Housing in the South East is the most expensive in the country outside of London. In 2018/19, the average income needed to secure an 80% mortgage in our area was over £87,000, far out of the reach for most in a town with average earnings of £28,569.
It is therefore no surprise that recent decades have seen a huge growth in the private rental sector. Yet, this too stretches the limits of what people can afford, with the average monthly rent in Crawley costing almost £1,000 per month. Across the UK, private renters are now typically spending 40% of their income on housing costs, far more than owner-occupiers or those in social rented housing.
Until the pandemic, families in Crawley were just about able to survive this due to the high levels of employment, even with many needing benefits to top up their income. 46% of those claiming Universal Credit in Crawley actually being people in work, but where they cannot survive on what it pays. COVID-19 has changed all of that. With unemployment growing, but rents staying high, each month the council is seeing more and more families present as homeless. Even in a ‘normal’ year, the single biggest cost pressure Crawley Borough Council faces is providing temporary housing for newly homeless households, no functional housing market would work that way.
Since 2014, the council has been building as much affordable housing as land and money allows, but we know that for every 100 houses we build, 75 will be lost to Right-to-Buy over the same period, at a discount which doesn’t remotely cover the cost of building new units. We can’t go on like this. Crawley was built to improve the housing conditions of post-war Britain, through the provision of large quantities of high-standard council housing. Yet, most of those same units have now been sold off at a discount, with many now being the very private rented housing the Government has to help pay the rent on.
Housing benefit has become one of the biggest sources of welfare expenditure. The savings taxpayers would make if we could move those on low incomes out of private rented housing and into social rented housing would be huge, with a big uplift in residents’ the quality of life. At the same time, building the affordable homes we need would add £4.8bn to the economy and generate another 86,000 jobs during the midst of an unemployment crisis. With both the financial and humanitarian benefits being so self-evident, whatever the ideology of the party running it, any rational Government should have already committed to this.
Housing is a basic need, yet increasingly unaffordable in our area. Any meaningful recovery must include affordable housing. That’s why I’m supporting the National Housing Foundation’s #HomesAtTheHeart campaign.