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When everyone has a home

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New Social Housing Commission report

A report by the new Social Housing Commission calls for all political parties to see social housing as a key pillar of the national infrastructure in England and recommends a generational shift in housing policy, covering both social housing and the private rented sector. The report outlines a 20 year programme aimed at delivering 3.1 million more social homes and a massive overhaul of tenants’ rights. 

‘A home is the foundation of individual success in life, and a programme of home-building can be the foundation of a similar national success’.

Background to commission

The report comes after a year-long investigation brought together by the charity Shelter in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. The 31 independent commission members came from across the political spectrum and from a diverse range of backgrounds and included Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former co-chair of the Conservative Party; the Rt. Hon. Ed Miliband, former leader of the Labour Party and representatives from a diverse range of backgrounds including the charity sector, industry and economics as well as social and private tenants, including Edward Daffarn, a Grenfell fire survivor who formed the Grenfell Action Group.

The commission was set up to address a question which it was felt had been neglected for too long by successive governments: what is the future of social housing? The report highlights what it calls ‘40 years of failure in housing policy’. From the end of World War II up to 1980, an average of 126,000 new social homes were built in England per year, but in 2018, despite a growing need for affordable social housing, only 6,463 new social homes were delivered.

Over 30,000 people took part in the research and evidence was gathered from a wide range of organisations and individuals, with 13 public debates held across the country. The evidence from this research points to a clear picture of the housing crisis in England, which the report says was principally a crisis of those who rent, not through choice, but because of unaffordability of housing for would-be homeowners and lack of social housing provision. The result of this disparity between need and provision has left millions of people in insecure and expensive rented accommodation.

Low income families in PRS cutting back on food to maintain housing

The report highlights the experience of low income families in the PRS who are struggling to afford their rent, with many cutting back on food and other expenses, or going into debt in order to keep a roof over their heads. This echoes the recent findings by NERI in NI regarding affordability issues for low income families in the private rented sector.

The experience of low income private renters provided by the report, was one which too often exposed the lack of safe and sanitary conditions in their rented houses, including electrical hazards, damp and pest infestation, with 1 in 7 privately rented homes posing an immediate threat to health and safety. The commission also found that complaining about conditions is likely to lead to eviction, with half of those who complained facing eviction within 6 months.

According to the commission, the decline of social housing over the past four decades has contributed to the failure to meet the demand for affordable social housing and huge waiting lists for social homes throughout England. It has also contributed to the huge numbers of households renting privately, which has driven up the cost of renting. Whilst these outcomes were not planned, they are the result of policy decisions by successive governments which have led to a generation of young families who have no option but to rent privately for their whole lives, and billions more in welfare costs which will be paid to private landlords, due to a lack of more affordable social housing.

Shift in housing policy required

The commission calls for a ‘generational shift in housing policy’ and a move towards a programme of investment and reform, based on a new vision for social housing which is at the heart of a working housing system. The report draws on historical and international experiences in providing the vision needed for a total reform of the housing system, including:

  • Ensuring that residents have a voice both in key decision-making and when things go wrong, by setting up a new national tenants’ organisation;
  • Among other recommendations, the commissioners call for a new regulator working across social and private renting based on the Care Quality Commission or the Financial Conduct Authority which was set up after the crisis of 2008 to protect consumers. This new body would be tasked with protecting residents by setting and enforcing common standards;
  • Urgent reform of the private rented sector should accompany reform of social housing, with greater protection from eviction and a commitment to improved standards;
  • A historic renewal of the social housing sector, with a 20 year programme proposed by the commission, which would see 3.1 million more social homes provided to address the housing crisis.

Part of the report was undertaken by Capital Economics and sets out in detail the costs and benefits of this 20 year programme, with the maximum cost to government in the most expensive year estimated at £5.4bn. The 20 year programme would be paid in full within 39 years. This compares with the current £21bn per year which the Government spends on Housing Benefit.

The strength of this report comes from the diverse perspective and political persuasions of the commission members with the final report representing a consensus view which crosses political divisions and which is based on robust research. The programme of building outlined in the report would provide affordable, stable homes for 3.1 million households and save £61bn in benefit costs over 30 years. The commission recognises that this will require huge public support but that it represents a historic opportunity to change the path we are on.

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