A solution to the housing problem?

Commission report calls on government to build more than three million social homes over 20 years

8th January 2019

The government needs to build 3.1 million social homes over the next 20 years in order to adequately meet society’s needs, according to a report by an independent commission set up by homeless charity Shelter.

The report, titled Building for our future: A vision for social housing, outlines a set of urgent proposals to tackle homelessness.

According to the report, private renters on lower incomes spend an average of 67% of their earnings on rent, while more than 275,000 people in England are homeless and as many as half of all young people are unlikely to ever be able to afford a home.

As part of a wide set of suggestions and proposals aimed at reforming and renewing social housing policy, the report identifies the need for 3.1 million more social homes and earmarks these for three separate groups; older renters, young trapped renters, and those in greatest need, including those in hazardous conditions currently, the homeless and people living with ill health or disability.

The commission was launched after the Grenfell Tower disaster and is made up of 16 commissioners who come from varied backgrounds and from all over the political spectrum. These include Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, social justice campaigner Baroness Doreen Lawrence, TV architect George Clarke, Grenfell survivor Ed Daffarn, and a number of other politicians and policy experts.

In the process of putting together their recommendations, the commission heard directly from hundreds of social housing tenants, more than 30,000 members of the public from all over the country and a raft of policy experts.

The proposals would see a significant expansion of social housing, not only in terms of the number of homes available but also in who social housing would be available to. Millions, who under current rules would not qualify, would be able to access social housing were these proposals carried out, according to the report.

Just that little bit of stability for me and my children would have made a big difference

The report points to an over-reliance on the private rented sector alongside the vast scaling down of social housebuilding as drivers in poverty and a lack of social mobility, as the rising cost of housing has made home ownership a totally unrealistic prospect for many families. With both the cost of living and housing rising, social housing could play a vital part in the route to home ownership if expanded in line with these proposals.

Lucie, a 30-year-old charity worker who currently lives in a private rental with her two young children, told the commission how she has had to move home eight times in just over a decade.

“I really feel that if I’d been offered social housing and I’d been able to live somewhere affordable for the last ten years, I think I’d probably be in a position now where I could buy my own property, and that social home could then go back to someone else who needs it. But because I’ve had to move so many times and rents are so high, the financial implications have been devastating. It simply hasn’t been possible for me to save the money. Just that little bit of stability for me and my children would have made a big difference.”

As well as attempting to diagnose the problems with the system as it stands and offer solutions, the report highlights failures in this area of policy by successive governments in recent decades and calls for all parties to once again treat social housing as a fundamental pillar of their policy.


The report paints a bleak picture of a future in which the government ignores the findings of this commission, stating that without change a generation of families will be trapped in the rental sector their entire lives and hundreds of thousands more people will become homeless in the coming decades.

As well as a significant investment and housebuilding, the report calls for a number of measures which aim to introduce accountability and better oversight to this area, including the introduction of an Ofsted-style consumer regulator and a new national tenants’ organisation to represent the views of social housing tenants at both a local and national level.

Though these are ambitious proposals, the investment required to enact them should not be thought of as unrealistic, according to the report. Further analysis carried out for the commission has shown that these proposals would pay for themselves in the long term and that, although the initial input required would be £10.7 billion annually during the construction phase, increased tax revenues and money recouped through savings on housing benefit mean that the actual net cost would average around £4 billion per year over the 20-year period.

We have never felt so divided as a nation, but building social homes is a priority for people right across our country

This further analysis, carried out by Capital Economics, also shows that existing government policy products such as Help-to-Buy are less cost-efficient than these proposals.

Commissioner and former Tory Treasury minister Lord Jim O’Neill said:“The government’s budget for capital expenditure is £62 billion a year – our housebuilding programme would cost only a fraction and is well within its financial reach. With current spending on housing benefit shockingly inefficient, it’s not hard to see what an investment in bricks and mortar could do to help solve the housing crisis and boost our economy.”

According to polling by YouGov, the issue of housing has consistently registered among the top five most important issues to voters for the last two years, and the commission will hope to attract support across the political spectrum for the bold proposals within their report. Commissioner and former Labour leader Ed Milliband MP said: 

“The time for the government to act is now. We have never felt so divided as a nation, but building social homes is a  priority for people right across our country. This is a moment for political boldness on social housing investment that we have not seen for a generation. It is the way to restore hope, build strong communities and fix the broken housing market so that we meet both the needs and the aspirations of millions of people.”

Having prepared the report, the commission will present its recommendations to the Prime Minister and to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn later today. The commission will hope that these proposals are taken seriously across all political parties and that it will lead to changes in social housing policy which will offer stability to millions, as well as impacting the economy positively in a number of other ways.

8th January 2019