'New thinking and clear evidence will help us to secure our future.'
In the latest of our series of comment pieces as part of our Rethinking social housing project, the project's advisory group co-chair Ken Gibb says evidence will help the sector to move forward.
I am delighted to be co-chairing Rethinking social housing with Paul Tennant. I imagine that I was approached because I represent a new independent and hopefully authoritative housing evidence centre charged to provide rigorous analysis and evidence about what and does not work in UK housing policy and practice.
It is right to be asking fundamental questions about social housing for both long-standing and new reasons. The familiar reasons are the inescapable ones of needs deficit, the lack of affordable housing, insecurity and the often overwhelming pressures faced in today’s housing system. New questions relate to the fact that our assumptions about what social housing is for, who it houses and what it can be are being challenged by the aftermath from Grenfell, and also the recognition that present arrangements lack the core delivery and funding models that can form a long term scaled-up social housing model
A fundamental part of this project is that it to a large extent relies on the direct evidence of people living and working in the sector up and down the country to both tell us who is in it and what it is like and what it does in the housing system, but at the same time provide first hand input to help shape the future of social housing. Too often resident and street level professionals are under-represented or drowned out by policy and practice elites. Not here. Co-creation of new thinking and establishing empirical veracity is essential and here we will make sure that we give this element of the story its proper place.
In recent months, there has been a sense of progress in terms of government support for the sector but perhaps not as strongly or as coherently as many in the sector would have wished. This goes back to the change of direction identifiable in the White Paper last February and since the Grenfell fire, a number of announcements, change of tone and rolling back from aspects of the Cameron-Osborne housing agenda. There is a bit more money but the critical next stage is the vision, purpose (and proposed interventions) that may emerge from the social housing green paper. But there is still undoubtedly a long way to go.
This project is important to me because social housing still represents one of the best ways individuals, families and communities can live where they want to or need to live at reasonable cost and in good conditions. At a time when the market is inaccessible and unaffordable to so many millions of our fellow citizens, it has never been more apparent or important that we promote and support well designed and evidenced models of efficient, innovative and sustainable social housing delivery. I hope that this project will use a diverse array of evidence to make a significant contribution to this important debate at such a critical juncture.
Ken Gibb is co-chair of the Rethinking social housing advisory group, professor in housing economics at the University of Glasgow and director of the Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE).
- Find out more about Rethinking social housing here