More than 8 million people across England are living in unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable homes, according to a report that captures for the first time the true scale of the housing crisis.
The National Housing Federation said one in seven people – of all generations and in all parts of the country – were affected in some way, from being physically homeless, to living in overcrowded conditions, to being in serious debt due to difficulties paying rent.
Campaigners have appealed to ministers to return to “proper funding” for social housing, to the levels last seen in the 1950s, saying current efforts to tackle the issue have amounted to only “tweaks around the edges”.
The research, carried out by academics at Heriot Watt University, examined data to calculate how many people were hit by different aspects of the housing crisis, including high prices and rents, unsuitable or poor quality homes, and the overall shortage of new homes.
It found that more than 3.6 million people were living in overcrowded homes, 2.5 million were unable to afford their rent or mortgage and another quarter of a million adults were stuck living with parents, with an ex-partner, or with friends because they can’t afford to move out.
The report also revealed that 3.6 million people would have their needs best met by social rented homes – about double the government’s estimate.
One person affected is Anna, who did not wish to use her surname, who said she was living in fear that she would fall homeless after a lack of affordable housing left her relying on the goodwill of a friend for accommodation.
The 36-year-old had to leave her former property in southeast London three years ago with her daughter, now four, after a relationship of 12 years broke down.
Anna was working full time as a social worker, but still couldn’t afford a single property, with none available for under £1,400 a month.
After five months of emailing, phoning and visiting estate agents, a friend stepped in and let her move in to a second home she owned, charging her rent at the equivalent cost of one-bed flat.
“I was losing all hope. I don’t know what I would have done if a friend hadn’t been able to help me out when I needed it. I was really lucky that the timing worked out and I had a friend that could help – most people wouldn’t have this,” Anna said.
“I just have no idea what I’ll do if my friend needs to rent her house out at full price in the future.”
Kate Henderson, chief executive at the National Housing Federation, said the new report showed the housing crisis was the “single biggest domestic crisis” faced by the country.
“The government risks losing votes if it doesn’t take action to tackle the consequences it has for the lives of young and old alike, all across the country,” she added.
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“From Cornwall to Cumbria, millions of people are being pushed into debt and poverty because rent is too expensive, children can’t study because they have no space in their overcrowded homes, and many older or disabled people are struggling to move around their own home because it’s unsuitable.”
Warning that the crisis could not be solved by “tweaks around the edges of the housing market”, Ms Henderson added: “Investing in housing is a win-win for the government – it would bring down the housing benefit bill, provide everyone with a secure and stable start in life, and kick start an economic boom creating thousands of jobs.”
Shadow housing secretary John Healey echoed her concerns, saying: “It’s clear that the government should be doing much more, but deep cuts to housing investment since 2010 mean the country is now building 30,000 fewer social rented homes each year than we were with Labour.”
Cllr David Renard, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, said the findings reinforced the organisation’s calls for councils to be given more powers and funding to build social housing.
“The last time the country built more than 300,000 homes a year was 1977-78, when councils built 44 per cent of them. Latest figures show councils built just over 2,500 homes last year – the highest level since 1992 – but need to be able to do so much more,” he said.
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It comes after government figures revealed the number of families considered homeless in England had surged by 11 per cent in three years, with a household now found to be without a home every four minutes.
The number of older people aged over 60 falling into homelessness has also surged, rising by 39 per cent over the last five years, according to figures.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Housing is a priority for this government and last year we built more homes than in all but one of the last 31 years.
“Since 2010 we’ve delivered 430,000 affordable homes and to protect renters we’ve cracked down on rogue landlords, banned unfair fees and capped deposits, saving at least £240m a year – helping to ensure access to safe and secure housing for millions.”