Getting off to a good start

Our Chief Executive, Mark Howden, shares some thoughts on the families in the UK who aren’t able to benefit from assured tenancies, safe homes or affordable rents – and how social housing can provide the most stable of starts.

(First published on 12 Jan 2022)

I'm interested in understanding what holds people back in life and what helps them to thrive.

How often have you listened to a radio interview with a celebrity, or overheard someone in the pub talking about how they've done well in life ‘despite’ being brought up in social housing?

Of course, your home has a huge impact on your life - especially as a child. A home that’s safe, comfortable and warm provides the very best base from which to build and grow.

Social housing, unlike private rented homes, provides a long-term assured tenancy, a focus on safety, rent controls and affordability, a regulator that protects tenants and, often, a strong community feel.

None of these are guaranteed in the unregulated private sector and indeed almost one million families in England are paying rents they can’t afford to private landlords. That’s money that these – often working – families could be spending on nutritional food, after school activities or saving for a deposit for a home.

Research published a month ago, just before Christmas, by Heriot Watt University and the National Housing Federation made for tough reading. It stated that 1 in 5 children in England are living in unaffordable or unsuitable homes.

While many private landlords provide a brilliant service and great homes, that’s not always the case and it’s not always affordable.

There are currently a million children whose families cannot afford their rent or mortgage payments.

The majority of these households are renting privately and being pushed into poverty by high rents and juggling demands on their finances in order to keep a roof over their heads.

So what does impact our life chances?

It's bound to be a range of things such as parental wellbeing and happiness, early childhood programmes, perhaps an inspirational teacher or community role model.

One thing’s for sure, it's about time but we stopped using the phrase ‘brought up in a council house’ or ‘social housing’ as a lazy, and misleading, trope to suggest a difficult childhood.

Instead, our focus should be on the importance of homes that can provide everyone with a secure and stable start in life.

Instead, our focus should be on the importance of homes that can provide everyone with a secure and stable start in life.

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