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Social housing ‘imbalance’ at heart of crisis

Local authorities should be empowered to acquire, upgrade and repurpose private rented housing so as to create a new generation of social homes, a report from the charitable think tank the New Economics Foundation has proposed.

Since introduction of right to buy in the 1980s, England’s housing system has become increasingly unbalanced, leading to the housing crisis seen today, according to the NFE report.

In the decade preceding introduction of the right to buy policy, some 40 per cent of new homes were social housing – over 1m new social homes in total. But in the 42 years after introduction of right to buy, only 360,000 new social homes were built – making up just 6 per cent of total new homes.

As a result, socially rented homes now make up just 17 per cent of England’s housing, compared to 31 per cent in 1980, according to the English Housing Survey. At the same time, the private rented sector has more than doubled from 9 per cent of housing in 1988 to 19 per cent today.

The root of the England’s housing crisis lies in this shift, in which affordable and secure social homes have been replaced by unaffordable, insecure and poor quality private sector accommodation.

‘Since the 1980s, we’ve swapped secure and affordable social housing for a private rented sector which leaves households paying through the nose for their homes, living in fear of evictions and rent hikes’, said New Economics Foundation senior researcher Alex Diner.

‘Far from providing stable foundations on which to build our lives, our housing system has instead become a source of insecurity, hardship, anxiety and poor health for millions. Current efforts to fix this are not working, and we are not building enough social homes to meet demand.

This government is spending much more subsidising rising private sector rents than it is addressing its root cause: the lack of social homes.

Alongside building desperately needed social homes, upgrading and repurposing private rented housing into a new generation of social homes provides a clear path out of the housing crisis’.