High house prices are putting off couples from having children

Shelter research shows 63 per cent more families are feeling the squeeze.

It’s a sad reality that in Britain we get used to putting up with the impact that the high cost of housing has on our lives. We accept having to spend an hour getting to and from work every day as we can’t afford to live any closer to our jobs. We think of the family homes we grew up in with nostalgia rather than aspiration, accepting we are unlikely to live anywhere similar. We pay half our salaries to keep up with our rent or mortgage, leaving little over for the rest of our lives.

However this week another impact has come to light that has serious implications for both individual families and for society as a whole. New research we have carried out at Shelter has identified a staggering 63 per cent increase in the number of people putting off having children because of the lack of affordable housing. Over a million people are delaying having a family because of housing costs. And we’re not just talking for a few months – one in four of those delaying said they have been doing so for more than five years.

Being in my mid-thirties, this is a picture I can identify with. I have seen numerous friends wanting to start families but unwilling to do so until they can buy their own home, not seeing their rented flat as a suitable place to raise a child. Others have had to move away from their families to be able to buy a home and start a family, having to give up the support networks and childcare options that are so important for young families. Some have had one child and stopped there, not out of choice but because they couldn’t afford to live anywhere that could accommodate more children.

And these are all people who work hard, who save, who do everything they can but who still can’t achieve the security and stability that was a given for previous generations.

So what can be done?

Clearly the high cost of owning your own home is not going to change overnight. So the million families renting (a number which has almost doubled in the past five years) need to ensure a rented place can feel like a suitable home to start and raise a family in. Landlords can evict them or raise the rent at any time. When you have children to consider, particularly if they are school age, for many this is just not a workable option.

Longer term we need action to bring down the cost of buying a home. Decades of underinvestment have left the supply and demand for affordable homes completely out of kilter. Earlier this month we saw levels of housebuilding fall yet again, down almost a quarter over the past year. When people’s lives are being put on hold in this way, this is simply not sustainable. We must see more homes being built that families across the country can afford so we can put a halt to this deeply concerning trend.

Children gaze down the stairwell of a 1950s slum; but poor family housing isn't consigned to history. Photograph: Getty Images

Anna is the head of press at Shelter.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.