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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Solving poverty in the UK: the role of housing


In September, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) will launch a comprehensive plan to solve poverty in the UK. JRF chief executive Julia Unwin argues that the housing sector has a critical role to play in making this a country where everyone has the chance of a decent and secure life, no matter where they live.

Image of houses at night Last year, 3.4 million people were pushed into poverty because of their housing costs. They are among the 13 million people in the UK held back from realising their potential because they are living in poverty.

Poverty means not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, or buy the essentials for your children. It means waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money. But more than this, the constant stress it causes can overwhelm people - affecting them emotionally and depriving them of the chance to play a full part in society.

The UK’s housing system has traditionally acted as a buffer against poverty, but there is now clear evidence that it is creating and exacerbating it. A lack of social housing, high rents, and the erosion of housing benefit safety nets are creating a situation where it is more difficult for people to escape poverty.

It doesn’t have to be like this. In September, JRF will launch a comprehensive plan to solve poverty in the UK - and housing plays a critical role in this. We want to see:

  • an increased supply of affordable homes
  • more help with unaffordable housing costs
  • a focus on pushing up standards, particularly in the private rented sector
  • a bigger role for social landlords in tackling poverty

I know that CIH members already contribute to reducing poverty by tackling homelessness and building secure, affordable homes. Many housing providers go far beyond the traditional role of the landlord, providing a range of services in neighbourhoods such as helping tenants find employment or offering affordable credit.

JRF wants to work with the housing sector to build on this activity. We know from the UK’s experience of upgrading the existing stock of social housing – where the link between poverty and housing deprivation was largely broken – what we can achieve when governments, councils, landlords and communities come together and each play their part. Today, devolution provides an important opportunity for us to learn from diverging housing policies and provide flexible, sensitive, local responses.

You can find out more about JRF’s plan to solve UK poverty at our digital hub. I’m pleased to be working with CIH to deliver a senior executive briefing on the strategy on Thursday 25 August 2016.

Poverty is real, but with vision and commitment we can solve it. Now is the time for national governments to come together and work with landlords, business and communities to solve poverty in the UK so that everyone has the chance of a decent and secure life.

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