Today, we live in a country that is feeling the effects of 40 years of failure in housing policy.
The failure in that time to provide a clear answer to this question of the future of social housing has been at the heart of the problems in our housing system, and has had an impact on almost every other part of the system. The drop in the numbers of young families moving into ownership, the rise of pensioners in insecure unaffordable private rentals, and the homelessness that scars our society.
It is a crisis principally of those who rent, not through choice, but because of the unaffordability of housing for would-be homeowners has left millions in insecure and expensive rented accommodation. Most private renters on low incomes struggle to afford their rent, so too many cut back on food or clothing, or go into a spiral of debt they have little hope of escaping.
With private renters afforded little legal protection from eviction, families are forced to move home and school, with a devastating impact on their children’s education. And private renting can be very unsafe: most private renters face problems with their homes that can include electrical hazards, damp, and pest infestation. One in seven private rented homes pose an immediate threat to health and safety. If private renters make a formal complaint, research suggests there’s a 50:50 chance they’ll be handed an eviction notice within six months.
Stigma and prejudice linked to housing are rife. When social renters have issues, their complaints can go nowhere and too many feel powerless to influence the decisions made about their homes. And in the private market, the practice of refusing to rent homes to those receiving benefits is widespread.
At the sharpest end of the crisis, more and more people are being left homeless. An alarming 277,000 people are now homeless in England, most commonly because they’ve lost their private rented home.
From the Second World War and through to 1980, Conservative and Labour governments were building an average of around 126,000 social homes every year. Last year, only 6,463 new social homes were delivered. This decline in social housing has been a major factor in many of the problems we now face:
None of these are outcomes which any government has ever planned or sought, but all of them are the result of the choices of successive governments. No party has ever argued for the explosion in private renting or the rising cost accompanying it, yet without a radically different approach we face a future in which: a generation of young families will be trapped renting privately for their whole lives. More and more will face living in dangerous accommodation or going into debt, and only half of today’s young people are likely to ever own their own home more and more people will grow old in private rentals.
By 2040, as many as one-third of 60-year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords due to a lack of more affordable social housing over the next twenty years, hundreds of thousands more people will be forced into homelessness by insecure tenancies and sky-high housing costs.