The Tories have finally realised we need more social housing – but where’s the investment?

A manifesto commitment means nothing without money or targets


Over the weekend, the Tories trailed a likely manifesto pledge to build a new generation of social housing in England. The details of the proposal were thin on the ground, however, but what has become clear is that there is no new money and no targets for the number of new social homes to be built.

Some acknowledgement by the Tories that more social housing is required to confront the housing crisis is welcome after six years of David Cameron-led governments using social housing as a political weapon in the Conservative-conceived struggle between ‘strivers and skivers’.

This Damascene conversion by the Tories comes amid a deepening housing crisis that requires urgent investment in new social housing to ensure that homelessness and housing need can be tackled and for young people to access affordable housing.

The housing record presided over by the Tories is not one of which they can be proud:

  • Conservative housing policies over the last four decades, including under-funding council house-building and the Right to Buy, have denuded the social housing sector. There are almost 400,000 fewer social homes today than twenty years ago and 1.5m fewer than in 1979.  Back then, 114,000 social homes were completed annually whereas last year this was down to 6,500.
  • Affordable house-building, including sub-market rent and social housing (both provided by social landlords) is at a 24 year low despite there being over 4m more households than in 1992 and over 1.5m households on council waiting lists.
  • The Government has been consistently missing its 200,000 new homes per year target. And most housing authorities have raised the annual target to more than 250,000, and the latest report from the Communities and Local Government Committee to 300,000.
  • ‘Official’ or statutory homelessness has risen by 44 per cent over the last six years to stand at almost 58,000 households last year, with rough sleeping climbing by 133 per cent to 4,100. Over the same period, the number of families in temporary accommodation (mainly homeless hostels and bed and breakfast) has increased to 72,000 – up 40 per cent.
  • Around 1 in 5 households in England are overcrowded, or live in indecent, sub-standard or fuel poor housing. The numbers in the private rented sector are much higher and those in the social housing sector much lower.
  • Affordability of home ownership has worsened since 2010 to levels above those seen at the height of the housing boom pre-Credit Crunch. The average house price is now 7.8 times average earnings. Since 1997, house prices have climbed at a rate more than twice the rate of earnings.
  • In 2015-16, the average rent in the social sector was £101 per week compared with £184 in the private rented sector – a difference of £83. While the incomes of social renters are generally lower than those renting in the private sector, rent payments took an average of 28 per cent of incomes but for those living in private rented housing rent payments represented 35 per cent of incomes.
  • Last year, 59 per cent of social renters and 24 per cent of private renters received Housing Benefit to help with the payment of their rent. Social renters in receipt of Housing Benefit received an average of £81 per, whereas the average amount received by private renters was £111.

Building social housing is much better value for money since more social renters and fewer private renters means a lower Housing Benefit Bill, as the SHOUT ‘save social housing’ campaign has argued consistently. If the Tories now recognise this, then significantly more capital investment will need to be found.

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, is former Chair of the Centre for Community Research, and part of the SHOUT save social housing campaign, but writes in a personal capacity.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.