Last week we launched the final report of our commission on the future of social housing. I joined Shelter midway through the project. I was amazed to see the huge ambition and hard work our 16 independent commissioners and the team here put into it.
But we wanted to raise awareness more widely of the lack of social housing, the issues it’s causing, and set out a clear vision for more, better social housing that many more could sign up to.
The reaction to our vision for social housing
The launch and immediate reaction suggests this is working. The shock at the decline of social housing and changes of heart that our commissioners have spoken about has been mirrored much more widely.
The report was covered by most major newspapers, and across online, television and radio – with support from commentators from across board, from the Telegraph and Guardian to the Sun. Politicians from both the Right and the Left have come out in support.
And the commission has led to important discussions. Mostly, debates have not been about the vision – the vast majority of commentators have enthusiastically supported our ambitious targets for new social homes and regulatory reforms. Instead, they have usually been about additional changes needed.
Some have argued that calling for new social homes isn’t enough; that we need changes to improve planning and to make land cheaper too to allow them to be built. Others suggested that some of the 200,000 homes currently empty could be used for social housing.
Our commissioners looked at all of these points in detail, and did what they could to address them in the report. Where they agreed, they flagged up the important contribution each could make, and we will take forward their recommendations. But the commissioners were also very aware of the scale of the current crisis – with over 3 million households in need of social housing, at best these changes help contribute to the numbers. But at worst, they could distract attention from the real solution – a long-term investment in social housebuilding.
Of course, a few do still disagree with our central argument – some free marketeers argue that private renting provides ‘choice’ and that ‘the market will provide’. But despite greater freedoms, the market isn’t providing anywhere near the number of homes we need. Our report shows that it never has. And with such high competition, many private renters are now trapped, with no choice but to take whatever home they can get; too often facing high costs and poor conditions, and eviction if they complain. Only more social housing can provide the choice of affordable, secure social housing that this generation and future generations need to get on in life.
Most now agree that much more social housing is needed – it’s hard not to. But that’s not enough. With Brexit and other policy areas often taking up attention, funding, and parliamentary time, we need to show that social housing is a priority for our country. And it is urgent – with homeless numbers increasing and private rents higher than wages and benefits, millions are being failed now.
The prime minister, Labour and the Lib Dems have talked positively about social housing, though these warm words have not been met with the level of ambition or investment needed. There is much more to be done. With a government spending review expected this year, we will work together with a wide range of organisations to take these recommendations forward, to push all political parties to commit funding, and to ensure social housing is seen as a priority.
Your support is crucial to ensure this call for more social housing doesn’t get lost. Over 16,000 people have already signed up to call for government to build more social housing. If you haven’t yet, sign up and share the petition. Help us deliver the transformational change this country needs.