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How important is social housing to society?

Is this the age of polarising topics, because they seem to be coming thick and fast?

From Brexit to lockdown, election to #blacklivesmatter. From clapping the police to being disgusted by their behaviour. Which side are you on? 

It’s hard to keep track, especially as the winds of change build fast to blow you off your fence on the matter.

People that a few weeks ago were chastising families for meeting up in parks now gather en masse to cheer as something manmade gets thrown into the river in Bristol.

Social distancing has torn a chasm right through society. Our heart is broken in two, two metres apart. How will we reconnect once we come to terms with the fact that regardless of threat, life goes on?

Our heart is broken in two, two metres apart

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Online editor of Housing Association

Virtually existing

Whilst small businesses drop like flies and we share in anxiety about the state of our economy, for some - Facebook, Google, Amazon etc. - business has never been better.

Facebook and Zoom have taken great strides in connecting us “virtually” (whilst simultaneously increasing their revenue by showing us ads) but without being in one another’s physical presence, we aren’t speaking with the whole person or seeing the full picture.

We’re both connected and disconnected. We have the tools to communicate and yet can often fail to do so meaningfully. We might find ourselves confronted with an idea on a 5 inch screen in 280 pixelated characters, and go to war with abstract concepts in our head, forgetting all the while that we like or love that person.

The respect we share for one another whilst sharing space in a room – the attention to body language, the observing of quirks, foibles and subtle social nuances – do not seem to translate well in the digital world… remember awkward silences?

No home lockdown

In a post-COVID world, it’s easy to forget that an estimated 320,000 people are homeless in the UK right now.

This is increasing year-on-year and currently equates to one in every 201 Brits.

There are also 3.66 million British households in fuel poverty. If you think this isn’t claiming lives and pales in comparison to the human cost of a flu pandemic, then look at the figures. They’re shocking and show no signs of curtailing.

Last year, there were roughly 726 homeless deaths (the exact figure is expected to be much higher) and around 25,260 excess deaths occurred in Britain over winter 2018/19 - most were people of pension age. Freezing to death in their own homes.

It seems we take enormous care to protect our most vulnerable from one threat, whilst simultaneously casting a blind eye over another.

The need for social housing

I feel it is unwise to make predictions amidst chaos. I’m not smart enough to assume, nor foolish enough to try either. In spite of my professional experience, I still don’t know where this is going.

I know about as much as the average person on the street and Boris Johnson combined, i.e. Very little!

But I do know one thing - the role of social housing is absolutely crucial.

It provides a stable home for those who can’t otherwise access one, something which in the midst of our housing crisis is as important as ever.

It builds communities and supports people so they might flourish and live healthy, happy lives. It contributes an enormous amount to our society and our economy, and NOTHING, not the reproduction number of COVID-19, its mortality rate OR the state of our economy, changes that.

The number of households on local authority waiting lists rose 4% to 1.16 million as of 1 April 2019, up from 1.11 million a year earlier.

Research carried out by Heriot-Watt University for the National Housing Federation found that:

  • 3.6 million people are living in an overcrowded home
  • 2.5 million are unable to afford their rent or mortgage
  • 2.5 million are in "hidden households" they cannot afford to move out of, including house shares, adults living with their parents, or people living with an ex-partner
  • 1.7 million are in unsuitable housing such as older people stuck in homes they cannot get around and families in properties which have no outside space
  • 1.4 million are in poor quality homes
  • 400,000 are homeless or at risk of homelessness - including people sleeping rough, living in homeless shelters, temporary accommodation or sofa-surfing

We need to fix that.

We were working hard on fixing things, until we ground it to a halt.

Now, to kickstart it again we need to work on that reconnection.

Yes, we must be cautious. But we must also treat one another with respect and stop just seeing each other as mere obstacles to get around with our eyes down in the aisles of the shops.

You can’t catch Coronavirus through a smile. Let’s heal this social wound, get back on track, stop seeing life as a competition, a battle of wits and polarising discussion and start treating it as more of a collaboration.

If you knew all of the things in the world that could kill you, you’d go crazy. Coronavirus is sick and it has robbed some of us of the people we love. Our hearts bleed, but there’s no time to wallow over things we cannot control.

There exist things at the very root of our society that claim untold lives in far greater numbers than any virus ever could on its own, and they’ll be around long after COVID-19 is gone.

I feel it would be both prudent and healthy to focus on that. The things we can change. It’s in our hands.

Joe Bradbury is editor of Housing Association