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

'Thousands are locked out of social housing - we need a plan to boost supply.'


The government's promise to help those locked out of social housing will only be credible if it sets out a plan to deliver homes for low-income families, says Brian Robson, in the latest of our exclusive Rethinking social housing comment pieces.

In his speech announcing the Social Housing Green Paper, the Secretary of State Sajid Javid promised a ‘wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector’ and said it would ‘look again at the number of homes being built’ in England.

New analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows how vital this is. Our latest briefing demonstrates that since 2011, new supply of affordable housing in England has averaged 47,520 homes each year. That’s 30,000 homes short of the independently assessed need for 78,000 additional homes each and every year.

Coming off the back of CIH’s analysis showing we’ve lost 150,000 social rented homes in the last five years, this is evidence of a mounting crisis that’s locking low-income families into poverty and insecurity.

The consequences of the failure to meet need are stark. Families on low incomes are seeing the meagre increase in real income growth they have experienced since the crash wiped out once housing costs are taken into account. Housing benefit offers some help for those locked out of social housing, but it doesn’t insulate family living standards from rising housing costs – 90% of low-income private renters have to top up their housing benefit from other sources in order to cover the rent. Using low-cost rented housing to cut the largest single cost for these families would make a real difference:

“It’s all the fees and deposits and everything else you’ve got to put down on houses. It’s these private landlords. I’d love to move into a council house but the list system is ridiculous at the moment … When we were at her mum’s we bid every week for, I think it was a year and we got nowhere.”

Participant in JRF/University of York Housing and Life Experiences study

It’s not just family finances that take a hit from the lack of low-cost rented housing. The quality of housing available to those on low incomes suffers, too. Almost 1 in 3 private renters in poverty live in a home that doesn’t meet the decent homes standard. We know that social housing is a higher quality product: the equivalent for social renters in poverty is nearer 1 in 10. With decades of evidence showing the link between poor housing and poor health, that’s significant.

Low-cost rented housing can also offer much needed stability – which the market won’t provide for those who can’t afford to buy. The average social renter with kids has lived in their current property for over twice as long as their private renter equivalent. Evidence shows frequent moves in childhood are bad for kids’ development and educational attainment. Social housing can provide a stable platform for learning and life.

The public are looking to government for action - the vast majority of the population see providing decent housing for those who cannot afford it as a key responsibility of government. Across all income groups, this responsibility is seen as the third most important priority for government, behind only providing healthcare for the sick, and a decent standard of living for the elderly.

JRF is working with CIH and other partners on the Rethinking Social Housing project. If we’re to maximise social housing’s potential, we need to ensure that we have the supply necessary to assist the thousands of families who are locked out of low-cost rented housing, and the chance it offers to lower their largest single cost, and provide them with a stable, secure, high quality platform to build their life on. The Secretary of State said he wanted to listen to the voices of those ‘clamouring for social housing’. If it’s to be credible, his Social Housing Green Paper must set out a plan to deliver the homes low-income families need, and the electorate expects.

Brian Robson is head of policy and research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

  • Find out more about our Rethinking social housing project here.

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