A High Court decision last week that people on benefits who have so little to live off that they have to choose between paying the rent or eating should not be penalised if they fall into rent arrears and are evicted shows the desperate situation that high rents and low benefits have created.
Last week I spoke in Parliament about constituents who had to find a shortfall of £50 a week, out of benefits of just £73. They were left with around £20 a week for all their bills, food and other costs. In such situations, it’s not surprising if rent doesn’t all get paid.
The High Court decision means that Councils will be responsible for housing people in this situation. Councils are already seeing more demand for council homes than they have. The Right to Buy is steadily eroding the number of council houses in High Peak as elsewhere, as no more have been built.
We are seeing new houses built across High Peak, but the vast majority are expensive family homes. High Peak Council has a policy of 30% of new homes built being ‘affordable’ and available to local people on the housing waiting list.
But recent changes to the law have enabled developers to wiggle out of these obligations too often. Figures from Shelter, the homeless charity, show that in the last 5 years whilst 1,060 new houses have been completed in High Peak, just 50 affordable homes have been built.
So it’s no wonder that homelessness is rising. Average house prices in High Peak have risen by 20% in the last 5 years. And the average age of a first-time buyer has risen to 33, meaning most people will be paying their mortgage almost until they retire.
Young people in their twenties are left living with their parents, paying sky-high rents – often for sub-standard accommodation. If they don’t have family or a good wage, too many young people are ‘sofa surfing’ – moving around between friends who will put them up – or sleeping rough.
Over 100,000 young people in the UK are now deemed to be homeless, or at risk. Many young people have to move out of the area to find somewhere they can afford to live. It’s particularly acute in Hope Valley where there are fewer families with children at local schools, and young people aged 13 or 14 working in pubs and cafes as they are the only ones available.
Both for young people – and for all of us to live in balanced communities with different generations – we need more affordable housing. That is Labour’s policy locally and nationally and I look forward to working on it now we have a Labour Council in High Peak.