8 December 2023
The Bishop of Chelmsford, and Church of England lead Bishop for Housing, the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, has spoken about the importance of stable housing during the Archbishop of Canterbury's debate on Love Matters.
In the speech, Bishop Guli spoke about the need for housing which is healthy, affordable, long term and tailored to the needs of occupants.
My Lords, I thank my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury for securing this important debate. Love Matters is, as noble Lords have already remarked, impressive for its scale and breadth. Covering subjects from tackling child poverty to valuing single people in our churches, the report is able to draw creative links across a range of topics.
Today, however, given my role as the lead bishop for housing, I want to focus my remarks on the report’s findings on bricks, mortar, and the communities that well-designed, affordable housing can foster. It is in houses and flats that families and households of different shapes and sizes are built, and housing which – done right – creates homes and can enable the health and prosperity of those who live in them.
Noble Lords will know that this report is the last in a series of three. The first, published in 2021, was on the work for which I am now responsible – housing, church and community. That report, called Coming Home, recommended that, among other things, housing needed to be stable – to be affordable, to be high quality, to enable people to put down roots and build healthy lives, families and neighbourhoods.
I think that the principle of stability goes to the heart of what I want to contribute to today’s debate. For too many people, housing is not stable: it is unaffordable, it is not decent, the tenure is insecure and thus it is not a long-term home but a temporary base where it is impossible to put down roots. Such housing is no foundation for strong families and households. By contrast, where there is high quality, affordable housing, it is much easier to find secure, healthy, and happy families.
My Lords, let me make four points on stable housing to underscore this.
Firstly, stable housing is healthy housing. Poor quality housing – indicated by damp, mould, poor insulation and heating, unsafe installations, lack of natural light and overcrowding – can and does affect the health and wellbeing of its occupants, both mental and physical. And poor health has knock-on effects for families – lower educational outcomes, for example, or higher caring costs – and in particular for children, who we know are all too often at the sharp end of the poor health outcomes caused by low quality housing.
The cost to the NHS of treating people whose health has been impacted by poor housing conditions is estimated at £1.4bn per year. Unhealthy homes are a widespread and serious barrier to the creation of stable, healthy households and families; and looking back to the peak of the pandemic, as Love Matters does, we can see that housing inequality can be a driving force behind health inequality. I reiterate the call made by my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury that high quality homes –and especially social housing, where the government can have a particular hand in improving standards – should be placed at the centre of manifesto pledges ahead of the next election.
And, secondly, my Lords, stable housing is affordable housing. To make starting a family viable for many young couples, particularly in areas including London and the South East where housing costs are high, genuine affordability must also be considered. If, as for many young couples, even on a dual income, the only financially viable option is a one-bed flat with little space and scant disposable income – then couples who do wish to start a family may have no choice but to delay. At the other end of the life of a relationship, the stresses and strains of managing finances are one of the biggest contributing factors to relationship breakdowns. Where housing eats up a large slice of a household’s income, extra pressure is piled on at every stage.
Housing affordability is not an abstract concept over which we have little control – there are steps that the government can take in the here and now to relieve this particular pressure on households. In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor made the welcome and long overdue announcement that the Local Housing Allowance would be unfrozen and brought back in line with its former level, covering the lowest 30% of local rents in a given area.
While I warmly welcome the change, it is also vital that it comes into effect as soon as possible to provide a lifeline for those struggling to afford housing costs – rather than waiting until April as is currently proposed. Winter is the toughest time for families and households to make ends meet. The vision of the Love Matters report for a society where families are strong, healthy and happy will simply not be possible if the support available for those on the lowest incomes doesn’t cover the basics. Will the Government, then, look again at the timing of the change to LHA, to promote healthy, strong homes over the coming winter months?
Thirdly, my Lords, stable housing is for the long-term. Earlier this year figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities showed that record numbers of households were stuck in temporary accommodation – over 100,000 households between January and March, with over 130,000 dependent children.
For refugee families, the move-on period from temporary accommodation when an asylum claim has been granted can, in practice, be little more than a couple of weeks. How are young refugee families, looking to set down roots in the UK, often after a drawn-out and traumatic experience, supposed to feel that they can begin building a settled home? My Lords, we all want to see stronger families and households, but without a commitment to long-term housing options, it is not clear how this can practically be achieved.
And fourthly, stable housing is tailored to the needs of its occupants. Not every household or family will fit one of the familiar flats or homes most common to our cities, towns and villages. We need to see more intergenerational family homes built, where grandparents can live alongside their children and grandchildren, each able to support the other and maintain a level of independence. Such housing should take into account the family in all its fullness – including uncles, aunts, cousins, and neighbours who are like family to us, but are not usually considered in the setting of ‘family policy.’
There are numerous benefits to building this kind of housing: lower combined housing costs, childcare readily available from grandparents, reduced loneliness, and lower care costs, to name a few. We know we need to build more houses, but I would like to take this opportunity to call on local authorities and those involved in commissioning new projects to look creatively at the breadth of housing offered.
As the Church of England, we are committed to leading by example and, as Bishop for Housing, I’m overseeing the work to change the way the Church thinks about and manages its land and property assets. Our goal is to build many more stable homes for families who desperately need good housing in our villages, towns and cities. However, I have to say I'm disappointed that it is taking so long to develop this work. We still have much to do to agree and implement a whole Church approach to using our assets for the common good. We have made some real progress, but there's so much more to do to make the really significant impact on the housing crisis which was envisioned in the Coming Home report and is possible.
My Lords, I want to end by reiterating the words of Love Matters – ‘Housing is more than bricks and mortar – it is where we should all feel safe.’ Stable housing is healthy, affordable, and appropriate, and one of the most fundamental building blocks of happy and healthy families. We might get some way to achieving the vision set out in the Archbishops’ Commission on families and households by robust and creative investment in this fundamental building block.