Born and raised in Walsall, I was alarmed to see some of the headline figures quoted in July’s edition of Inside Housing:
- 52% of the Walsall population are of living in a “Core 20” area – areas where the most deprived 20% of the national population live;
- 30% of children live in poverty; and
- The population has a “healthy life expectancy” of just 56.8 years old.
The context for the publication was to highlight the excellent innovative work that Walsall Housing Group and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust are doing in partnership, sharing data in order to identify those households and children with health conditions so that immediate repair works can be undertaken to properties that suffer from mould and damp.
Whilst such an approach is applauded, it is only a reactive measure. Mould and damp-free housing should be a prerequisite for anyone, and the story only highlights a nationwide problem relating to the lack of investment in housing stock over the years.
At the same time, the BBC has reported that people living in temporary accommodation in England have hit a 25-year high, with almost 105,000 households in temporary accommodation, including more than 131,000 children.
Put simply, the nation does not have enough housing to meet its needs, and much of the housing that it does have is not fit for purpose. Both publications highlight these desperate times and that the picture is bleak, particularly for younger generations.
Housing isn’t the silver bullet to solving every societal challenge that is prevalent in towns such as Walsall, but there is no doubt that housing provides stability, security, and a sense of belonging – all of which provide a foundation for young people to develop, flourish and ultimately become self-independent. The latter is a true virtue of Conservatism.
In fairness, The Social Housing (Regulation) Act, which received Royal Assent on 20 July, is a positive step to improving existing housing, but what about delivering new housing?
The Government’s measures to “boost housebuilding and drive growth” published last week range from the sensible, the aspirational but unlikely deliverable, the tinkering and making no material difference, to the outright barmy. Whatever your thoughts are on their merits, they do represent, as the title suggests, a “long-term plan for housing”.
There is no mention about the present and precisely what the Government is doing to meet its manifesto target of delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
Clearly, whilst the need for a long-term plan for housing is not disputed, what is actually needed is a plan for housing now! Unfortunately, Government policy in recent months has done nothing but deter housebuilding at a time when the industry is looking for resolutions, not barriers.
Unless the urgency is quickly realised, the children of today won’t have a fighting chance, and for many, the spiral of deprivation, as seen in towns such as Walsall, is set to continue.