We have the ability in this country to put the correct economic and social support structures in place to give all young people the chance to thrive. It is an abject failure that so many are being let down, especially by inadequate housing.
Every child deserves to live in a safe and secure home. Every young person needs support with their development as they transition from education into adulthood. Yet the housing crisis is trapping too many children and families in a spiral of temporary or unfit accommodation, and the route to getting the help they need is often so complex and difficult. Those managing to get support, often find it uncoordinated and poorly targeted, and ultimately falling short of their needs.
I recently visited a brilliant charity in Chester that my foundation supports in its mission to improve children’s wellbeing and learning. The charity’s Chief Executive starkly pointed out that the primary reason they existed was because some children did not have a place to call home. Or if they did, it isn’t somewhere they wanted to be. Their story is repeated up and down the country. I hear similar stories from the charities the Westminster Foundation works with. The situation is dire and getting worse.
There are two crises compounding this issue. The first relates to the lack of available social housing and acute shortage of affordable private rented accommodation. Over one million families are on waiting lists for social housing, with more than 100,000 living in temporary accommodation. That includes 130,000 children living in poor quality or dangerous living conditions, which is almost twice as many as in 2011.
A poor housing situation will inevitably make children and their families’ lives worse and cause a domino effect that fuels their need for support across multiple areas, such as health, education, employment, or finances. This leads us to the second crisis: a lack of joined-up public services giving rise to crisis management solutions rather than a comprehensive approach that can help people break the cycle and improve their lives.
Grosvenor has collaborated with the cross-party think-tank Demos on a new report – Wall to Wall Support - to shine a light on the underlying problems that lead to these crises. This research outlines how public services are too often siloed, leading to an inefficient model of service delivery dominated by “firefighting” – responding when children, young people and families reach crisis point, rather than a more preventative approach.
Opportunities to support young people are not only being missed, but the problems are being stored up, only to compound and create bigger issues later in life before the cycle repeats. The damaging effects can clearly be seen in the changing pattern of spending on children’s services by local authorities. Since 2010/11, late intervention spending, such as child protection and services for children in care, has risen by 47 per cent.
The report includes stories of people living in temporary accommodation for years, with terrible consequences for their mental health; of people having to tell and re-tell traumatising experiences repeatedly to multiple siloed services; and of people not knowing “how to find the front door” of support when they need it most.
The report estimates that the focus on firefighting rather than prevention, combined with hard-to-navigate fragmented public services for vulnerable children, young people and families, is costing the government up to £4.3 billion every year. These costs are a direct result of additional use of government services, for example, health care or the criminal justice system, by individuals and families who did not get adequate support or early help when they needed it.
Most importantly, the report gives several clear recommendations for how we can drag back public spending from being trapped at the crisis end of the system and help this investment make a lasting difference.
Among them, it advocates for local authorities to join up support services through dedicated key workers so that the needs of vulnerable children, young people and families – whether about housing, employment, education, health or social care can be comprehensively considered and addressed. Better data, outcome-based procurement and simpler things like increasing awareness of services and making them more accessible and inclusive is also key.
I support these recommendations and hope that policymakers and lawmakers will seriously consider them.
Through our own work, Grosvenor Hart Homes is delivering solutions along very similar thinking. We recently announced our first partnership with the local authority in Chester to provide high-quality affordable homes paired with tailored support services helping to address employment needs as well as mental health and wellbeing. As we work to scale this model in London and the North West, we hope that our learnings can be shared and our successes replicated elsewhere.
Providing affordable housing should be much more than just bricks and mortar. It should be about giving people – especially young people – the opportunity to sustain their independence and build for the future by providing integrated and long-term support that truly addresses their needs. In turn, that will help break the cycle of intergenerational problems, empower communities and ultimately benefit society as a whole.
The Duke of Westminster is Chair of Grosvenor and the Westminster Foundation