Household overcrowding at highest levels since 1996

Newham Council is changing its parking permits. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Housing Commission report was released last month - Credit: Getty Images

Eighteen months ago the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Housing Commission visited Newham to see the sharp end of the housing crisis – as well as solutions and causes for hope in our borough.

Last month, they released their report. It sets out a welcome vision. It calls on the government to address the crisis. And it called on the Church of England to use its land, resources and congregations to help as well.

When the Commission began, they had no idea their report would be released in a pandemic. But so many of the housing problems they found have only been exacerbated by it.

Household overcrowding – now at the highest levels since 1996, when government records began - is one of the most pressing. Newham residents have shown me via video links again and again over the past year how they have been forced to sleep, live and learn in over-crowded rooms, unable to afford the space they need.

MP Stephen Timms says the support from groups during the pandemic has been crucial.

Stephen Timms tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the government to introduce Sharia-compliant student loans - Credit: Archant

Overcrowding has made it harder to weather the pandemic, and damaged mental and physical health. Research is also suggesting that overcrowding may have increased death rates from the pandemic.

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On Wednesday, March 10 I led a debate in Parliament on household overcrowding and the Covid pandemic. I called on the government to address one of the immediate causes of overcrowding: unaffordability. This is of particular concern to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which I chair.

Social security cuts over the past 10 years have made it much harder to afford a space large enough for a family.

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I called on the government to re-link housing support to actual local rents – not to freeze rates of support, as planned. Beyond that, as we ‘build back better’ from the crisis, the government must invest in social, housing. The Commission’s report is an important and welcome contribution.

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