Heartbreaking report on the effects of housing insecurity on children

The Children’s Society has produced a report, Moving always Moving, on the effects of housing insecurity on children.

What does that actually mean in practice?

For the purpose of this report we define it in a way that most closely reflects the experiences of relevant participants, and there are three main elements to the way we conceptualise it: with reference to multiple moves, to those moves being involuntary, forced or reactive, and to those moves being related to poverty.

When I was Scottish Housing Spokesperson, every Christmas we would do a freedom of information request on the number of children in temporary accommodation at that time of year. Imagine what that must be like, not having your things around you, not knowing whether you might have to move at a moment’s notice and often being accommodated away from your support network and friends.

The effect of this on  physical and mental health, behaviour and educational attainment is profound:

It is clear that however it is labelled, poverty-related housing insecurity is associated with potential harm to children in terms of physical

and psychological health, health behaviours, risk-taking, ‘delinquent’ behaviour, emotional and social well- being, and education. The vast majority of the literature that paints this overall picture is quantitative. While statistical analyses are crucial to understanding the prevalence of broad trends and the strength of their effects, they are necessarily limited in terms of the depth of understanding they can enable about the lived reality of housing insecurity experienced over time.

If you are living in private rented accommodation, your landlord may decide to sell up for all sorts of reasons meaning you have to find somewhere else to live. If you have pets, it can be really difficult to find another private let and social housing is so difficult to get.  I spoke to someone who had had to move twice within ten months because of landlords selling up. And moving is not cheap, even in the best of circumstances. If you are living in poverty, the costs associated with constant moves are even more damaging and impact on your ability to provide even the basics.

Some of the stories in the report are absolutely heartbreaking.

All the moving that Tiffany had done, and in particular this latest move far from the things that structured her everyday life, affected her. It meant that currently she had a really long journey between ‘home’ and school, which in turn meant that she had relocated herself outside of her nominal home a temporary two bedroom flat where she had been placed with her mum) for more than half the week. It also meant that she felt stuck at school, unhappy
but trapped because moving schools would require knowing where home was.

Tiffany also felt a certain tension around where it was she belonged – she didn’t feel a strong attachment to her new area and still identified strongly with the place where she had lived before, but she knew it wasn’t really hers to call home anymore. When we asked if she was hoping to move again, she responded by talking about her mum – about how her mum was going to be moved because her current place was only temporary and they could move her at any time –
and she absented herself from the narrative completely, suggesting a lack of attachment to the area where she now officially lived (albeit temporarily).

We went on to ask about the neighbourhood she had moved to with her mum, and she described instead the area where her eldest sister lived, where she stayed on weeknights so as not to be late for school. This was suggestive not only of the coping mechanism she deployed in a context of temporary housing, but also of the persistence of her attachment to her old neighbourhood. And when we asked whether she had friends at home (meaning in her new area) as well as at school, Tiffany spoke first about friends in her old area, then about people in her new neighbourhood, vacillating over how to interpret ‘home’, indicating again that she didn’t quite know where it was that she belonged.

You can read the whole report here.

So what’s the solution? Building more houses for social rent is the obvious answer. And it should be a mainstream housing option. Ten years in a council house in Inverness gave my parents the security to establish their own careers and avoided the damage of insecure housing for my sister and I. Circumstances had forced both of them to leave school earlier than they should have done. Having access to relatively cheap and secure housing built the platform for the relative prosperity in which they find themselves today.

The Government that sorts out housing will do the most to increase wellbeing. I’ve always thought that and this report does not pull its punches as it highlights the dangers of not doing so.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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14 Comments

  • Peter Martin 9th Nov '20 - 1:48pm

    “Building more houses for social rent is the obvious answer……..”

    The housing market doesn’t work in the way we might think to be “obvious”. We might think that higher house prices will result in more building which will increase supply which then brings everything back into equilibrium. What has actually happened is that rising prices have made it economically attractive to keep properties empty. Who needs troublesome tenants if the selling price of the property is forever rising?

    Why keep money in the bank at zero interest when you can put it into a nice little Cornish cottage and just pop down there a couple of times a years? The rising price of the cottage more than pays the bills.

    For the last several decades the UK economy has relied on the private sector to borrow to keep the economic wheels turning. The recent Covid emergency has put an end to that, at least temporarily, and has forced the Government to do the borrowing itself. It remains to be seen what will happen next year as we’ll hope to get back to something more like normal.

    High property and land prices have been the collateral for private sector borrowing. So politicians might say they want housing costs to be lower, but if prices were to fall the UK economy would be in deep trouble. They don’t really mean what they say. It’s just lip service to younger voters. Many recent buyers would be in a position of negative equity.

    And this means that there won’t be any loosening of restrictions on what councils can spend on social housing. Cheap social housing would undermine property prices. And that can’t be allowed to happen.

  • Jenny Barnes 9th Nov '20 - 1:52pm

    “So politicians might say they want housing costs to be lower, but if prices were to fall the UK economy would be in deep trouble.”

    A very reasonable comment – until you think about the implications. So the economy is more important than people having somewhere to live? Something has gone very wrong with our priorities if that’s true.

  • Daniel Walker 9th Nov '20 - 2:16pm

    @Peter Martin, @Jenny Barnes

    As I pointed out to Peter earlier today, although he may not have seen it, it is currently LibDem policy to allow local councils to hugely increase council tax for second homes², and to allow local authorities to build social housing. Peter is correct¹ when he points out that a great deal of the wealth of this country is tied up in real estate; one thing that, one suspects, motivated the Tories encouraging office workers back to their offices recently is how much office space is ultimately owned by pension funds; if that become permanent, the value of those sites will drop, as will the income used to pay the pensions.

    One possible solution/amelioration would be to convert said redundant office space into housing. This has had a bad reputation recently—the permitted development conversions have included some terrible examples—but properly regulated there’s no reason this cannot be successful.

    1. Those familiar with Peter’s and my interactions on here will be aware that is a phrase I don’t often say 🙂
    2. Land Value Tax would also help here, obviously.

  • “The Government that sorts out housing will do the most to increase wellbeing. I’ve always thought”. Yes, indeed, Caron. Here’s a link to research by York University (from when I was a Cabinet Member with responsibility for housing in the Coalition years).

    University of Yorkpure.york.ac.uk › ‘ The Coalition’s record on housing: policy, spending and outcomes 2010-2015’ …., with page references.

    1. UK government housing and community amenities expenditure dropped by 35% under the Coalition 2009/10-2013/14 in real terms (at 2009/2010 prices), p. 25

    2. DCLG’s capital budgets for England dropped by 54% 2009/10-2014/15 in real terms (2009/10 prices), p. 27

    3. UK government ‘housing and community amenities’ expenditure dropped by 35% 2009/10-2013/14 in real terms (at 2009/2010 prices), p 28

    4. UK ‘housing development’ expenditure (mainly for building social housing) dropped by 44% in real terms (at 2009/10 prices), p 29

    5. UK ‘Housing and community amenities’ expenditure cuts were concentrated on England p 30

    6. Housing and community amenities’ expenditure per person fell particular sharply in the North East and London (expenditure in the regions of England the UK, 2007/08-2011/12, p 31

    7. UK housing benefit total spending grew by 9% in real terms 2009/10-2012/13 (at 2009/10 prices), despite immediate cut of 10% in Housing Benefit by Lib Dem Minister Andrew Stunelll, p. 32

    8. UK housing spending continued to switch from housing development to housing benefit (spending on sub-categories within ‘housing and community amenities’ and ‘housing: social protection’), p. 33

    9. UK house building completions fell by 8% 2009/10-2013/14, p. 36

    10. Affordability for home buyers did not improve in England 2010-2013 (ratios between median house prices and median income and between lower quartile prices and lower quartile income) p. 43

    11. The number of households accepted as unintentionally homeless and in priority need in England grew by 26% 2010-2014 p. 46

  • So what’s the solution? Building more houses for social rent is the obvious answer. And it should be a mainstream housing option.

    I agree.

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Nov '20 - 4:39pm

    Is the price of housing what a bank will lend to the purchaser?
    Is the debt cost of housing a largely avoidable cost or financial extraction?
    Can our economy be sound without our minimising the costs of living, of which housing is a large part, and of doing business?
    Can our real life economy be made efficient, and consequently reasonably compassionate, without minimising the costs/extractions of the current policies of Neo-Liberalism and minimising the increasing polarisation of wealth?
    Why does the Lib-Dem Party not espouse and promote the policies and objectives of Classical Economics which would benefit individuals and society?

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Nov '20 - 4:42pm

    Is the price of housing what a bank will lend to the purchaser?
    Is the debt cost of housing a largely avoidable cost or financial extraction?
    Can our economy be sound without our minimising the costs of living, of which housing is a large part, and of doing business?
    Why does the Lib-Dem Party not espouse and promote the policies and objectives of Classical Economics which would do this and so benefit individuals and society?

  • Changes I would like to see are:

    1) Restore security of tenure for most social tenancies. The security this provides surely helps children’s life chances

    2) Abolish the benefit cap which is completely arbitrary.

    3) David Raws point 8 – “Affordable rent” should be abolished and revert to social rent which allows many people who work to pay the rent without needing to claim benefits. However that would mean subsidising people on good incomes who would have low rents.

    4) I am against the clampdown on second homes which is unfair. Many people have quite legitimate reasons for having more than 1 home eg growing family or downsizing, wanting to have somewhere to retire to, struggling to sell a home for whatever reason and many 2 home owners are not that well off. I would rather see higher taxes imposed on people who own multiple houses and make a big profit.

  • John Littler 9th Nov '20 - 6:56pm

    Freedom Dividend and Universal basic Income.
    Andrew Yang
    https://www.yang2020.com/what-is-freedom-dividend-faq/

    What has happened to manufacturing job numbers so far is about to be be further completed re brexit and robots. Retail and hospitality jobs are also going, many never to return. Truck and Taxi drivers will also be replaced by tech and professional jobs will also have greatly reduced numbers, as Lawyers, medical specialist and numerous others will have the work replace by more proficient computer based technology.

    We can make this process a positive one, to develop leisure, small enterprise, charity, family and personal development, or we can throw people to the wolves of bankruptcies, lost homes and lives torn apart. This is when we need a state to pick up the pieces of providing incomes. We should forget wasting it on fighting damaging foreign wars or swanning around in aircraft carriers & nuclear subs, pretending we are still a world power and making ourselves a more attractive target

  • Steve Trevethan 10th Nov '20 - 12:09pm

    Thanks to John Hall for making an excellent point!
    Might we also reflect upon the Libyan children made homeless and vulnerable to slave markets as a direct result of our actions in government?
    What is our party’s foreign policy?
    Ditto armed conflict?

  • Jenny Barnes 12th Nov '20 - 9:45am

    A large part of the electorate are making out like bandits on property price increases. Are they going to support any policy that looks like stopping that? Not likely. The rest are being fleeced to support the property owners. There are obvious solutions, but not politically easy ones. Whose side would the LDs be on? Build more social and other housing puts you on one side, status quo is the other…

  • Imagine…

    https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/sheer-horror-finding-155-children-19221958

    The time for talk is well past. Private developers haven’t delivered. Home-owners resist change that will impact the value of their property. Meanwhile councils are buckling under the demand for housing. The correct and timely solution is for the state to step in, build housing on a massive scale and ensure that housing will remain as social stock for a fixed period of time so its sale cannot not affect property values in the immediate term. Mass building will enable the homes to be mixed I.e not only for the most deprived, but genuinely mixed communities and that will help deal with home-owners fear of being overrun by the “great unwashed”.

    Everything begins with secure, affordable housing and it’s impossible to have a stable, calm country when this many people simply can’t access it.

    Imho

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