Building our way out: why now is the time to invest in social housing

Polly Neate is the chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter
Polly Neate is the chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter

Polly Neate, 05 October 2020

We are all trapped in uncertainty and it feels dreadful. We don’t know what the next week, or month, or year even, will bring. We are braced for disappointment all the time and it’s exhausting. But at least we can retreat. Our homes have been our only stable space. A secure base to get on with our lives. If we are one of the lucky ones that is.

The pandemic brought the role of our homes into sharp focus, and in doing so has made it impossible to ignore the housing emergency that has denied people a safe home when they need it most. Never has it been clearer that so many communities have been left behind when it comes to that fundamental human need, a safe home. And this isn’t a complex problem. Its cause is easy to identify: it lies in the chronic decline of social housing. It’s a problem that haunts communities and has meant millions of women, men and children have endured this pandemic stuck in poor quality, overcrowded or insecure homes.


That’s why, as we look to build a way out of the pandemic, investing in the secure, genuinely affordable homes people urgently need must be at the heart of our recovery. And that’s why Shelter is supporting the Homes at the Heart campaign.

Across the country, coronavirus is carving a path of destruction, but if we act now, we can prevent it further eroding our crumbling housing system. Every town, city and village is in some way grappling with the impact of the housing crisis, from extortionate private rents and homelessness in cities such as Manchester and London to the second homes and holiday lets that are pricing out local people in rural areas. Social housing is the answer in all these places, and if the government is serious about levelling-up, it must invest in social housebuilding now.

During the pandemic we have seen the government take welcome steps to get people off the streets and temporarily protect people from eviction. But if we don’t tackle the root cause of our housing crisis, we will see the same problems take hold and more people put at risk of homelessness. You can’t pull people out of the flood forever, you have to build a dam.

These are unprecedented times, and in the face of a recession, we can’t afford for housebuilding to dry up. Recent research by Savills for Shelter showed that if the government doesn’t respond to protect housebuilding from the impact of Covid, the worst case would see a loss of 300,000 homes in the next five years, and a loss of £29.6 billion from the economy.

Right now, the government can choose to step-up and invest in social housing as a way to build back from this pandemic. This week, Shelter will publish a new report setting out the case for how investment can rescue housebuilding from the grips of the recession and provide the homes people urgently need.

It evidences how a targeted investment in social housebuilding can boost the economy, create jobs and provide certainty for housebuilders through this crisis. And most importantly it shows how investment can reverse the decline in social homes, helping to build a better future for everyone. It ensures that at the heart of communities are the decent, genuinely affordable and stable homes that local people need to build their lives around and that are the foundation for communities to thrive.

Webinar

Shelter’s report, ‘Building our way out: investing in social housing to boost the economy and level up the country’ will be published on the 6 October. To mark the launch and further discuss the urgent need for investment in social housing, Shelter are hosting an interactive webinar, with leading thinkers from the housing sector.

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