29 Feb 2024

Striving for equality in housing

2023 marked the first full year for our Equality in Housing podcast, and what a year it has been. It’s been great to see it taking off and we’ve received positive feedback from people across policy, practice and academia. We also heard that it is being used as a teaching resource on some university housing modules. Being awarded the Marion Gibb’s Award for Equality in Housing at the Scotland Housing Awards was wonderful recognition of the podcast’s impact. It shows that people are interested and inspired by the podcast; a core motivation of this work is to get people engaged and talking about the issues.

We recognise that lots of organisations across the housing sector are doing fantastic work to make access to their services accessible for everyone. We share these stories to spark inspiration for others to develop their policies and practices to ensure everyone has access to safe, decent housing in places they want to live.

However, the sad reality is that despite all this work, it is set against a challenging backdrop. We are currently experiencing a cost of living crisis, which shows little sign of abating. Private rents rose 6.1 per cent in England and 6.3 per cent in Scotland, in the 12 months to November 2023. The cost of living crisis is impacting everyone, with households on the lowest incomes disproportionately affected. According to recent work by Crisis, the lowest income decile is particularly exposed with average housing, food and energy costs exceeding their incomes by 43 per cent.

Rising rents in the private rented sector (PRS), has increased the number of people falling into rent arrears, particularly amongst housing benefit recipients, leading to increased evictions. Combined with an undersupply of social housing and a lack of affordability in the PRS, this is leading to rising homelessness.

The 2023 Homelessness Monitor in England highlighted that 290,000 eligible households sought local authorities' help on homelessness in 2021-22. Temporary accommodation placements have more than doubled to over 100,000 households between 2010-11 and December 2022. The number of people sleeping rough in England grew in 2022, following a declining trend in previous years.

Earlier this year the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) launched a new consultation on reforms to social housing allocations to make the system fairer. According to Housing Minister Lee Rowley, it will help to make the system fairer and social housing will be allocated to “decent and hardworking people that have contributed to this country”. One of the headline proposals is that they will include new UK and local connection tests to determine social housing eligibility. Applicants must demonstrate a connection to the UK for at least ten years and their local area for at least two years. However, evidence shows that local connections tests can exacerbate homelessness. They’re not widely supported and have been scrapped altogether in Scotland. It also comes at a time of a hardening of attitudes towards migrants, and I know many of us share concerns about the impact this could have for some people.

We can’t shy away from the inequalities in our housing system.

Through Equality in Housing we share stories from those working in housing to get a better ‘real-time’ picture of the issues and lay out the problems as clearly as possible. Stories can be hard to listen to, but having these conversations can help reveal a clearer picture that we might not otherwise be able to see from mainstream headlines and social media.

There’s a long way to go But we need to keep conversations going and but there are a lot of good news stories too. In a recent episode, we walk with Francis Burrows from Orbit Housing Association about how they work flexibly with their tenants to develop working groups, where tenants’ views are fed into Orbit’s governance structures. Francis talks about the challenges of doing this, but by building up trust and listening to tenants, they can work together to shape the practices of Orbit, so they work for everyone.

We are excited about what 2024 has in store for Equality in Housing. Following the success of our first live recording, we look forward to attending the CIH Scotland conference this March, where we will be doing a second live recording of the podcast.

Written by

Dr Gareth Young, knowledge exchange and impact fellow at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence.