England's housing backlog hits 4m homes

Warren Lewis
22nd May 2018
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The true scale of the housing crisis in England has been revealed in new research from the National Housing Federation and Crisis, the national charity for homeless people.

The research, conducted by Heriot-Watt University, shows that England's total housing deficit has reached four million homes. A new housing settlement is needed to address this shortage, providing a home for everyone who currently needs one, including homeless people, private tenants spending huge amounts on rent, children unable to leave the family home, and even couples delaying having children because they are stuck in unsuitable housing.

According to the findings, to both meet this backlog and provide for future demand, the country needs to build 340,000 homes per year until 2031. This is significantly higher than the Government's target of 300,000 homes annually, which have never before taken into account the true scale of housing need created by both homelessness and high house prices.

However, simply building a total of 340,000 homes each year will not meet this need – they will need to be the right type of homes. 145,000 of these new homes must be affordable homes, compared to previous estimates of the annual affordable housing need of around 78,000. This means that around two-fifths of all new homes built every year must be affordable homes – in 2016/17, only around 23% of the total built were affordable homes.

In September 2017, the Prime Minister promised to invest £2 billion in affordable housing, indicating that this could deliver around 25,000 new homes for social rent over the next three years.

Even when it is made available, this new research shows it would deliver less than 10% of the social rented homes needed each year, so it is clear that additional funding is needed. However, this alone will not meet the full extent of the housing need in England.

This means that the Government must make ambitious, comprehensive reforms to the land market to help deliver more homes and make up this housing shortfall. This must include prioritising the sale of public land for social housing, as well as exploring ways to reduce the cost of private land.
It will take time to build up the country's affordable housebuilding programme to the levels needed but lessons from the past show that, with government backing to release land at affordable prices and to increase investment, housing associations and councils have the potential to increase the supply of new homes for social rents, and low cost home ownership.

In post war years until the 1970s councils regularly built more than 100,000 homes a year and previous research shows that an increase in housebuilding alone would lead to a decrease in the most acute levels of homelessness.

Instead, Government funding for social housing has been steadily declining for decades: in 1975/76, investment in social housing stood at more than £18 billion a year, but had declined to just £1.1 billion in 2015/16. Over the same period, the housing benefit bill grew from £4 billion to £24.2 billion each year.

Meanwhile, homeownership rates have plummeted among young people. Rough sleeping has risen by 169% since 2010, while the number of households in temporary accommodation is on track to reach 100,000 by 2020 unless the Government takes steps to deliver more private, intermediate and social housing.

David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: "This groundbreaking new research shows the epic scale of the housing crisis in England. The shortfall of homes can't be met overnight – instead, we need an urgent effort from the Government to meet this need, before it publishes its social housing green paper in the summer.

The green paper will set out the Government's approach to tackling a number of key issues, like stigma of social housing tenants. However, it is clear that many of these stem from a chronic underinvestment in affordable housing. Fixing this should be the Government's top priority. As a first step, ministers should make the £2 billion they promised for social rent available immediately.

The Government must also totally change the way it sells surplus land. The priority here must be supporting developments that will deliver a public good on public land, rather than simply selling it off to the highest bidder."

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: "Today's findings are stark and shocking, but they also represent a huge opportunity for us as a country to get to grips with our housing and homelessness crisis – and to end it once and for all.

Right now across England, councils are desperately struggling to find homeless people somewhere to live. This means thousands of people are ending up trapped in B&Bs and hostels or on the streets, exposed to danger every night. It also means that far too many people are living on a knife edge, in danger of losing their homes because of sky-high housing costs.

But we know that homelessness is not inevitable and that with the right action, it can become a thing of the past. To truly get to grips with this crisis and ensure everyone has a safe and stable home, we must build the social and affordable housing we need to end homelessness once and for all."

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