England: Major new report reveals strong public support for social housing

Terrie Alafat

A major new report is calling on the government to back social housing as polling reveals strong public support.

Rethinking social housing was launched by the Chartered Institute of Housing to spark a national debate about the role and purpose of social housing. The project took on new significance when it was revealed that the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire would not consider wider issues regarding social housing.

Polling carried out by Ipsos MORI showed that:

  • More than six out of 10 people across England support more social housing being built in their area
  • 80% of people agree that social housing is important because it helps people on lower incomes get housing which wouldn’t be affordable in the private rented sector
  • 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
  • 68% agree that social housing plays in important role in tackling poverty in Britain
  • 65% of people agree that the negative view of the people that live in social housing is unfair.

Rethinking social housing, launched today at Housing 2018 in Manchester, concludes that the time has come to reclaim social housing as a central pillar of society alongside education and the NHS, and set out an ambitious new vision for affordable housing.

Recommendations include:

  • Suspending right to buy to stem the loss of social rented homes; removing the barriers stopping councils from replacing homes sold under the scheme and looking at more effective ways to help people access home ownership
  • Shifting investment from private housing to genuinely affordable homes – CIH analysis shows that 79% of the government’s £53 billion housing budget up to 2020/21 is directed towards the private market, with just 21% going to affordable housing
  • Reviewing the consumer regulation that is supposed to protect social housing tenants, in particular the tenant involvement and empowerment standard
  • Giving tenants the power to shape the direction of future government policy at a national level
  • Linking social housing rents to local incomes

Meanwhile the report calls on social landlords to:

  • Review the way they communicate with tenants and listen to and act on their concerns
  • Review their tenant scrutiny processes and the way that tenants are able to compare their performance in management and maintenance
  • Set rents that are genuinely affordable to people on lower incomes

CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat CBE said: “The message we got from our research was loud and clear - social housing has a unique and positive role to play and it is highly valued.

“It’s also clear there is a huge disparity between the support for social housing demonstrated in this report and the current level of investment. And there is still a stigma attached to social housing as a product and the people who call it home. We can only truly start to tackle the chronic shortage of affordable housing in this country by putting social housing at the centre of government plans to solve the housing crisis.

“We must now reclaim social housing as a pillar of the society we want to be, along with free health care and education. And we need to push on – creating an ambitious vision of what a plentiful supply of social housing can do to help people thrive in communities that prosper.

“I want to be very clear - yes the government needs to make some big changes but landlords must step up and take action in a number of areas without waiting to be told what to do. The sector must own its future.

“Ultimately, we cannot call ourselves a civilised society if we are failing to provide a safe, decent and affordable home for everyone who needs one.”

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