Council housing dwarfed by London's financial district. Photo: Oxfam.

New research has laid bare the impact of a growing shortage in genuinely affordable homes for families on low incomes, with thousands trapped on social housing waiting lists for many years or even decades.

Analysis of official data by the housing and homeless charity Shelter reveals that of the 1.5 million households currently on social housing waiting lists, an estimated 310,500 have been waiting more than five years.

Meanwhile, some 100,000 households have been left waiting for a social home for more than ten years, in spite of Government promises to address long-term shortages in affordable properties.

The shocking statistics have led to calls for the Government to prioritise homes for social rent, while some have urged a rethink of Right To Buy in England.

Right To Buy, which was first introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Government and then expanded by the Tory-led coalition to social housing tenants, allows occupiers to purchase their home – often at a greatly reduced price.

It has already been scrapped in other parts of the UK, with Scotland being the most recent example, but remains in place in England – much to the disdain of charities and others.

The availability of homes for social rent has fallen sharply under successive Government’s, while the number of homeless people and families housed in temporarily accommodation such as hotels and B&B’s has soared.

Indeed, some commentators have suggested that Government figures may just be the tip of the iceberg, as some groups like so-called “sofa surfers” may not be included in official data.

The private rented sector has also witnessed a recent boom, where rent tends to be much higher and housing conditions are of a regular concern.

Photo credit: NEFATRON via photopin cc

Freddy Emmanuel, a 56-year-old part-time engineer, has been waiting for a social housing property for 18 years, and has been forced to rent a home in the private rented sector.

“I grew up here, went to school here, worked here. I have been on the waiting list for a solid 18 years. I’ve been homeless, in private renting or sofa surfing all that time,” he said.

“Not having a settled place makes it hard to do anything, even getting letters delivered so you can get accepted for doctors is hard.

“I’m in my mid-fifties and at this age I should be looking after my family and relaxing in the job that I’ve been doing for a long time. But I can’t do any of that until I get my own place.”

“I feel that I should be helped by the council”, he added.

“My family has been in this borough for a long time and for me to stick in the area would be good for the community. I know a lot of people here and work with loads of charities. This is my neighbourhood.”

Protesters demand answers. Photo: Jerry Popplestone/Flickr (cc2.0)

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The fact that one year on from Grenfell, some survivors are still homeless has totally shaken people’s trust in the safety net the state supposedly provides.

“And this is despite them being ‘fast-tracked’ outside the usual waiting list system, too.

“Imagine then how frustrating life must be for the millions of people elsewhere in the country who have been stuck on waiting lists, often for years on end.

“This is not just confined to London but happening right across the country, from Brighton to Blackpool. Families are unable to get settled and unable to get on with their lives.

“The Grenfell tragedy must mark a turning point in our nation’s approach to social housing and its tenants – we clearly need a bold new plan for social housing so families are not condemned to waiting lists but given safe, secure and affordable housing as quickly as possible.”

Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said: “After eight years of failure on housing, the country urgently needs Labour’s long-term plan for new affordable housebuilding, with a million new genuinely affordable homes [over] ten years.”