IF Britain is to stand any chance of tackling the housing crisis, then the Government must invest in the construction of millions of new social homes, according to a landmark report from Shelter.
The charity today published the final report of its Social Housing Commission, presenting some suitably big numbers as a measure of the scale of the housing crisis that has emerged over the last 40 years.
Up to 1980, it points out, the country was delivering an average of 126,000 social homes every year. But last year, new supply had fallen to 6,463.
Over the years, both Conservative and Labour governments have failed to address the housing crisis, the report says, leading to a steadily worsening situation throughout the wider housing market. It’s time to turn that around, is one clear message.
“We can see the impact of the housing crisis everywhere, from the increase in both young families and older people trapped in unaffordable privately rented homes, to the increasing homelessness that scars our society,” Shelter said.
“Unless we act now, we face a future in which a generation of young families will be trapped renting privately for their whole lives, where more and more people will grow old in private rentals, where billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords – and hundreds of thousands more people will be forced into homelessness.”
A Vision for Social Housing is calling for the Government to invest in the construction of 3.1 million more social homes over the next 20 years.
But that in itself is not enough to usher in a “historic renewal” of social housing: it also calls for a new regulator to protect social and private renters, and for social tenants to be given a stronger voice at both the local and national level.
Direct public investment in the construction of new social housing would not only benefit society, it would also relieve pressure on the public purse, the report argues. The average annual cost of delivering the new homes is put at £10.7 billion, but this would be offset by savings on the benefits bill. Overall, the report says the annual cost once these savings kick in would be some £5.4 billion.
This, says the report, is “worth the money” compared with the £21 billion a year spent on Housing Benefit, and the £62 billion budget for capital expenditure.
Industry reaction has been favourable so far. The National Housing Federation (NHF) said the “overwhelming public support” for social housing the commission has uncovered is encouraging. Furthermore, the report adds to the “growing consensus” that social housing needs a long-term programme of investment.
“The commission is right to recognise that social housing is a crucial national asset, and we need to properly invest in it. As the report points out, this is a wise investment that will more than pay for itself in the long-term,” said the NHF’s chief executive, Kate Henderson.
“We also need to fundamentally reform the way land is bought and sold, making it cheaper for organisations that want to build social housing. Only then can we build enough houses so that everyone can have the home they need at a price they can afford.
“The report also calls for a rebalancing of the relationship between housing associations and their tenants. We support this ambition and have been working with our members and tenants to ensure that housing associations are among the most trusted, accountable and responsive organisations in the country. We also support the creation of a national voice for tenants.
“Now, we’re looking forward to working with Shelter and others to continue to make the case for much-needed social housing.”
The Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, Councillor Martin Tett said: “There is an acute need to address the escalating housing crisis which would deliver huge benefits for families, communities and the economy. We have estimated investment in a new generation of social housing could return up to £320 billion over 50 years.
“Only by triggering the renaissance in council house-building can we put in place the long-term reforms that will help make homelessness a thing of the past and remove housing insecurities for current and future generations.
“The last time we built enough homes councils built 40% of them. We need to get back to those levels if we’re to tackle our housing crisis, building a new generation of at least 100,000 high quality social homes a year.
“However, every housing market is different and resolving the challenge must mean allowing every council to ensure that new and existing social housing best meets local need. Critical to this goal will be allowing councils to keep 100% of their Right to Buy receipts and to set discounts locally.”
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Today’s Social Housing Commission report serves to remind us of how much further we need to go if we are to right the wrong of high housing costs pushing families into poverty. The Prime Minister was right to make fixing the housing market her personal mission. This year, she must deliver on this promise.
“The serious lack of affordable housing is locking families out of achieving a decent life. With high rents and housing benefit frozen, millions of families are backed into a corner, leaving them in a daily struggle to get by.
“Now is the time for the Government to step up and act upon the concerns of struggling families. The upcoming Spending Review later this year offers ministers the chance to make a real difference to people’s lives by dramatically increasing the supply of social homes that will loosen the grip of poverty for families on low incomes.”
Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy at the House Builders Association said: “A major social house building programme is a no brainer. You help house those in need, stimulate local employment and business, help fix part of the broken housing market and build for the future.”
The Social Housing Commission was convened in the aftermath of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Chaired by the Reverend Dr Mike Long, the 16-strong commission include Baroness Warsi, Baroness Lawrence, former Labour leader Ed Miliband, TV presenter and architect George Clarke among others.
“Social housing has driven up standards of housing across the board,” said Long. “It has been vital to the health and prosperity of our nation, equal only to that of our national health service and education systems, and continues to be so. Social housing is a crucial public asset to be proud of, to invest in, to protect and to maintain, and not something to be devalued or neglected.”