We need a long-term plan for housing

  • Election 24
  • Living standards and Levelling up

Kate Henderson FAcSS, Chief Executive, National Housing Federation 

In this piece, Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, highlights some of the impacts of Britain’s housing problems and suggests some long-term evidence-based solutions.  

For more and more people across the country, securing a suitable, affordable home in their local area is no longer possible. Today, one in six children in England are living in overcrowded homes and a record 140,000 children are homeless and growing up in temporary accommodation, such as one-room hostels and B&Bs, with little space or privacy. Thousands more people are forced to sleep on the street. With the crisis deepening, housing is set to be a key issue for voters of all parties at the next election.

Whilst the housing crisis might seem to be accelerating beyond repair, solving it is still possible. However, to do this, we must learn the lessons from history. For decades, housing policy decisions have been short-termist, with chronic underfunding, a lack of cross government thinking and a focus on increasing home ownership often at the expense of social housing. This has worsened the housing crisis at every level, intensifying the shortage and increasing house prices and rents. In 2010 the government cut funding for new social housing by 63%, the biggest cut to any capital budget at the time. This led to a drastic fall in the number of new social homes being built. Last year only 8,386 social rent homes last year were built, 76% fewer than in 2010.

We’ve reached the point where, according to NHF research, 4.2 million people are now in need of a social home in England. To solve this crisis, we must put an end to short term piecemeal approaches to housing and planning policy and commit to a nationally coordinated, properly funded long-term plan for housing, based on ambitious and measurable outcomes for people in housing need. Central to this plan must be ramping up delivery of social rented homes – the only genuinely affordable housing by design.

According to research by the National Housing Federation and Crisis, we need to build 90,000 social rented homes per year, for at least the next decade, to meet the backlog. This is ten times the number built last year. The good news for the next government is that building these homes provides incredible value for money for the economy and taxpayer, making the initial investment worthwhile, particularly at a time when political parties are keen to demonstrate fiscal restraint. In February, the NHF and Shelter published research carried out by the Centre for Economic and Business Research which reveals, for the first time, the full socio-economic impact of building social housing. In the first year alone, the construction of the homes would directly support nearly 140,000 jobs and the initial government investment would be fully paid back in eleven years.

The research demonstrates that the long-term affordability, safety, and security that social housing provides has positive and wide-reaching social impacts which in turn generate and save the taxpayer money across multiple departments. These include saving on housing benefit and Universal credit (£7.8bn), savings to the NHS (5.2bn), reduction in homelessness spend (£3.2bn) and additional income from construction and employment taxes (£6.3bn), to name a few.

We are in the midst of a dire housing emergency, with people and children in communities across the country seeing life chances harmed by inadequate housing. Regardless of who wins the election, the beginning of the next term of parliament is an ideal time to take bold, decisive action and implement a long-term plan for housing, with funding to build a new generation of new social homes.

About the author

Kate joined the National Housing Federation as Chief Executive in October 2018. She is a member of several government panels including the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel and the Social Housing Quality Expert Challenge Panel. Kate became a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2021. Prior to joining the NHF, Kate was Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association.

Image Credit: Samuel Ryde, Unsplash