This week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a cabinet reshuffle that included the sacking of Suella Braverman, and the surprise return of David Cameron to front-line politics as Foreign Secretary.
However, another casualty of the shake up as Rachel Maclean, who was removed as housing minister after nine months in the role. She has been replaced by Lee Rowley, who briefly held the position under the Liz Truss premiership in 2022.
Rowley is now the sixteenth person to serve as housing minister since 2010. The constant churn of ministers, and the lack of long-term planning that this represents, is reflected in the ongoing housing challenges now facing the country. Nowhere is this clearer than in London.
Rental rates are at record highs in the city, and the prospect of buying a home is a distant fantasy for most. Many landlords have sold properties in the past eighteen months, reducing supply even further and increasing competition. One result of this, as predictable as it is depressing, has been an increase in homelessness. Rough sleeping in 2022/23 was 54% higher than it was a decade previously, and as of summer 2022, London accounted for 59% of all households living in temporary accommodation in England.
Of course, homelessness is a complex issue with many causes. There are both personal and structural factors involved, and a simple line of causation cannot be drawn between it and any single issue. However, we know that housing insecurity is growing, and that people trying to move on from homelessness into their own independent accommodation are finding it increasingly difficult to do so. Affordable housing options are limited, with bidding wars and large up-front deposits becoming the norm. We are seeing the results of this borne out in homelessness statistics, and in the lived experiences of people we support every day.
Until more affordable accommodation is available, greater controls are put in place to regulate landlords, and renters are more fully protected against unexpected evictions, the homelessness levels we are seeing are at risk of continuing.
This is the context in which we are seeing yet another change in Housing Minister, just days after a Kings Speech that failed to offer any plans for tackling homelessness. At a time when we need long-term, clear-eyed planning, it is concerning to see that the government’s response remains piecemeal and short term. We very much hope that the new (or should we say, old?) Housing Minister will provide a coherent plan for ensuring affordable housing for everybody who needs it, including in London. Doing so is vital if we want to reduce homelessness in the long term.