Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’

Kevin Gulliver argues that the social housing system needs to be re-hauled under a ‘New Deal’.

Kevin Gulliver is the director of Birmingham-based research charity The Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research but writes in a personal capacity; his interests are social and economic policy, especially relating to housing, health, communities and inequalities

First the good news: social housing was a key issue at this week’s Labour Party conference with Ed Miliband pointing to an expansion under a future Labour Government.

The bad news is that the coalition’s language about who ‘deserves’ and doesn’t ‘deserve’ social housing was echoed by the Labour leader. The direction of travel for Labour in housing policy should now seek to go beyond this narrow and dispiriting debate and embrace a wholesale renewal of social housing as part of a visionary yet realistic new housing policy. Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’.


Let’s not delude ourselves that home ownership is going to revive any time soon or that the private rented sector offers an affordable alternative. Recent reports reveal a retrenching yet persistently unaffordable home ownership market, inflated demand and rents in the private rented accommodation, with accompanying rent hikes, and ballooning waiting lists for social housing. Homelessness has increased by nearly one fifth since the coalition came to power.

An expansion of a flourishing social housing sector that places fairness and affordability at its core is the only viable alternative to meet UK housing needs. And the case for expansion using mainly public finance is compelling even against the backdrop of high public debt.

People would willingly move into social housing if more homes were available at more affordable rents. This will require greater levels of public subsidy in bricks and mortar to improve affordability over time and reduce the housing benefit bill, which has increased fourfold over the last two decades to stand at more than £20 billion annually to meet repayments to the financial sector through social housing’s version of PFI.

Public investment would represent a good deal for the taxpayer. It would provide much-needed employment in the construction industry and supply-chain with reduced benefit pay-outs and increased tax revenues.

New social house building would also aid tenant mobility – in both social and geographical aspects – which has stalled; not because of the lettings practices of social landlords, or conscious concentration of disadvantaged households, but because of wider demographic, labour and housing market trends. Increased mobility in social housing would aid both economic development and improve the life chances of tenants.

A ‘New Deal’ for social housing would also require fostering an improved reputation. A renewed commitment by social landlords to their historic social purpose is urgently needed. The consumerist ethic imported by many social landlords in recent years, abetted by regulators has replaced the transformative, public value approach of community-based social landlordism. This trend must be reversed to the benefit of communities and civic society.

Alongside this recalibration of purpose, social landlords, within a new macro-framework created by Government,  need to devolve control of housing and communities to tenants through the creation of a new generation of tenant management organisations, co-operatives and community mutuals to enhance local democracy, bolster social capital, widen asset ownership and improve life chances.

Equally, narrowing the wealth gap between home owners and tenants, estimated at £100,000 on average, to create an ‘asset-owning democracy’ would increase the attractiveness of social housing. This could be achieved by the creation of asset accounts for all social tenants aggregated into a social investment bank managed by a tenants’ mutual.

This social investment bank would lend to social landlords to build new social housing and neighbourhood infrastructure. This would provide a virtuous cycle of investment by using tenants’ collective asset accounts to invest in their communities so creating employment in fragile local economies and enhancing the quality of disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Taken as a whole, the ‘New Deal’ for social housing would shift portrayal of the sector from ‘welfare housing’ and a tenure of last resort. Rather it would stress capital investment from public sources to create national assets for the long-term, enshrine affordability, boost job creation, and expand mutualism and community renewal.

See also:

Housing will define the London Mayoral electionSteve Hilditch, September 12th 2011

On housing, while Ed has got it wrong, Boris has the answerVidhya Alakeson, June 13th 2011

Why isn’t Boris coming up with any solutions to London’s housing crisis?Jenny Jones AM, September 9th 2011

Government spin on so-called “rich” social housing tenants exposedKevin Gulliver, June 6th 2011

21 Responses to “Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’”

  1. Political Planet

    Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’: Kevin Gulliver argues that the social housing system needs to be re-hauled un… http://t.co/L3JnPsj5

  2. Kevin Gulliver

    Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’, argues @KevinGulliver: http://t.co/r0QgINLX #LabConf #Lab11

  3. Michael

    Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’ l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/jzGzcV6H

  4. RT @TheRightArticle Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’ l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/61UQnduJ

  5. Pollee Tickle

    #askedm pls declare how much social housing labour provided in the boom times? http://t.co/7EEmwIXg @TheRightArticle #LAB11

  6. Kevin Gulliver

    @martinhilditch @jules_birch – you might be interested @leftfootfwd: #sochousing needs a ‘New Deal’ – http://t.co/xKimLHc1 #LabConf #Lab11

  7. Pauline

    Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’ l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/jzGzcV6H

  8. Martin Hilditch

    Does social housing need a 'new deal'? More reaction to Ed Miliband's speech yesterday http://t.co/P8n2E6xF

  9. Jules Birch

    @kevingulliver argues that social housing needs a new deal not a dispiriting debate about who deserves it http://t.co/uPdAr8Dj

  10. Angus Carruthers

    Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’ l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/jzGzcV6H

  11. London IWW

    Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’ http://t.co/zu9Ppmo6 | #PublicServices #Anticuts

  12. Kevin Gulliver

    @grantshapps Needn't keep considering these dispiriting initiatives if enough #sochousing: ‘New Deal’ needed http://t.co/xKimLHc1 #ukhousing

  13. Kevin Gulliver

    @jrf_uk Afraid @Ed_Miliband rather opened the door on this to @grantshapps – #sochousing needs a ‘New Deal’ http://t.co/xKimLHc1 #ukhousing

  14. Hilary Burrage

    @jrf_uk Afraid @Ed_Miliband rather opened the door on this to @grantshapps – #sochousing needs a ‘New Deal’ http://t.co/xKimLHc1 #ukhousing

  15. Clare Fernyhough

    This is all well and good, but like many, you miss the primary points with regard to social housing and lowering the housing benefit bill.

    The housing benefit bill has risen because of the increase in unemployment and because pay for those at the ‘bottom’ has not risen in line with inflation whilst social housing rents have risen above inflation. Nevertheless, social housing rent is at present still affordable; I fail to see therefore your argument that more people would move into social housing if the rents were affordable!

    People keep spouting ideas about ‘social mobility’, but the fact remains that there will be no social mobility without jobs; jobs that are paid at a living wage rate: this is the only way to reduce the housing benefit bill.

    That said, the housing benefit bill will indeed fall, not because of employment opportunities and decent wages, but because this government plan to make the benefit almost wothless over time. It will amount to a 70% difference over a 10 year period. Combine this with rents that will rise until they reach 80% of private let rates, it will lead to mass homelessness as those who earn minimum wage and those who survive on a state pension or benefits, just will not have the income to remain in their own homes.

    Rather than social mobility therefore, the majority of tenants currently renting social housing will find that their homes have become a vehicle for ‘social immobility’, and more than that, when they are finally evicted their ‘social exclusion’ will be complete.

    The low paid and benefit claimants, some of the most vulnerable in society, are not just going to disappear because a government decides they will no longer support them financially. There are also subsequent generations to consider. If people in think tanks want to make themselves useful, they should start by considering just how we are going to provide for these people. If they don’t put their ‘thinking caps’ on soon, we will face a humanitarian disaster in our own country where the gap between rich and poor becomes more akin to Brazil, with tent cities and shanty towns, than a developed civilised country.

    Yes, homes for everyone by all means, but do not forget the poor in our society who have no means to enable their social mobility, and at the very least need a roof above their heads so that they can live. Most pensioners and disabled people would not survive sleeping rough in a British winter.

  16. Kevin Gulliver

    @BexBailey6 Any idea how this is going to be achieved? See my 'New Deal' for #sochousing proposal http://t.co/xKimLHc1 #ukhousing

  17. Kevin Gulliver

    @insidehousing @LabourHousing – 'New Deal' proposal could fund #sochousing expansion & widen asset ownership http://t.co/xKimLHc1 #ukhousing

  18. Leon Wolfson

    No Clare, the Tory councils will make living in tent cities illegal.

    And you think that this BOTHERS them? That they don’t understand the implications? They understand perfectly. Social Darwinists doing social clensing.

  19. Kevin Gulliver

    Need to develop an asset-owning democracy & expanded #sochousing sector not unsustainable extension of RtB http://t.co/OSvfOS5A #ukhousing

  20. 'Back of a fag packet' housing policy continues | Left Foot Forward

    […] Gulliver is the director of Birmingham-based research charity The Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research but writes in a personal capacity; his interests […]

  21. Time to make the housing recovery a political priority | Left Foot Forward

    […] Social housing needs a ‘New Deal’ 28 Sep […]

Leave a Reply