Over 8 million people in this country live in overcrowded, unaffordable and sub-standard accommodation, with more children in temporary accommodation than there have been since ‘Cathy Come Home’. (This is an acclaimed film about one family’s descent into homelessness made in 1966.) As a Christian, one who seeks to follow the way of Jesus Christ, who came to make his home here on earth, I cannot but recognise that this is both an affront to human dignity and a challenge to act. If we truly believe that every individual is made in the image of God, then we cannot let this be.
The report of the Archbishop’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community has now been published and it sets out in stark terms the scale of the challenge our nation is facing in housing, alongside clear recommendations as to how we should respond. These recommendations are for government, the church, communities and individuals. In particular it challenges government to work for a long-term housing strategy for appropriate housing for all which is ‘safe, stable, sustainable, social and satisfying’. Individuals, local communities and landowners are challenged as to what we will sacrifice recognising that we can’t simply say no to any development but that we have to work together to ensure that there is suitable development that meets the needs of our families and communities. The Church, a very significant landowner, is challenged to play its part working in partnership with others to tackle this crisis.
For us in this Diocese this is about developing and taking further the work that we have already begun, our advocacy, promotion of partnerships, and development of new and affordable housing. You can see something more of that work here when Ruth Fitter spoke to BBC News last Sunday.
But I am delighted we can do more. As part of the way in which all Dioceses are all working together to support each other as we emerge from the pandemic, we have been asked by The Archbishop of Canterbury if we will share some of our experience in supporting the wider Church in this work. With the support and encouragement of our Bishop’s Council we will be providing funding and expertise to enable a small executive team to put this report into action. Our Diocesan Secretary, Benjamin Preece Smith, will be giving a day a week to this. He will be working with Canon Chris Beales who was a member of the Commission and who will be known to many of you through his work with us on our response to the challenge of new housing, and Nick Pollock, Head of Planning for the Duchy of Cornwall. This talented group will work alongside the National Advisory Group on Housing chaired by the Bishop elect of Chelmsford, Guli Francis-Dehqani of which I also will be a member, to ensure that this report is not one that simply gathers dust but that makes a difference.
This is an exciting opportunity into which we as a Diocese will contribute and from which we will learn as together we seek to make a difference and to get it right in the provision of appropriate, good, sustainable, affordable housing for all.
Please keep all involved in your prayers and I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months.