The NHS pay rise that unions have just agreed has catapulted the issue of affordable housing for emergency workers into the spotlight once more. The rise of at least 6.5% over three years is no doubt welcome news, but is still unlikely to keep up with inflation, meaning that nurses, porters and paramedics will continue to face issues when it comes to affording property.
Like many key workers, 999 staff have found their salaries increasingly insufficient when it comes to saving up a deposit or applying for a mortgage. One impact of this is that many of those workers are being pushed to live further and further from their place of work, as they seek out the few homes that they can still afford. According to MPS figures for 2015, 54% of ‘blue light’ emergency services workers in the capital no longer live within London.
“If you finish at 7pm in the evening, before you get home and get yourself sorted out, it is probably 10 o’clock at night. And then you need to leave home at half past four in the morning again to start work at seven.”
Anthony Scantlebury, GMB London Ambulance Service
The excessive travel required can result in an increase in stress, which in turn leads to rising sickness levels. Stress and other mental health issues can have a major impact on productivity. Despite having 1,275 fewer officers than in 2010/11, the Metropolitan Police in 2016/17 saw a staggering 72% rise in the number of sick days taken due to psychological health issues.
Mental health problems are also a concern for the UK’s Armed Forces. Ministry of Defence figures show that an average of seven troops are discharged daily due to health problems. In the year to October 2017, 2,526 troops were discharged on medical grounds – the highest rate for three years.
Affordable housing is also an issue for ex-Forces personnel. In 2012, all 407 local authorities signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant and Community Covenant, which were designed to ensure that those coming out of the Armed Forces should take priority when it came to affordable housing. However, the Department of Communities and Local Government does not monitor the number of veterans who receive housing in the UK, making it hard to assess the policy’s impact.
“The Armed Forces Covenant clearly states that such a Service leaver should suffer ‘no disadvantage’. Yet as this [University of York] report has found, the planning and execution required around housing do not adequately support the Nation’s undertaking.”
Tony Stables, Chairman, Forces in Mind Trust
Research on the accommodation and housing related support needs of single veterans in Britain undertaken by the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York in 2013 found that ex-Forces personnel faced particular issues in terms of buying their own homes.
“Low rates of home ownership and experience of the civilian housing market places many of those leaving Service, particularly among non-officer ranks, at a disadvantage in accessing housing.”
Centre for Housing Policy, University of York
The problem continues to this day. Innovative not-for-profit housing company Step Forward RP Ltd is working with Britain’s Armed Forces and emergency services personnel in order to deliver a fresh approach to affordable housing. The company deals daily with those facing increasing difficulties in their efforts to find affordable accommodation, either to rent or to buy.
“Armed Forces personnel and 999 workers in the UK are being increasingly left behind when it comes to affordable accommodation. That’s why Step Forward Homes is continuing to build new homes to rent and buy for our current and former Armed Forces personnel and first responders. The number of affordable homes isn’t yet where it needs to be and we need to do all we can to ensure that affordable provision increases as rapidly as possible.”
Stephen Boardman MBE DL, Step Forward Homes
Step Forward Homes offers shared ownership homes for those looking to buy, and accommodation with rents set 20% below market value for those who want to rent. The company serves clients in the North West of England, working in partnership with housing associations in order to ensure that local key workers’ needs are met.
With inflation continuing to outpace salaries in the UK, the issue of affordable housing continues to grow. The Savills Housing Sector Survey highlights the need for new homes from a much wider range of sources, as well as a broader range of tenures. Providing affordable housing requires new ways of thinking about funding models. 43% of those whom Savills surveyed said they needed to change their financial structure in order to facilitate development. Step Forward Homes has done this by working with institutional investors.
“Providing affordable housing means thinking outside the box. It’s about taking a fresh look at what we can achieve without placing further pressure on the UK’s taxpayers. That’s why our funding model doesn’t rely on grants or government funding at any stage. There are ways to provide affordable housing that work for all concerned – we just need to be proactive about doing so. That way, we can build a better future for everyone.”
Stephen Boardman MBE DL, Step Forward Homes