Guest Blog: What Should Levelling Up Prioritise?

property boom rising prices

By David Searle, COO of HSPG

At any moment in time, over 600,000 people in England rely on Supported Housing for a secure and safe place to live. Yet, earlier this year, the Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, admitted that the quality of housing in some parts of the UK has become “scandalously poor”.

The concept of levelling up has become the Government’s catch phrase, with its primary aim being to reduce geographical inequalities. The priorities of this agenda should be regenerating the UK’s highstreets, prioritising the futures of our young people, and ensuring social and Supported Housing is accessible.

Regenerating the high street:

In order to successfully approach and deliver the Government’s levelling up ambitions, here needs to be an understanding of the significant changes to both society and the economy that the pandemic has caused. Footfall on UK highstreets has been declining year on year, and the pandemic has accelerated this. The knock-on effect on retail property owners has been huge – in the first six months of 2020 7,834 retail units permanently closed.

Empty retail units could make the perfect location for new social and Supported Housing. The easy access to support and healthcare services, employment opportunities and transport links that urban spaces can provide make them a real asset to the Supported Housing industry.

According to the Centre for Policy Studies, repurposing disused retail space could bring almost half a million new homes to the market.

Future of young people, and generations to come, is at risk

The sharp decline in the supply of social housing, much of which was sold off through the ‘right to buy scheme’, has left thousands of vulnerable young people at risk of becoming homeless. Youth homelessness has risen 40% in the past five years, according to Centrepoint, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity. The pandemic has also had a negative impact on young people, with over 120,000 people asking for help with homelessness over the past year.

As demand for housing outstrips supply by 1 million homes, the need for secure Supported Housing to the save the futures of young people in the UK cannot be understated.

Supporting the next generation through safe and secure housing also presents an opportunity to consider our impact on the environment. Ben Cowell, Chairman of Historic Environment Forum, has commented that re-using old buildings is a form of “everyday carbon capture and storage”.

Safety and accessibility are key

Above all else, residents in social and Supported Housing need to feel safe and comfortable in their living situation, and have the right support to meet specific needs.

Following the Homelessness Reduction Act in 2017, local authorities now have an obligation to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness and to take tangible steps to relieve homelessness. Our close relationships with local authorities allows us to devote our attention and resources to the people that need it the most.

Following Sunderland City Council’s concerns over accommodation and support for those experiencing domestic violence, HSPG has re-developed a block of 43 flats in Watts Moses House to accommodate these vulnerable people. Throughout the development, the notion of creating a “safe haven” was always front and centre.

The pressure to provide Supportive Housing in urban hubs and cities for vulnerable people, for example, those experiencing homelessness, has grown since the pandemic. Figures published by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) reported that

130,000 households were made homeless in England during the first year of COVID-19. There are also currently more rough sleepers in London than ever before.

Almost 20% of social housing households in England include a disabled person or someone with a long-term illness. Despite this, all too often social housing is not designed with disabled people’s needs in mind. The supply and demand issue in the UK housing market has left many people with complex needs trapped in cycles of unsupported housing. Even more concerning is the fact that, according to the charity Contact, one in four disabled children live in a home that makes their condition worse or puts them as risk of injury.

Addressing housing inequalities needs to be a top priority.