Squalid Britain: Shocking figures show four in 10 Britons living in substandard homes

‘We need to say enough is enough, we can’t carry on like this, falling so far short of what we expect of ourselves as a country’

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The Independent Online

More than four in 10 homes in Britain are falling short of an acceptable standard to live in, according to an alarming new report from the housing charity Shelter.

Britons were asked if their homes met a series of conditions which together make up what Shelter has dubbed the “Living Home Standard”, and 43 per cent said their home failed the test.

The charity said it came up with the new criteria for what constitutes an acceptable place to live in consultation with the public. From having an affordable rent to being free from mould, pests and safety hazards, the list sets a “not unreasonable” standard which all homes should be meeting, Shelter said.

Yet despite working with thousands of cases every week where homes are not up to scratch, even Shelter was shocked by how far the country was falling short.

Nearly one in five homes failed the Living Home Standard based on a lack of decent conditions. Some didn’t have running hot and cold water, others were not structurally sound, and many had serious pest infestations or issues with mould and damp.

The research, conducted by Ipsos Mori, found more than one in four of the nearly 2,000 surveyed said their homes failed basic standards of affordability. In these cases, people had to cut back on essentials like food and heating just to pay their rent or mortgage, or they were worried those payments could rise to a level they would no longer be able to afford.

And one in 10 respondents failed the test due to instability, mostly renters on short term contracts worried they could be kicked out of their homes at short notice.

“At Shelter we see all these problems every single day through our services, we help thousands of people every week, but even then – 43 per cent was higher than we imagined,” Anne Baxendale, Shelter’s campaign chief, told The Independent.

The problem appears particularly pronounced in London, where a staggering 73 per cent said their home failed the test on some level.

“It is really shocking, and it is up and down the country. Yorkshire is least badly affected – and it’s still one in four [failing],” Ms Baxendale said. “It’s affects people living in every kind of home, and people of all ages, but particularly the young. This is the start out in life that we are giving young people.

“We need to say enough is enough, we can’t carry on like this, falling so far short of what we expect of ourselves as a country,” she said.

While there are statistical measures of what constitutes an acceptable standard of living, including what proportion of yearly salary is spent on rent, Shelter says the Living Home Standard represents the first measure of “the public’s expectations of what an acceptable home is”.

“There have always been really serious problems with squalid homes, but it is very difficult to quantify that” Ms Baxendale said. “The focus of what we are doing right now is really just the breadth of the problem. This gives us the public’s definition of what we should be aiming for as a country, and shows us how far we’re falling short.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said good quality housing was “an absolute priority” and that more than one million sub-standard properties had been “brought up to standard” since 2010.

"We’'ve also set out the most ambitious vision for housing in a generation, doubling the affordable housing budget to £8 billion to deliver 400,000 more quality homes,” he said.

Shelter’s chief executive, Campbell Robb, said there should be a “national mission to get to grips with our housing crisis once and for all”.

“The sad truth is that far too many people in Britain right now are living in homes that just aren’t up to scratch,” he said, calling on “the new government, alongside businesses and other charities, to work with us to turn things around”.

Shelter has five policy recommendations, going beyond a core demand for the Government to build more homes.

They want new controls on the standard of homes that are being built, the way neighbourhoods are planned to make them nice, safe places to live, and regulations so new homes aren’t so cramped.

Local councils need to be adequately equipped to investigation and clamp down on rogue landlords, Shelter said.

And renters need to be given more stability, by making five years the standard for contracts in the private sector. The current norm tends to be a year or even just six months, on a rolling and unpredictable basis.

Ms Baxendale said there had been “encouraging” signs from the Government under Theresa May. 

“But what we need to do is go even further and faster,” she said. “It’s about putting it top of the agenda, because we don’t have time to waste. This is a problem that has been decades in the making, there are children growing up in these homes that are just not up to scratch, so we need to approach this with a sense of urgency and get to a solution quickly.”

Does your home meet Shelter’s ‘Living Home Standard’?

These are the essentials from Shelter’s criteria. Homes were also expected to meet some out of a range of ‘tradeable’ non-essential conditions

1 Affordability

  • Can meet the rent or mortgage payments on the home without regularly having to cut spending on household essentials like food or heating
  • Not worried that rent or mortgage payments could rise to a level that would be difficult to pay

2 Decent Conditions

  • The home can be heated safely and effectively
  • The home has hot and cold running water
  • The home is free from safety hazards such as faulty wiring or fire risks
  • The home is structurally sound with no important defects to the roof and/or walls
  • The home has a toilet, and a bath and/or shower
  • The home feels physically secure (for example with adequate locks on doors and windows)
  • The home is free from pest problems
  • The home is free from mould or damp problems
  • The home is suitable for the current age and/or disability related needs of everyone in the household
  • There are electrical sockets in the main living areas, kitchen and bedroom(s)

3 Space

  • The number of bedrooms in the home is adequate for all members of the household
  • There is enough space to allow all members of the household to have privacy, for example when they wish to be alone
  • There is enough space for all members of the household to comfortably spend time together in the same room
  • There is adequate space to prepare and cook food
  • There is adequate space to store essential items, such as a reasonable amount of clothes, towels and bedding

4 Stability

  • The household has enough control over how long they can live in the home

5 Neighbourhood

  • Feel reasonably safe and secure in the local neighbourhood.