Adam Sampson, director of Shelter, spells out a few Home Truths
Ikea had better prepare itself for another stampede. If Gordon Brown’s target of pushing the proportion of Britons owning their own home from 70% to 80% is achieved there will be about 1 million more customers breaking down its doors by 2010.
The chancellor’s avowed aim is to create “one of the world’s greatest wealth-owning democracies”, underpinned by home ownership as a national vehicle of wealth and asset creation. Yet Shelter is concerned that the government’s drive to help those in lower income groups onto the property ladder will only add to the growing pool of insecure homeowners at greatest risk from a housing market or economic downturn.
The drawbacks to ownership can be felt most acutely by those on low incomes who stretch themselves financially to get on the property ladder. Many are so overstretched they cannot afford to carry out necessary repairs. Others face being plunged into personal debt or even losing their home altogether.
A new report from Shelter questions whether home ownership really is what people want. Home Truths, published last month, took a broader look at the issue and found that for most people, home ownership wasn’t the first priority – things like being able to afford their housing costs and living in a safe neighbourhood came first.
A YouGov survey carried out for the report found that 72% of respondents said the most important aspect to a home was feeling safe in their neighbourhood. Being able to afford it was second and actually owning their home was third on the list of priorities. When asked what they wanted for their children, affordability came top of the list for 63% of people, followed by a safe neighbourhood on 59% and ownership third on just 34%.
Shelter wants to see an ambitious programme of new social-rented homes
So the message seems to be that if the government wants to meet people’s housing aspirations, it should focus public resources on helping them to live in a decent, secure home in a neighbourhood where they feel safe, rather than coaxing them into chasing the property dream.
And for those families at the very bottom of the housing ladder, suffering the misery of homelessness or bad housing, even a low cost home is a distant dream. Shelter wants to see the government commit itself to an ambitious building programme of social-rented homes for those in need.
We are piling the pressure on the government with the next phase of our Million Children Campaign, which is calling on ministers to invest the additional funds to build 60,000 social homes for rent when it formally responds to the Barker Review in late November. Vitally, this could help lift more than 150,000 children out of bad housing – a better use of taxpayers’ money than helping those who may already be adequately housed to own their own home.
If the chancellor commits to building these new homes, it will be the first step on a long journey to ending bad housing and homelessness. But for one million children in Britain today who are suffering in dangerous, unfit or emergency housing, it could be the first step to a brighter future.
To sign up to Shelter’s Million Children Campaign, visit www.shelter.org.uk/signup