Sun, 14 April 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
London Luton Airport: “An airport to be proud of” Partner content
Rt Hon Rachel Reeves Mais lecture hits the nail on the head for construction. Partner content
Press releases

An ambitious social housebuilding programme can be achieved with the right policy leadership

4 min read

By Keir Starmer’s own words, homelessness is a political choice, and it has almost doubled in the last decade alone.

It’s been fuelled by decades of neglect to build enough genuinely affordable social homes, and private renting being left unchecked. The housing emergency we now find ourselves in is not inevitable. We can and must do better. But the Labour Party cannot consider itself ready to lead the country unless it is willing to take bold action to tackle the problem head-on.

Every day our frontline services are inundated with calls from people struggling to keep a safe roof over their heads because there are no genuinely affordable homes available and private renting is just too expensive and insecure.

Others are being priced out of their local communities, leaving their jobs, children’s schools and support networks behind.

To date, and with a general election on the horizon, politicians of all stripes have buried their head in the sand over this crisis, and no political party is addressing it with the urgency it requires. But it’s not too late.

Social rented housing is the only genuinely affordable housing by design, as rents are tied to local incomes. On average, social rents are around 50 per cent cheaper than private rents. However, every year we lose more than we build.

Between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023, there was a net loss of more than 11,684 social homes, while 1.3 million households are stuck on social housing waiting lists in England. The problem is now so severe that, in February, Birmingham city council threatened to close its waiting list altogether – as if denying desperate families the opportunity to apply for an affordable social home is the answer to the shortage. 

The results of this political failure speak for themselves. At the end of last year, at least 309,000 people were homeless in England. That’s one in every 182 people – a staggering 14 per cent rise in a year. Of these, 140,000 children were in damaging temporary homeless accommodation such as grotty B&Bs and one-room hostels. A shameful record for any country claiming to be a modern society.

Social rented housing is the only genuinely affordable housing by design, as rents are tied to local incomes

The chronic shortage of social homes has resulted in the ballooning of the private rental sector, which has more than doubled in the last 20 years. As the sector has grown, regulation has failed to keep pace – trapping 11 million private renters in a broken system where poor conditions are rife, and the threat of an unfair eviction looms large.

With private rents at a record high, it’s no wonder one in two working private renters report being just one pay cheque away from losing their home. The situation has reached boiling point.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner, who grew up in social housing, knows better than anyone that social rent homes are a fundamental foundation on which community and a healthy society are built. It was heartening to hear Ms Rayner say recently that she wants her legacy to be building social housing. Now we want to see Labour put its money where its mouth is.

The party has already pledged to build 1.5m homes over five years of the next parliament. That’s all well and good, but these can’t be just any old homes. They must be homes that people on low incomes will be able to afford. Social housing must be at the heart of Labour’s mission, with a commitment to invest in improving our current stock and building 90,000 new social rent homes a year for the next 10 years to transform people’s lives for the better.

Labour must make the choice to end the housing emergency. It will not solve itself, but the solutions are simple. As they prepare to go to the ballot box, the nation is demanding – and expecting – leaders to deliver real change. Anything less is a commitment to further suffering. 

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.




Partner content
Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

Find out more