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.
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.
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.
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.