Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for South East England, recently launched a new report entitled ‘Everyone knows we have a housing crisis: let’s do something about it’. He took the report on a tour of the South East. SHOUT, along with other housing campaigners, were invited along to give presentations on the tour. In this blog, Keith writes for SHOUT about why he produced the report and the response it has received.
Representing a region blighted by the housing crisis, I receive many emails from constituents relating to housing.
In close proximity to London, and as an area where so much economic development is now concentrated, the South East is particularly affected by the housing crisis. Oxford was recently named the UKs ‘least affordable city’. Whilst it’s of little surprise to me that the research we’ve conducted has pointed to an increasingly unaffordable housing situation in the South East, it’s been startling to learn more of the extent of the problem, and the different situations people find themselves in as a result.
We’ve seen that in the South East region, homes cost a whopping 12 times the average salary, locking people out of home-ownership, and often forcing people into the rental market. At the same time, private renters have seen prices soar in the region. Brighton, for example, saw rents rise by 9.1% in the last year alone. Meanwhile, 240,000 households are languishing on the social housing waiting list.
These figures are shocking, and yet it’s sometimes hard to picture the lived experiences of the people behind the figures. As part of my research, I spoke with people on the ground, and through these conversations I was brought to a fuller realisation of the stress, anxiety and the health impacts which my constituents face because their basic needs are not being met, or because they live in constant fear of missing next month’s rent.
My report demonstrates that the current system we have, with unaffordable prices and rents, and a depleted stock of social houses, is directly linked to factors like the Right to Buy policy and the failures of successive government to ensure that those in greatest need are provided for. My report also shows that the system we’ve created; a system which allows for houses to be treated as financial assets and not primarily as homes, is not fit for purpose.
To launch the report, I visited areas of my constituency which are particularly affected by the housing crisis. I visited Oxford, Brighton, Reading, Winchester, Guildford and Canterbury, and in each of these places, I met with people who also believe that there are alternative ways of solving the housing crisis.
When we advertised these meetings, we asserted that they would provide an opportunity for discussion and debate. In Brighton, the Living Rent campaign joined our panel of speakers. They advocate a ‘living rent’; in other words, a rent which is not determined by the market, but by local earnings.
In Oxford, I was joined by Danny Dorling, Oxford lecturer and author of ‘All that is Solid’. Danny spoke about how the current housing system is exacerbating the gap between rich and poor, and as a housing expert, his view that we don’t simply need to build more houses, but to make better use of the housing we already have – made complete sense to me.
In Reading, I was joined by Defend Council Housing, who spoke about our depleting council housing stock, and the need to protect the sell off of these much-needed houses. Members from the audiences at these events shared their own experiences and others talked about local campaigns they had recently joined - perhaps a sign of of a UK housing movement coming to life?
It’s clear to me that the current housing system is failing people. Importantly, this doesn’t have to be the case. I believe that we must create a society which meets the needs of people; that includes creating secure, decent and affordable homes in which people can live full lives.
As I’ve been writing, my twitter feed has been filled with reactions to the policy announcement to extend the Right To Buy policy to Housing Association tenants. It is my opinion that this proposal will only exacerbate the housing crisis further and reminds us of some of the reasons why we've got into such a mess in the first place.