Today sees housing campaigners flocking to Land's End to unveil 'Betsy' the Homes for Britain Routemaster bus. Over the coming month she will be travelling the South of England raising awareness of the Homes for Britain campaign and calling for action to end the housing crisis within a generation.
Betsy's journey will end on 17 March in London where the Homes for Britain campaign is staging the largest ever housing Rally in the heart of Westminster. And she'll be stopping off at many cities, towns and villages on the way to engage the public in this vital campaign. At the same time campaigners in the North are donning their walking shoes and cycling helmets to walk and cycle to London in support of the cause.
As someone who'll be at the launch I'm really excited to see the culmination of many weeks of work coming together. But it's important to remember that behind the flurry of activity is a serious issue affecting many families and individuals across Britain.
So what lies at the heart of our housing crisis? And what can be done about it?
Firstly, a look at the symptoms. We are seeing decent, affordable housing move out of reach for an increasingly large number of households, especially in the South of England. For example, in the South West with average house prices are around ten times average incomes, home ownership has long been a distant dream of many. Private rents are taking an increasingly large bite out of people's incomes with average private rents equating to 35% of average pre-tax earnings in the South West. Whilst homelessness may be the result for (a growing) few the impact of our housing crisis is felt increasingly widely - young couples unable to move away from their parental home, working people commuting greater distances to their place of work, and rural communities losing vital services as those who would use them are priced out.
Secondly, the causes. It's a complex picture but what can't be denied is that we aren't building enough of the right homes, in the right places, for the right prices. This isn't a short term problem but something which has gone on under successive governments. Most commentators agree we need to be building around 240,000 homes a year in Britain. In 2012/13 we built less than half this number. Year after year this is exacerbating the housing crisis and pushing increasing numbers off the housing ladder altogether.
And finally, the solution. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all, quick fix action which can solve our nation's housing crisis. And this doesn't sit well with our political culture that demands immediate and easily explained sound bite answers. The general public currently has little faith that politicians can resolve the housing crisis. Sadly people's housing struggles are often seen as being their own problem, even by those directly affected, rather than a societal issue. It's time we took a wider view and recognised the absolutely crucial role for our local and national politicians. The housing crisis can't be solved entirely by the market or the state or by individuals acting alone. It also can't be solved by one-off initiatives or gimmicks. We need a long term plan to end the housing crisis within a generation and we need our politicians to make this happen.
So whether you live in Cornwall or Cambridge, Nuneaton or Newcastle be a voice not a victim of the housing crisis. Pressure your local politicians at www.homesforbritain.org.uk. Follow the progress of Betsy our Routemaster bus on #homesforbritain and @BetsytheBus.