- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
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MIKE HEDGES AM SUPPORTS BUILDING OF COUNCIL HOUSES AND BRINGING EMPTY HOUSES BACK INTO USE
Speaking after a debate in the Senedd, Swansea East AM said… ‘Housing is one of the issues I am passionate about. I Chair the Assembly Cross Party Housing Group and the twin topics of building more council houses and bringing back into use properties which are currently unoccupied feature regularly as two ways which we can employ to provide more properties to reduce the number of homeless people.
It is a sad comment on our society that so many people are affected by homelessness and poor housing; this scourge also impacts on health statistics, and we know that people who are in poor housing often have the poorest health outcomes. Raising the quality of housing ought to be the top priority for both the Welsh Government and local authorities.
I am pleased with the Ministers response that she supports increasing the number of council houses built in Wales over the next few years.’
Mike Hedges AM – Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss this very important issue and the tone in which it’s been discussed so far. Homelessness is complicated and is caused by a number of different events. Whilst people often equate homelessness with rough-sleeping, rough-sleeping is just one form of homelessness, albeit the most visible and probably the most dangerous. We know that many more homeless people sleep on sofas and floors of friends and family or are in temporary accommodation, or live in overcrowded conditions, sometimes with two families living in a two-bedroomed house. When the choice is living in overcrowded accomodation or living on the streets, it’s easy to see why people choose the overcrowded accommodation for themselves relative to a friend’s, and you can understand why people make room for people where they haven’t actually got it, so they don’t end up sleeping on the street.450
Homelessness is devastating. It’s driven by high rents and low income, lack of affordable housing, people not receiving the support they need when they need it, and this includes benefits. The most important thing is to stop people becoming homeless in the first place by early intervention, and the Welsh Government are committed to that, and we passed an Act a couple of years ago talking about early intervention. Prevention will stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. People need to intervene when homelessness is threatened, not wait for the day before they’ve been moved out, or in some cases the day that they’re being moved out. Now, local authorities have got the power and the duty to do it, but we need to ensure that every local authority uses that power and that duty in order to ensure that people don’t end up homeless. Sometimes, early intervention can keep people in the home they’re currently in, providing support at this stage rather than waiting for people to become homeless, emergency response, providing emergency supports like shelter, food and day programmes while someone is homeless.451
We need housing, accommodation and support—the provision of housing and ongoing support as a means of moving people out of homelessness. For some homeless people, providing a house or flat will not solve their problems. They have other problems. They need the housing-related support and supported living services that help people to live as independently as they can, or move on to independent living. Many different groups of people benefit from these services.452
There are many providers in Wales who provide housing-related support and supported living services, but it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention the ones in Swansea. There is also good work done by The Wallich, including their cross-border women’s project in Birchgrove, Swansea, which I urge people to visit if they’re in the area, and also Dinas Fechan, a 15-bedroom hostel providing shelter and support to single homeless people. The hostel provides accommodation and support to people with a variety of support needs, including mental health issues, learning difficulties, offending behaviour or substance misuse. All residents meet regularly with their support worker, who will offer personal development work, access to appropriate services and advice on seeking permanent accommodation. Each resident has their own living space and shared communal living rooms. All these good works are important, but we wish for everyone to be adequately housed. Appointing a homelessness tsar, ideally someone who has lived experience and who can scrutinise the progress towards ending homelessness in Wales, will not end homelessness. 453
We need to build more council houses. I know I bang on about this again all the time, but the only time since the second world war when we didn’t have a housing crisis was when we were building council housing at scale. That’s what we need to do—go back to building council housing at scale. We’ve got demand that is not being met. We can change who we give priority to and how to move it round, but the reality is that unless we’ve got adequate housing, we just decide that different people are going to be housed. It’s important that we get sufficient housing available, and we’ve got a huge problem of the lack of council housing, and that’s got to be built. We need to go back to building at scale. If we look back to the 1950s and 1960s, when we had Labour and Conservative Governments at Westminster who, at election time, campaigned to see who was going to build the most council houses. People like Harold Macmillan would probably find Boris Johnson’s Government a very difficult place to be. They were really interested in getting council housing. We need that.454
We also need to get empty housing and flats back into use. Every one of us can wander round our own constituencies and see that these are houses, many in sought-after areas, that have just been left, and we need to get those back into use. I know Manselton in my constituency is a really sought-after area of good-quality terraced houses, but you can wander round most streets and find one or more houses that have been left empty. This is just a waste of resources, and it really is to the disadvantage of homeless people. We need to get more council houses and the empty houses and flats back into use so people aren’t homeless anymore.