Social Housing: The Case for Increased Provision
This House of Lords Library Briefing was prepared in advance of the
debate that took place on 31 January 2019 in the House of Lords on the
motion moved by Lord Whitty “that this House takes note of the case
for a long-term commitment to increased provision of social housing to help to reduce housing costs, homelessness and housing benefit expenditure”.
Housing policy is a devolved matter and so this briefing focuses on England.
The number of socially rented houses in England has been falling consistently
since the 1980s; between 1981 to 2016 social housing stock has decreased by
25%. In 2016 17% of houses were socially rented compared to 30% in 1981.
Some commentators have put this decrease down to aspects of government
housing policy. For example, right to buy, a policy introduced in 1980, allowed
local authority tenants to purchase their council houses at a reduced rate,
which has contributed to reducing social housing stock numbers.
A commitment to replace a proportion of the properties sold under the scheme
was introduced in 2011, although the latest statistics suggest that these
obligations are not being met. Over the same period, central government
funding for building new homes for social rent was also reduced, replaced in
part by funding for construction of homes for affordable rent, with rents up to
80 percent of market rates.
It has been argued that these housing trends have had implications for several
housing-related issues. Statistics show that private renters spend a higher
proportion of their income on rent than social renters. Although, in general,
rents have risen roughly in proportion to income, renters in London, 25 to
34-year olds and those on low incomes are facing increasing housing burdens.
Real-term spending on housing benefit has also increased substantially over the
past thirty years, with some attributing this to the lack of investment in social
housing. In addition, Crisis has argued that insecure housing in the private
sector has also led to increased rates of statutory homelessness, and that the
lack of available social homes has posed additional challenges for local
authorities when trying to house those which it owes a duty of prevention or
In 2017, the Government committed to working with local councils to build
more social homes, and its 2018 green paper outlined its strategy for achieving
this. However, its proposals have been criticised by housing groups and
homeless charities for being unambitious and failing to meet demand for social
housing. In addition, Labour denounced the plan saying that it did not include
any government investment for new homes.
23 January 2019
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