YMSN’s CEO, Fiona Small Participates in the BBC 5Live Breakfast Debate

When YMSN’s CEO, Fiona Small was asked to participate in the BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast Social Housing debate on January 8th 2019, she was eager to represent the many unheard voices in one of the most controversial topics of modern times. Furthermore, she has direct experience of this issue and felt it was time to air some valid opinions on debunking the myths around social housing whilst highlighting the weaknesses of the private rented sector.

CEO, Fiona Small

Shelter’s Vision for Social Housing

The background to Fiona’s participation was the publication of Shelter’s eagerly anticipated report. It highlighted a need for 3.1 million homes to be built over the next 20 years. Shelter categorically stated in their report that:

“Unless we act now, we face a future in which a generation of young families will be trapped renting privately for their whole lives, where more and more people will grow old in private rentals, where billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords – and hundreds of thousands more people will be forced into homelessness.” 

Not only did they voice the need for social housing, but also, reform in the private rented sector. Far-reaching changes to improve the lives of millions of people included a recommendation for a regulatory body to protect social and private renters, and to enforce standards. It also suggested that social renters be given a stronger local and national voice. With this in my mind, What were the thoughts and ideas of our very own CEO?

Debunking the Myths around Social Housing

Exactly a year ago, British Prime Minister, Theresa May stated that she “wanted to end the stigma of social housing.” She claimed the residents of social housing did not deserve to be looked down on. However, a year is a long time, and since then, there has been little action to tackle both the severe shortage of social housing or the stigma of why it is needed and by whom.

CEO, Fiona Small Answers Questions from the 5Live Broadcasting Team

Our CEO, Fiona Small discussed her own personal journey and experience of social housing and disclosed how she had lived in social housing from the age of 19. She exclaimed: “Back in my day it was very different. I left home at 17 due to a family breakdown. I was initially placed in temporary accommodation for two years before being allocated my first property at 19. I was there for 19 years, before needing a larger home due to having my family. I now live in a beautiful new build that has been my home for 11 years.”

Fiona acknowledged that the economic shift had changed since her first experience of social housing, as the private rental market had rocketed, and this had coincided with a lower level of living standards,  resulting in cycles of debt that had ultimately led to a homelessness crisis.

The BBC 5LIVE Debate 08.01.2019

Fiona stated: “I was always told that no matter what, the most important thing was to pay my rent – even if you don’t eat, pay your rent! However, this has become increasingly difficult. Work no longer pays and there are the dynamics of the family – of someone getting ill – making it impossible to sometimes pay rent. This largely depends on the work contract you are on. Incomes can increase but also decrease. You might be on a zero hours contract. Also, if you do not update the correct information for housing benefit, you can easily find yourself in arrears, and this can lead to eviction.”

The debate moved on to the complexities of universal credit and the myth that many people are trying to cheat the system. Fiona put forward many scenarios whereby people could find themselves homeless, through no fault of their own, and how this can manifest itself as making yourself intentionally homeless. Fiona gave examples of how this can lead to the council having no duty of care towards you.

Overall, the debate was incredibly well-rounded and explored the myths around the UK housing system and the complexities of private rented accommodation. Shelter’s seminal report will hopefully go some way into a change of policy and direction. YMSN were delighted to participate in this debate and add their voice to the current findings.