Who has the guts for the job?

Posted: 5th June 2024 Bekah Ryder, Research and Insights Manager

As a researcher, I find it emotionally difficult to undertake research and read evidence on the extent and impact of the housing crisis gripping the UK. From old, poor quality stock to record numbers in temporary accommodation, evidence is all around us of the impacts of not enough good quality, affordable housing and policies and systems that are driving demand while preventing supply.

While some may be lucky enough to be oblivious to this worsening crisis, cushioned by the security of suitable housing, others (including, it sometimes seems, politicians) are aware but seem almost anaesthetised. Despite evidence on the daily reality of people living in poor quality, cold, unaffordable homes, of the deaths of children being attributed to their housing situation, our leaders are still not acting to address the issues. Successive governments have simply not built or invested enough. Net additional supply figures show the Conservative government were just over 65,000 short of their target to build 300,000 new homes a year. And the consequence is rising homelessness and people living in unaffordable, overcrowded and unsuitable homes.

There are also particular challenges in social housing. In the last 14 years, the number of homes being built for social rent has fallen off a cliff, from 39,562 in 2010/11 to 9,561 in 2022/23 (up from 7,620 the year before). Since 2010/11, Right to Buy has led to the loss of nearly 124,000 homes from Council to private ownership. Supply of supported housing has stagnated while support funding has been decimated. Welfare changes and the cost of living have affected people’s ability to afford private rents and basic essentials. There is deepening poverty in the UK and high rates of poverty amongst children, with nearly three in 10 children in poverty.

In recent research for the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Wheatley Group, I have been speaking to households on the housing list in Scotland about what it’s like waiting for social housing. During interviews, people have spoken about feeling frustrated, angry, lost, forgotten, and about the difficulty of uncertain, poor quality living conditions and how it is affecting their mental health. Housing can be one of many issues people face and can mean they can’t focus on addressing these other challenges.

Other research we have conducted recently on behalf of Longleigh Foundation has discussed the impact a lack of floor coverings in social housing has, from affecting child development to increased anti-social behaviour. Our survey and interviews with tenants found people get into debt paying for floor coverings and feel stigmatised and have poorer social connections when they live in homes that don’t have them.

If we truly believe that a home is a foundation for security, work, education, community and family life then we must build enough homes to meet demand and ensure the homes we have are up to scratch. Otherwise, we risk housing acting as an “engine of cumulative inequality” as people, particularly children and young people, become unable to access education or other opportunities.

It is looking likely, though by no means certain, that July 4th will bring a Labour government. So far, on housing, Labour has talked of their commitment to building more social housing. But this sits alongside their pledge of “tough fiscal rules”, and social housing providers know that spending decisions are no easy matter, with trade-offs having to be made.

What might it take to have a government that has the gumption and ambition to tackle housing quality and supply at a national level? We need data to show us the extent and impact of the problem, and toolkits like JRF/Frameworks to help us make the case for change. And there are signs of hope, as that little uptick in social rent delivery in England in 2022-23 shows. Political action and political will can deliver the homes we need and that our country deserves, and our history shows this. I hope people vote for the party and candidates with the guts to deliver on housing, the leaders who see beyond the five-year parliamentary term to a long-term vision. We need a government that will invest in our future and make housing the foundation for life rather than a driver of inequality.

Research and Insight

We offer real-world expertise alongside in-depth insight and analysis. Our research service offers primary data collection alongside secondary data analysis to give you the evidence-based insights you need. To find out more, visit our dedicated Research and Insight webpage, or contact Bekah Ryder, Research and Insight Manager.

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