Blog - 29th September 2023

Sep 29th 2023, 09:32

Blog - 29th September 2023

In this blog I consider the Shelter housing manifesto.

On Sunday evening a attended a reception organised by Shelter at which they presented their manifesto to rebuild our broken housing system ‘The Way Home’. The manifesto starts with this clear statement:

“Home is our country’s foundation. When we live in a safe, secure and affordable home, it supports our health, wellbeing and provides us with the solid base we need to thrive in life. That’s why it’s essential for everyone to be able to access and afford a decent home. But currently one in three of us don’t have a safe place to call home.”

Also at the reception were two tenants of Bournemouth Churches Housing Association who had recently been homeless and who outlined their experiences. Their stories demonstrated that anyone can fall on hard times and become homeless, that if you don’t have a home you are excluded from almost everything else that society offers, and that the solution is for people to be given secure tenancies at rents that they can afford.

As a housing consultant, former local government officer, and former housing association board member and chair; I have heard many similar stories. People who have been well housed and who believed their incomes to be secure; suddenly finding themselves in difficulties because of a catastrophic change of circumstances such as the loss of a job, poor health or the breakdown of a relationship starting a chain of events that leads to homelessness. This really could happen to anyone.

Councils have a statutory duty to house the homeless; but there is a shortage of housing meaning that many homeless people, including families with children, find themselves staying in unsuitable ‘temporary’ accommodation for extended periods of time.

At the core of the housing crisis is the fact that we are not building enough houses for people, and haven’t done so since the 1970s. This has resulted in increased house prices, increased rents, lack of affordability and increased homelessness. If there are fewer houses than households, some of those households inevitably become homeless.


This graph illustrates both the problem and the solution. It shows house building in England from 1945 to 2013. Private house building is purple, housing association building is brown and council house building is green. The total number of houses needed are between 250,000 and 300,000 a year. This has only been achieved between the early 1950s and late 1970s when there was a substantial council house building programme supported by all political parties. Council house building all but stopped after 1979, leading to a shortage of housing and increased house prices and rents as shown by the black line. To make matters worse, millions of council houses have been sold under the right to buy scheme without being replaced making the housing crisis most acute for those on low incomes who want to rent.

Shelter report that the number of homeless households living in temporary accommodation is the highest ever recorded and numbers on housing waiting lists sit at 1.2million households.

As Shelter says:

“Successive governments have failed to build enough social homes. Over the last three decades, we have lost more social homes than we’ve built. Without access to safe and secure housing, 1.2million households are currently stuck on social housing waiting lists, and the number of children living in temporary accommodation is the highest ever recorded. Thousands more people are forced to sleep on the street.”

“The chronic shortage of social homes has meant the size of the private rental sector has more than doubled in the last twenty years. And a lack of effective regulation means that private renters are navigating the highest recorded levels of rent, poor conditions and the threat of an unfair eviction. People are trapped in poor quality homes that they can barely afford, unable to save and having to cut back on essentials to pay their bills.

“The money the government has allocated through the affordable homes programme has been spent on delivering products that often aren’t affordable to people on average or low incomes, like shared ownership or ‘affordable rent’ homes. Only 5% of all ‘affordable’ homes built last year were government funded social rent homes. This is despite the fact that government modelling shows the economic benefit of building ‘social rent’ homes far outweighs that of ‘affordable homes’. We need to focus funding back on ‘social rent’ homes.”


Affordable Homes built in Salterbeck, Cumbria, by Impact Housing Association

So, at the core of a policy to solve the housing crisis must be a policy to build more social homes – not the so-called ‘affordable homes’ – but social homes. Shelter argue in their paper that at least 90,000 social homes should be built each year, but it is interesting to note that the Liberal-Democrats have adopted an even more ambitious target of 150,000 a year. In 2010, the then government reduced the housing investment budget by over 60% and switched funding from social housing to ‘affordable housing’. Following governments went even further and switched funding away from all sorts of rented housing towards subsidising home ownership. To build 90,000 social homes a year, let alone 150,000, will require a significant increase in the housing budget and its re-focusing on social housing.

Shelter’s manifesto urges government to:

  • Build a new generation of social rented homes.
  • Make private renting affordable.
  • Raise the standard of rented homes.
  • Improve housing rights and help to enforce them.

Shelter believes that a new generation of social rented homes is the only sustainable solution to the housing emergency. They consider that social rent is the only housing association tenure that’s truly affordable, because rents are tied to local incomes. They consider that, to provide people across the country with the safe, secure and genuinely affordable homes they need, the next government must:

  • Commit funding to build a new generation of social rent homes – at least 90,000 a year over ten years.
  • Remove barriers which stop social housing from getting built.
  • Fix planning rules so that every local area plans to build the right type of homes in the right places.

The Grenfell Tower fire and Daniel Hewitt’s ITV news reports on the poor quality of much social housing have focused attention on the need to empower social tenants. Even the government has recognised the need to do this, hence the Social Housing Regulation Act. However, I would like to see further measures taken including:

  • Making housing association boards more representative with a significant number of tenant members.
  • Increased resident participation in housing management in local authorities and housing associations.
  • Giving tenants a say in key decisions. For example, holding tenant ballots before housing association mergers can take place.
  • Encouraging housing associations and local authorities to provide important support services rather than just housing.

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