Commission demands ‘profound shift’ in housebuilding

8 Jan 19

Up to 3.1 million new social homes must be built over the next 20 years to solve the housing crisis in England, an independent commission has found.

There needs to be a “profound shift” in housebuilding to increase the availability of social housing, according to a report from housing charity Shelter’s independent commission published today.

The commission urged the government to invest heavily in a 20-year housebuilding programme, the cost of which would be offset by housing benefit savings and increased tax revenue.

Building for our future: a vision for social housing called for 1.27 million homes for those in greatest housing need – homeless households, those living with long-term illness or living in poor conditions.

Another 1.17 million homes should be constructed for ‘trapped renters’ – younger families who cannot afford to buy and face a lifetime in expensive and insecure private renting, the report said.

A further 690,000 should be available for private renters aged over 55 who struggle with high housing costs and insecurity after retirement.

Achieving this number of houses would require an annual investment of £10.7bn but analysis by economic research group Capital Economics estimates that two-thirds of this could be recouped through housing benefit savings and increased tax revenue each year. 

Capital Economics said if benefits were fully realised, the cost would be just £3.8bn on average every year for 20 years, and the investment will have paid for itself after 39 years.

Commissioner and cross-bench peer Jim O’Neill said: “There needs to be a profound shift to see social housing as a national asset like any other infrastructure.

“The government’s budget for capital expenditure is £62bn a year – our housebuilding programme would cost only a fraction and is well within its financial reach.”

Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi, also on the commission, said: “Social mobility has been decimated by decades of political failure to address our worsening housing crisis.

“Our vision for social housing presents a vital political opportunity to reverse this decay.”

Commissioners argued that politicians cannot remain “idle” when private renters on lower incomes spend an average of 67% on rent, and almost 280,000 people in England are homeless.

The report said the government’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme is “expensive and untargeted”. Since it started in 2013, the government has spent £8.9bn on the scheme, but just £2.4bn has gone on the government’s Affordable Homes Programme.

The commissioners recommended a series of reforms to improve social housing, including:

  • a new Ofsted-style consumer regulator to protect residents and to enforce common standards across social and private renting.
  • a new national tenants’ voice organisation to represent the views of tenants in social housing to national and local government.
  • a new national standard to ensure enough investment in maintaining social homes and their surrounding neighbourhoods.


Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The serious lack of affordable housing is locking families out of achieving a decent life. With high rents and housing benefit frozen, millions of families are backed into a corner, leaving them in a daily struggle to get by.

“Now is the time for the government to step up and act upon the concerns of struggling families.

“The upcoming spending review later this year offers ministers the chance to make a real difference to people’s lives by dramatically increasing the supply of social homes that will loosen the grip of poverty for families on low incomes.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been contacted for comment.

In December, data from the Office for National Statistics showed an increase in the number of deaths of homeless people over the last five years.

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