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Today, There Are No Housing Lifelines for People Who Fall on Hard Times

28/04/2015 17:40 BST | Updated 28/06/2015 10:59 BST

Beyond The Ballot is The Huffington Post UK's alternative take on the General Election, taking on the issues too awkward for Westminster. It focuses on the unanswered questions around internet freedom, mental health and housing. Election news, blogs, polls and predictions are combined with in-depth coverage of our three issues including roundtable debates, MP interviews and analysis.

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Politicians all talk about 'affordable housing'. The phrase rolls off their lips but what does it mean?

For some people, through no fault of their own, no house is affordable. The man or woman whose business has crashed, who has been stricken by illness or disability, the hard worker whose wage is too small to merit a mortgage... for them a three bedroom semi is simply a mirage in the desert.

I know how it feels to wonder where you'll lay your head next week. I've lost the roof over my head twice. The first time I was three months old so didn't realise the house was being repossessed by the bank after my father's business crashed. I was carried to a council house, three bedrooms and a pleasant garden, where I grew up very happily.

The second time disaster struck I was all too aware. I was 40 years old, the mother of five and my husband's business had failed. That time a friendly bank manager loaned me, a struggling freelance writer, two thousand pounds as a deposit on a vandalised terraced house. That house closed around us like a blessing and soon we were on our way back up.

Neither of those lifelines exist for people who fall on hard times today. The family with the new baby would be 12,009 on the waiting list for social housing and would wind up in a B&B or a grotty private rental. The harassed mother of five wouldn't know her bank manager and if she did he'd need to advance her tens of thousands as a deposit and London would never allow it.

So what do I say to the people facing eviction who write to me week by week?

The veteran of several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who bought a house ready for leaving the Regular Army. He was confident he'd walk into a job on release but there were no jobs. He couldn't keep up the mortgage and now he, his wife and four children were destined for the street.

Or the professional woman, down on her luck, living with her dog in the back seat of her car.

Or the young couple 'living in' with parents and afraid to make love in case the bed creaks.

Some 1.7million households were on waiting lists in England in 2013 and the number is rising. People without access to the bank of mum and dad are priced out of the housing market by soaring prices, a rise fuelled by shortage and a surge in buy to rent. Help to Buy means that buyers only have to find 5% of the purchase price but if that price is £250,000 - in some places the cost of a small semi - that means finding £12,500. If you're paying an extortionate rent, saving like that isn't possible. If house prices rise in the next 30 years as they have in the last 30 the average UK home will be worth £1.2 million and shortage of housing is fuelling that rise.

Reportedly, the French have built 346,000 homes a year for the past 20 years. By contrast, annual housing completions in England totalled a reported 117,070 in the 12 months to September 2014. Population of the two countries is roughly the same. And although I'm not against new townships I'd rather see small pockets of new building in towns and cities around the country.

What about a bonus for building on brownfield sites or the relief of VAT where a small build loses out on economy of scale? But the real essential is to make sure that enough new-build is social housing to make up for the failure to build enough social housing over the last twenty years.

Tenancies for life should cease because some tenants of social housing don't play fair. A reported 160,000 social homes may be unlawfully sublet in the UK and in 2012 The Audit Commission put the cost of social housing tenancy fraud to the taxpayer nationally at £1.8 billion.

People in social housing with incomes of more than £100,000, who could afford to buy, should be encouraged to move on and free up a house for someone in need. Housing associations are now the main providers of new social housing and need to be part of the allocating process so that those most in need get a home appropriate to their needs. I believe councils should put aside a small proportion of your rent. Every ten years your situation should be reassessed and, if your circumstances have improved and you could afford to buy, you should be given back that saved sum as a deposit on a new house and your old one made available to someone in need. If you love the house and your neighbours then you could buy at the market price and stay put as long as the purchase price went straight to new build.

Whoever gets into power next month must make it possible for local authorities throughout the land to build social housing. In the end, it will save money in payments to B and B's and private landlords and having to address the damage to stressed-out families unsure of a roof over their heads. I was lucky. Each time I needed a solution one came. I want that for everyone who finds themselves, temporarily, without a home.

Denise Robertson is backing the Homes for Britain campaign and urging the next Government to end the housing crisis within a generation.

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