'Housing ladder has become a housing treadmill for many.'
As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation publishes research which demonstrates the link between poverty and housing - Karen Croucher from the Centre for Housing Policy, which conducted the research, explores its findings.
This week sees the publication of Housing and Life Experiences: Making a Home on a Low Income, a project that was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and undertaken by researchers at the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York. This is the first UK study to provide detailed qualitative longitudinal analysis of the interaction between housing and low income over the life course.
Working with a group of more than 70 participants of various ages, living in different tenures, in different types of households and in different places, but all living on less than the Minimum Income Standard, we explored their housing histories and experiences over time, looking at the past, the pathway to their current homes, changes over the course of the project, and their hopes for the future. Let’s be absolutely clear – these people were not Benefit Street stereotypes. Many were working either full time or part time, some were retired, some were students, some were ill or disabled, and some were full time carers. Their stories and experiences are at the heart of the report.
There was very muted evidence from our participants of a traditional housing ladder that people mount towards an ever better standard of living, accumulating housing assets over time that they can draw on at some future point. Rather, finding a safe and stable place to call home had often been a struggle for people to obtain and sustain, particularly when major life changes had occurred that impacted on income or the capacity to work. Many had moved often over time either within or between tenures, sometimes gaining small benefits, but rarely anything more than that: the closest analogy is perhaps that of a housing treadmill, where people were running to stay still, or a game of snakes and ladders where the meanest of the snakes leads you onto the streets or into temporary accommodation.
The narratives serve as a powerful reminder that a stable and affordable home also plays a role in sustaining crucial wider family networks and support, both in terms of enabling people to be located near their supportive networks, but also when home becomes a resource that can be shared with others. In turn, extended family, and wider social networks, played a central role in supporting people to make and keep a home.
Few would deny there is a housing crisis in the UK. The Social Housing Green Paper is expected later this year, as well as early findings from the CIH’s Rethinking social housing project. Some progress hopefully will be made. Debates about housing often focus on numbers – how many units are needed, how many built or not – and while no one would deny we need these figures, perhaps what we need more is policy making that puts the basic human need for a home – a place where you can be warm, comfortable, secure, have some privacy, feel in control, and crucially a place where you can support and care for others, and be supported and cared for – at its centre, and recognises that people’s lives rarely follow an easy or steady course. We need housing policy - and practice - that has care at its heart that is attentive to a wide range of different housing needs, and takes some responsibility for making sure these needs are met to enable people to flourish.
Karen Croucher is research fellow at the Centre for Housing Policy.
- The full report and its findings can be found here