Are we happy to live in a society which is failing to provide a safe, decent and affordable home for everyone who needs one?
This question lies at the heart of the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Rethinking social housing project, which we set up to spark a national debate about the role and purpose of social housing. It took on added significance when it was revealed that the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire would not consider wider issues about social housing.
A number of themes quickly began to emerge from the project, in which about 5,000 people have taken part.
People view social housing as crucial and there is widespread support for it, from people who live and work in social housing, but also from the wider public. The Ipsos MORI poll for the project found 80% of people in England agree that social housing is important because it helps people on lower incomes get housing that wouldn’t be affordable in the private rented sector. More than three-quarters (78%) agree that social housing should be available to people who cannot afford the cost of renting privately, as well as to the most vulnerable, while more than six out of 10 support more social housing being built in their area.
Despite that support, there is still a stigma attached to social housing.
There is a significant gap between the support for social housing demonstrated in this report and the current level of government investment. On 26 June, as we launched our recommendations, the government announced a £1.67bn social housing deal for 23,000 new homes across England outside London, including 12,500 for social rent. The commitment to social rent in particular is very welcome, but this is not new money – it comes from a total of £9.1bn set aside for affordable housing projects through to 2022. It seems unlikely to be the game changer we need.
The chronic shortage of genuinely affordable homes means social housing in England tends to be a safety net, available only for those most in need. But we believe it should have a wider role, to compete with private housing, encourage higher standards and curb excessive price rises. For that, we need a lot more social housing.
Our report looks at a number of ways to make this happen, such as less government investment in the private market an end to the right to buy. It also calls on the sector to show leadership and set rents that are genuinely affordable to people on lower incomes.
One thing that came out strongly was the link between social housing and the NHS. Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the NHS, was minister for health and housing; his 1949 Housing Act made council housing available to all and he told parliament that that the first task of the government after the war should be to provide homes for the families that had none.
One survey respondent pointed out that housing is one of the three cornerstones of public health, alongside decent work and positive social connections. Social housing in the UK should be celebrated in the same way that we celebrate the NHS, they said.
It’s time to reclaim the role of social housing as a pillar of the society we want to be, along with free healthcare and education and it must be at the centre of government plans to solve the housing crisis. We need to push on, creating an ambitious vision of what a plentiful supply of social housing can do help people thrive in communities that prosper.
Source : TheGuardian