‘Don’t accept private solutions to public problems’

Rebekah Hesse-Clark, from London Renters Union, on Waltham Forest’s new “homesharing” scheme

(Credit: Two Generations CIC)

Is it foolish to dream of a home of one’s own? As a renter in Waltham Forest, it is increasingly beginning to feel that way.

The local housing crisis is now so bleak that Waltham Forest Council is working with non-profit Two Generations to promote a concerning “homesharing” scheme. This scheme place untrained “homesharers”, looking for an affordable place to live, in the homes of older or disabled “householders”, for whom they do an average of 40 hours of household tasks a month. In return for a “free” room, the homesharer pays Two Generations around £300 a month to work, while the “householder” pays the non-profit £99 a month in exchange for a live-in servant.

In co-founder Natasha Langleben’s words, the scheme aims to solve the problems of “loneliness and unaffordable rent prices”. In my view, it will solve neither, instead letting the system that should be supporting both groups off the hook by shifting responsibility onto the individual.

Undeniably, many people in the borough are in desperate need of cheap housing. As the council’s own website states, the number of people desperate for social housing “far exceeds the amount of housing available”, meaning “most people will never be offered” a home. At the same time, the average monthly rent for a two-bed home in the borough is £1,350, a sum far out of many working people’s reach.

On the flip side, while Two Generations does not intend homesharers’ support to replace personal care offered by qualified health workers, it is undeniable that vulnerable people are increasingly falling through the cracks due to the aggressive underfunding of the services meant to support them. Staffing shortages mean home visits from care workers are, by necessity, fleeting and limited only to the tasks necessary for someone to survive, not thrive.

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Two Generations’ scheme looks at these problems and attempts to apply the sticking plaster of kindness from strangers. Their solution operates overwhelmingly on faith, since homesharers have no rental agreement, robbing them of the few legal protections afforded to normal renters. It is thus unsurprising they are so firm about not offering “personal care”; doing so would make them a care agency and require them to be inspected by the Care Quality Commission.

Such a solution is not innovation. Relatives, neighbours and friends have always offered each other informal care and support, with no money changing hands. It’s therefore strange to see a company, even a non-profit one, seek to turn such solidarity and friendship into a business model. In many ways, the scheme seems to be the worst of both worlds, avoiding the scrutiny of a formal care provider while still charging a fee.

Through my involvement in the London Renters’ Union, I have seen thousands of people who feel let down by their local councils and to see Waltham Forest Council promote this scheme is yet another major disappointment. What we really need is a fully resourced NHS and for councils to provide sufficient support for our ageing population. What we need is rent controls and radical change to the housing system. Instead, stop-gap solutions like this scheme serve to normalise a world in which the structures put in place to protect people cannot be relied upon.

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