Britain's social housing crisis

Britain's social housing crisis

This week Shelter almost did the impossible and nearly succeeded in driving Brexit off the front pages with its report on the scale of new social housing needed in Britain today.

As a local Councillor I have long believed that the key to solving the nation’s many social and economic problems is to ‘go back to the future’ and start a massive nationwide Council house building programme. Indeed, the Shelter report makes this very point:

"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 lack of enough low-cost housing is causing misery to hundreds of thousands of families. Here are some of the facts:

- 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.
- Over the past five years, housebuilding has averaged 166,000 a year, yet the government wants to deliver 300,000 homes a year.
- By 2040, as many as one-third of 60-year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point.
- The government currently spends £21 billion annually on housing benefit. Billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords due to a lack of more affordable social housing.
- Most private renters on low incomes struggle to afford their rent, so many cut back on food or clothing, or go into a spiral of debt they have little hope of escaping.


Shelter’s prescription is remarkably simple but requires political will and sustained long term investment. Shelter call for:

- A historic renewal of social housing, with a 20-year programme to deliver 3.1 million more social homes.
- All political parties rediscover publicly built housing as a key pillar of our national infrastructure.
- Over twenty years, Capital Economics shows the gross additional cost is on average £10.7 billion per year. However, this gross cost will be reduced, firstly by the direct benefits to government of increased infrastructure spending and savings in the welfare system, and secondly by the returns to government arising from the knock-on economic benefits across the economy.
- If all these savings to government are considered, Capital Economics estimate the maximum net cost to the government in the most expensive year could be much lower – £5.4 billion.
- Capital Economics assess that if funded in the early years through borrowing, the programme pays back in full over 39 years. This would represent a substantial investment, but we believe it is essential to meet the needs of people across our country.


When I was a teenager growing up in the 1960s Shelter was established following the groundbreaking ‘Cathy Come Home’ drama and had a profound impact on Government housing policies and practices. We can only hope that this latest Shelter report is equally influential in shaping public policy.

By Paul Dimoldenberg 

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