opinions to sift through. The noise in this area has been taken up a notch more recently, especially with our latest campaign which has seen members of the Welsh public send around 1,000 emails to MSs demanding that 20,000 more social homes are built during the next Senedd term, 2021-26. It has been brilliant to see the impact of our campaign, with each of the three, main parties who could form a government (or the bulk of a government) putting social housing front and centre of their efforts to win over the Welsh electorate in May.

Demand currently far outstrips supply when it comes to social housing in Wales. Across Wales, there are around 67,000 households on waiting lists for social housing, who are often then forced into the private rented sector which can be unaffordable and more insecure – or even worse, they are forced into homelessness.

It is also important to differentiate social housing from affordable housing. While there remains demand for affordable housing in Wales, this definition means anything below market rent (including just below) and Help To Buy homes which can cost up to £300,000 – well above the average house price for most parts of Wales.

So how then, do each of the three biggest parties in our Senedd propose to address this clear and present need?

Well, let’s start with the current party in government, Welsh Labour. Speaking at Community Housing Cymru’s (CHC) annual conference on the 26th of November, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James MS, revealed that Welsh Labour will commit to building 20,000 social homes for rent in the next Senedd term if they win the election. The Minister promised that this would be within the Welsh Labour manifesto for the 2021 elections, building on the previous target of 20,000 affordable (not social) homes by 2021 which the Welsh Government state that they are on track to meet.

Looking across to the Welsh Conservatives, leader of the Senedd Group, Paul Davies MS reiterated the party’s goal of delivering 100,000 homes over the next ten years – of which 40,000 would be social homes. This is reflected alongside wider policy points in the Welsh Conservatives’ 10-point action plan to tackle Wales’ homelessness crisis. The action plan also promises to legislate to make housing a basic human right in Wales, citing Shelter Cymru’s report; The right to adequate housing in Wales.

Plaid Cymru have also been quick to back the building of social homes too, proposing 30,000 social homes should they form the next government as part of a wider package of 50,000 affordable purchase and rental homes.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have also played a significant role in government with Welsh Labour over the current Senedd term and depending on election results could also be in a position to build 30,000 new social homes over the course of the next term. This would feature as part of a programme including the introduction of a Right to Adequate Housing into Welsh law.

Shelter Cymru, along with a number of other organisations has long  called for an increase in social housing in Wales. This is to ensure that waiting lists are kept as short as possible or ideally eliminated altogether, to ensure that as many people as possible are in good quality and safe homes , and to work towards ending homelessness in Wales. As such, we warmly welcome the commitments to helping to end the housing crisis by building more social homes, laid out by all parties in should they form the next Welsh Government.

The fact that housing has to this point been a pivotal part of each party’s policy process perhaps demonstrates that now is the time for a wider debate to be had on housing. The coronavirus crisis has shown that for many people in Wales, their housing situation is simply not good enough. This in turn has a knock-on effect on people’s lives, manifesting itself in everything that they do. From making people less productive in the workplace, to making them more susceptible to poor physical and/or mental health, to compromising their children’s education. Shelter Cymru’s Life in Lockdown report painted this picture, finding that 10% of households with children had no access to outdoor space during the first lockdown and that fewer than half of those who reported disrepair had their issues resolved between March and July 2020.

These are significant commitments and none of us  should underestimate the challenge that the next Welsh Government will face, whichever party is in government. To achieve any of the parties’ objectives will require investment above current levels.

A Welsh public who demand more social housing, and who stand ready to  hold the next government to account for their welcome promises will keep social housing, at the forefront of the debate. You can write to your MS, sign our petition or get involved in other ways by donating your money, time or energy and experience to Shelter Cymru.

Together, we can make sure that no matter where in Wales you call home, you have the right to an affordable, good and secure home.