An integrated approach to housing, health and education would enhance lives and save millions but pay-to-stay isn’t the answer, says Tom Murtha.
We have always known that a stable decent home provides a solid foundation for a healthy and successful life. This has been confirmed once again recently in a report by the RSA which showed that moving homes and schools during a school year has a devastating impact on pupils’ grades and the numbers of children affected is increasing because of the governments’ welfare reforms and the growing housing crisis.
My own experience appears to support this view. Between the age of five and 11 my family lived in in seven different homes. During that time I only moved school once. However my younger brother changed schools frequently in the same period. He is convinced that this affected his educational development and is partly the cause of his mental health issues.
We moved even more when I was 13 and my family was made homeless in 1964/65. During that time we travelled around Leicester sleeping where we could in the homes of various relatives. Again my brother was forced to change schools but I did not. At one time I was cycling over 15 miles a day to attend the same secondary school.
I did not do this because I understood the importance of some sort of stability in my life. I was too young to understand that. I did it because I wanted to keep my place in the school football team. I will never know if my life would have been different if I had moved schools as much as my brother. This experience is one of the reasons why I believe passionately that decent, secure, affordable housing is a basic human need along with health and education. All three are under attack from this government. This was not always the case.
Aneurin Bevan, one of the founders of the endangered National Health Service had another less publicised role; he was also the architect of the post war social housing boom. Housing was part of his brief as minister of health and he was responsible for starting the post war social housing programme which with cross party support created over 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-1950s.
His vision for social housing was ‘where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher, the labourer all lived in the same street’. He believed that, ‘it is essential for the full life of a citizen to see the mixed tapestry of a mixed community’. His successor Harold Macmillan had a similar view. He saw housing as ‘the most urgent of all social services, for the home is the basis of the family, just as the family is the basis of the nation’. I am sure today’s housing minister could learn a lot from these political giants and from the fact that the prime minister of the time overrode all Treasury objections to the concentration of scarce government resources on investment in social housing.
Compare this approach to what is happening today. Housing is no longer recognised as a basic human need. There is no investment at all in real social housing and the concept of mixed communities has been sacrificed on the altar of political dogma.
The latest proposal to introduce a pay-to-stay regime further undermines efforts to protect social housing and create sustainable communities. There is no understanding that a more integrated approach to housing, health and education would enhance the life chances of future generations and save the economy millions of pounds. What we have instead is a non-housing strategy and ill-conceived welfare reforms which will create more hardship and homelessness and, if the RSA and others are correct, will lead to a generation whose life chances are wasted for want of a permanent home.