According to government statistics not a single ‘social rent’ home was added to Swindon’s housing stock over the last five years. Over this period less than 10% of additional homes were “affordable” even by the government’s own definition. This compares to the nominal Swindon target of 30%.
The decline in the number of council homes available as a result of Right to Buy and the failure to replace those sold means that more and more people are forced onto the expensive private rented sector, a quarter of which is estimated non-decent. Rents in the private sector have outpaced inflation and earnings. Between 2011 and 2018 in Swindon the rent for the cheapest lower quartile room in a shared house rose by over 30% compared to an increase in earnings of just 13.4%.
As a result of the crisis of affordability in Swindon we have seen the growth of ‘beds in sheds’ and even people living in garages. Hence the housing crisis cannot be resolved simply by building more homes regardless of who they are for. It was telling, therefore, when Councillor Gary Sumner, commenting on the Eastern development, said
“Swindon is becoming a very popular place to live for people who work elsewhere, and they need good links to jobs in places such as Reading or Oxford or Bristol.”
Turning Swindon into some sort of dormitory town for commuters is madness. It will increase the road congestion and have detrimental environmental consequences.
Building homes that many local people cannot afford will simply increase the inequalities in the town. Even the cheapest lower quartile homes for sale are 8 times lower quartile earnings.
The housing crisis cannot be resolved by relying on speculative market building. There has to be a shift to building for need rather than just for those who can afford to buy. Yet we have 200 less council homes than in 2012.
Large scale council house building and ending the disastrous Right to Buy policy is necessary if the national and local crisis is to be resolved. The big builders are only interested in maximising their profits.
This is a letter published in today’s Swindon Advertiser, though it’s not on their website yet.