The Government has Failed Social Housing – Liberal Article
The UK used to invest heavily in social housing. But the amount the government is now willing to invest in it is pitiful. As a result, many people have been left at the mercy of the private housing sector, which is becoming increasingly unaffordable and volatile. Therefore, the government must start to seriously invest in social housing once again.
Historically, Britain’s investment in social housing began in the early 20th century. The goal was to provide accommodation for soldiers returning from the war. But the real ‘golden age’ of social housing did not occur until after WWII. There was a real effort from the new Labour Government to provide safe dwellings for large numbers in society who struggled to seek refuge in the private sector.
During the 35 years following the end of WWII, 4.4 million social homes were built by both local authorities and housing associations. These were used to house millions of families across the UK who deserved a respectable and safe home. Unlike now, the majority of the population relied on the government to help provide a roof over their head.
But when Thatcher came to power the number of social houses available in the UK suddenly dropped. The introduction of the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme meant that much of the government-owned housing returned to the private sector. Although this aided the downfall of social housing in the UK, it was by no means a bad policy. It helped many people get onto the property ladder that wouldn’t have been able to without this scheme. Ultimately, it provided people with stability in a time when the housing sector was becoming increasingly unstable.
Therefore, I do not take any issue with the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, despite the drastic changes it engendered. I actually think it did a lot of good. But the issue is that the government did not invest the profits it made from this scheme back into housing. Consequently, we witnessed a detrimental loss in the amount of social housing and pitiful further investment. There are around 1.5 million social homes fewer social homes than there were in 1980.
So, Britain is experiencing a housing crisis. It is estimated that there are 8.4 million people in England that are living in unaffordable or unsuitable homes. And the waiting list for social housing is becoming more oversubscribed with each working day. The pandemic is only further exacerbating this issue. The number of homeless households living in temporary accommodation is at its highest level now since 2005. Unless the government is willing to take drastic steps then I worry that Britain will never be able to remedy the current situation.
The solution is simple: build more social houses. Obviously, the country is just in desperate need for housing in general due to the growing population. But we need to place a much greater emphasis on social housing. There is no point building lots of homes that very few can actually afford. And the private sector has shown that it simply cannot be trusted to build genuinely affordable homes.
Admittedly, social housing tends to conjure up images of tall tower blocks that fail to meet acceptable standards of housing. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower justifies any worries surrounding the standards of social housing. Many of the homes that the government built are not only lazy and substandard but also a complete disgrace. Therefore, I can completely understand why some might feel housing is best left to the private sector. But social housing doesn’t have to be bad.
During the first lockdown, I became slightly obsessed with reading urban planning books. They really opened my eyes up to the importance of buildings and your environment. When buildings are designed well, they can be immensely beneficial to individuals and the community at large. Studies show that the simple addition of greenery to a building can improve resident’s happiness and mental health. Building design can have a far greater psychological impact than I ever dared to imagine. The key to good social housing must be smart design. And creativity doesn’t necessarily have to cost.
Over the past year or so there has been a silent revolution by local councils. Many have been more creative and attentive to the homes they were building. For instance, Norwich City Council built a neighbourhood of high-quality and sustainable social houses filled with green spaces. The project won various awards, including the well-esteemed RIBA Stirling Prize. This is the first time council housing has ever won such a hallowed award. Moreover, Bournemouth has been experimenting with building social housing on top of its surface level car parks and has won many accolades as a result. These examples clearly illustrate that social housing does not have to be boring.
When social housing is done well, it has the potential to have an unmatched impact on society at large. And local governments are doing just this.
The national government has failed time and time again to follow through and deliver the amount of housing it promises. In 2015 the government promised to build 200,000 affordable starter homes. By 2019, not a single one was built. This case is not unique. Pretty much every recent government has promised similar targets and yet no real progress ever occurs.
Other European countries dedicate much more time and effort into building high-quality social housing. In Vienna, 60% of residents live in social housing. And these buildings couldn’t be more different from social housing in the UK. They come with communal gardens, tennis courts and swimming pools. Unlike Britain, their social housing has thought put into it.
Admittedly, local governments are performing much more valiantly despite their limited powers and jurisdictions. Therefore, they should be granted greater power and resources to be able to build the homes that Britain is in desperate need of. Local governments also likely have a better understanding of the area and its needs. They can take a more compassionate and attentive approach to housing.
Empty promises from the national government are not good enough. So, bring on the social housing revolution and let the local governments take the reins!
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Beccy Reeves
Point of Information
Jenrick’s Planning New White Paper will overhaul the unequal housing system – A Conservative Response
I commend Beccy for focusing on such an important issue. The housing system is indeed unjust in the UK. This is why Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has focused on overhauling the system. Jenrick stated in the Planning New White Paper that these “proposals will help us to build the homes our country needs, bridge the present generational divide and recreate an ownership society in which more people have the dignity and security of a home of their own”. I could not agree more with this statement as it is clear to me that the government are attempting to make housing accessible to all despite the terrible situation the world is in.
“Construction rates are at a thirty year high” so to state that the government has failed is completely false. In 2012, the government established the National Planning Policy Framework to simplify planning policies. This has therefore enabled to build a further 50,000, which is of course not enough, but it is a start and that is why further reforms are being made now.
The process is being made more streamlined and more democratic enabling further growth. The Local Plans will be set under three new categories: Growth, Renewal & Protected. This makes the process simpler and therefore more accessible. Local Plans will have set rules instead of general policies so just “a core set of standards and requirement for development”.
There are also further reasons why these reforms will set a good precedent but I feel that would need a whole article! I truly Robert Kendrick has put together a very good plan to overhaul the housing system.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski
The Importance of Social Housing has been Forgotten – A Labour Response
‘The Government has Failed Social Housing’ is a statement I cannot disagree. Reading Beccy’s article only consolidated why I think this. The state of the UK’s housing sector is atrocious and it needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency.
Beccy rightly states that Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme had a positive impact on those who otherwise would be unable to get on the housing ladder. However, my support for a scheme of Thatcher’s ends there. It is undeniable that this acted as a catalyst towards a move into private-sector housing. The Conservative government did not invest the money back into the housing sector, nor did they support those who were still struggling. Ultimately, all they did was unlock the gate to further their mandate for private-sector housing. I profoundly disagree with this, probably as no shock to you as the Labour responder here.
Moving to today’s issues, I completely agree with Beccy for the most part. If more time and effort was given to social housing, it would eradicate a lot of its existing problems. One of the biggest current problems is that the Conservative government simply aren’t placing enough emphasis on its importance.
To me, it is obvious that this is an emergency. The facts and statistics provided by Beccy in her article only further this; we cannot ignore the growing number of people living in unsuitable accommodation, or those without a roof over their head.
In twenty-first century Britain, you would think we’d have a reasonable solution to the housing crisis or at least be working towards one. In reality, it seems the governments of the 60s and 70s placed more emphasis on its importance.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo