Rhetoric and reality

There is rhetoric. David Cameron kicked off this week by declaring that ‘strong families and stable communities are built from good homes’. Grant Shapps added that ‘we want to help everyone achieve their ambitions, and feel the pride of home ownership’.

And then there is reality. Also this week, a report from Shelter looks at the 3.6 million households who are renting privately. They include one million families with children – double the number five years ago. Some may benefit from the NewBuy Guarantee that Cameron and Shapps launched on Monday, others may make it on to the housing ladder in other ways, some will be renting by choice, but almost three million adults expect to be renting privately for five years or more, including 40 per cent of families with children and a third of those in full-time work. With six- and 12-month tenancies the norm in the private rented sector, where are these strong families to find stable communities, good homes and pride?

As Shelter points out, short-term tenancies mean renting families are ten times more likely to have moved in the last year than ones with a mortgage. They know that frequent moves harm their children’s education so do they move area again or stretch themselves to the limit to keep them in the same school? The problems do not stop there: private renters are much less likely to know their neighbours, volunteer or vote (only 56 per cent are even registered).

Almost half the families with children already worry that their landlord is going to put up their rent to a level they cannot afford, half say their housing costs are causing stress and depression in their family, and every time they move they face another round of calls for deposits and administration fees. The financial squeeze over the next few years is going to be worse for private renters than for any other tenure group.

Even inside the home, most tenancies ban them from redecorating or making minor improvements to make it more homely. In fact, almost half the families with children responding to the Shelter survey do not think of their privately rented accommodation unit as ‘home’ at all. As private renters taking part in the project put it: ‘You’ve got no security have you? You never know, six months down the line, whether you’ll be moving or not’ and ‘that’s what’s always on the back of your mind, they’ll just knock on the door and say that’s it’.

These issues are not going to go away. As I reported for Guardian Housing last month, private renting is poised to overtake the social rented sector some time this year and then keep on growing. Industry experts expect it to keep on rising: from 17 per cent of homes now to 20 per cent by 2013 and 27 per cent by 2020.

All of which should commend Shelter’s report and its key argument that longer term tenancies can work for landlords and tenancies alike to anyone with an interest in housing and private renting, including the good landlords and letting agents who know that things cannot go on as they are.

There are lots of obstacles in the way but one huge roadblock to progress. The same politicians that proclaim the virtues of ‘stable communities’ and ‘good homes’ simultaneously dismiss any attempt to promote them in the private rented sector as ‘red tape’.


2 Comments on “Rhetoric and reality”

  1. georgie73 says:

    Once finishing University and finding full time employment I thought I was doing the right thing by handing back my LA house and went in to the private rental system. It is a decision I will regret I think for as long as I am still in private rent. I have two children and am a single parent, we put up with total harassment from our landlord it is shocking. For the month of February she charged us £210 for oil/electricity but I am terrified of questioning her capability of reading meters when she could serve us with a Section 21. It most certainly is not our home. There’s no way back!!!!

  2. Techno says:

    An excellent piece. This is a long term timebomb for the politicians, they will have to face up to it sooner or later.

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