It was a good headline for the housing minister in the Daily Mail the day before Remembrance Sunday. It’s just a shame there wasn’t a bit more action to go with the press release.
Ex-service men and women frequently face housing problems when leaving the forces. Salaries for the majority aren’t high enough to save for a mortgage and social housing is in short supply. In the past that’s seen very high numbers of ex-service personnel sleeping rough. In the mid-90s the Royal British Legion estimated that 20% of London’s single homeless populations were former service men and women. They estimate that there are still 1,100 on the streets now.
The government’s measures won’t help them and won’t help those leaving the services that much either.
The minister proposes to ‘issue guidance’ to councils to prioritise former service men and women in their social housing allocations. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that’s going to be solved by Grant Shapps producing a piece of paper.
Councils can already prioritise ex-service personnel for social housing. Labour run Manchester for example does. Who knows whether more will on the basis of the minister’s missive?
The government also propose to put ex-service personnel at the top of the ‘First-Buy’ queue – the government’s low-cost homeownership scheme. Given that the starting pay of a soldier is a bit over £17,000 and even a sergeant gets around £33,000, there are going to be many that can’t get a mortgage even for shared ownership. It also depends what their job prospects will be like – will the 11,000 the government is making redundant find jobs to pay a mortgage in a flat-lining economy?
Our former soldiers and sailors are likely to find themselves in the same position as many others in need – benefits that don’t meet the costs of rent, an unregulated and expensive private rented sector, long housing waiting lists and no long-term security when they do get a social home.