Housing in England is very expensive and often poor quality. Ideally it would be affordable and decent. Which is another way of saying that affordability is not the only measure of whether people are adequately housed.
Over the past year or so Daniel Hewitt and his team at ITV News have been investigating the condition of social housing conditions across England. This has resulted in numerous horrific examples of housing that falls well below acceptable standards.
Kwajo Tweneboa has campaigned tirelessly on social media to expose the damp, disrepair and sub-standard conditions that many social housing tenants endure.
In most of the cases that have been exposed, the issue is not affordability. Rents in social housing are usually far lower than in privately rented accommodation. This is not necessarily true in temporary accommodation but most households in temporary accommodation will have the majority if not all their rent covered through the social security system.
More broadly, if we measure the cost of housing as a percentage of household income, we only get part of the picture.
Imagine you are paying 40% of your salary on rent and bills and you are earning £25k per year. By many measures your housing is unaffordable. Then you get the good news that you’ve been promoted and will get a pay rise to £30k per year. Perhaps you decide to move to a new place. The rent is more but it’s in a nicer neighbourhood. When you work out the numbers you find that you’re still paying 40% of your new salary on rent and bills.
In this example, your housing is no more affordable than it was before. But it’s better housing. The same can be said on a national level. If everyone got richer and used their money to improve their homes, then their homes would be better, even if everyone continued to pay the same percentage of their income on housing.
Shelter found that people wanted housing that was affordable but also: (1) Safe, warm & secure (2) with enough space (3) Stable (so that they can plan for the future (4) In a safe neighbourhood not too far from work, friends and family
If it’s a trade off between these factors (as it usually is) people will often sacrifice other factors (e.g. space) for affordability. This leads to people living in cramped, overcrowded conditions.
Crude measures of affordability only give us part of the picture. We can aim for housing that is not only affordable but also decent, and in a safe neighbourhood.