The majority (52%) of Conservative voters in Britain believe we are not building enough social housing while around half (48%) think the government should prioritise building social housing over homes for sale (28%) or private rent (8%).[i] This is according to a recent YouGov poll commissioned by the National Housing Federation (NHF).[ii]
The poll looks extensively at opinions on housing in the UK. When asked if the government should prioritise building social housing, homes for sale or homes for private rent, over half of Brits said social housing (53%) compared to a fifth who said homes for sale (21%), and less than 1 in 10 who said homes for private rent (7%). The results showed a strong consensus among Brits of all ages, political affiliations and across all parts of the country, over a need to build social housing above other types of homes. Over 50s, the demographic most likely to vote, were most in favour of prioritising social housing.[iii]
The survey also revealed the public’s view of the government’s record on housing, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of voters saying they thought housing issues in general had got worse since the last general election. When asked whether housing issues had got worse for specific groups, the highest number of voters (70%), said they had got worse for people on low incomes (less than £20,000). This was true for voters from all three main parties.
Build rates of social housing have been decreasing for decades due to funding cuts by successive governments. However, the most severe decline has happened since 2010, when the government cut funding for affordable housing by 63% [iv] and cut all funding for new homes at social rents. Last year, just 6,554 social homes were built in England, 81% fewer than in 2010.[v] Research commission by the NHF and Crisis shows we now need to build 90,000 social rented homes every year to meet demand.[vi]
When polled on their personal experience of the housing crisis, a significant majority of the public said they had directly suffered its effects. Of those who had searched for a new home since the last general election, three in five (61%) said they had struggled to find a home that was suitable for their needs and affordable. Women and young people (18-24) were the worst affected.[vii]
In recent years, successive governments have focused on policies and funding decisions that prioritise increasing homeownership. Evidence suggests that some of these policy decisions have resulted in rising housing costs, worsening the housing crisis at all levels. For example, an LSE study found that Help to Buy increased house prices rather than improving affordability,[viii] whilst less than a quarter of the social homes purchased by tenants under the Right to Buy have been replaced, [ix] intensifying the shortage and pushing up demand and prices in the private rented sector.
These policy decisions have also had negative economic impacts, significantly increasing costs to the tax-payer. The housing benefit bill has doubled since the early 2000s,[x]to fund the cost of housing low incomes families in private rented homes and spending on homelessness services and housing people in temporary accommodation has increased by a staggering 61% over the last five years.[xi] These decisions have also worsened inequality by directing state funds to the private sector, which would otherwise have been reinvested by local councils and not for profit housing associations back into homes and communities.
Research from the NHF reveals there are now 4.2 million people in need of social housing in England.[xii] This shortage has led to increased rates of homelessness and overcrowding. Since 2011, families in temporary accommodation have doubled and single households in temporary accommodation have trebled[xiii] and a recent NHF report revealed that 310,000 children in England today are forced to share their bed with a parent or sibling due to severe overcrowding.[xiv]
The polling comes as the NHF has today launched a new report, Why we need a long term plan for housing, which makes the case to all political parties for a strategic, long term plan aimed at drastically increasing the number of affordable and social homes built over the next decade.
At present, the UK government has published national strategies on areas ranging from space (the National Space Strategy) to shipbuilding (the 30 Year National Shipbuilding Strategy) but it doesn’t currently have a national strategy for housing.
“There is a clear consensus amongst voters from all parties and people across all ages and parts of the country, not only that we need to build more social housing, but that this should take precedent over building any other types of home. There is also indisputable evidence that housing policies over the last few decades, particularly those focused on home ownership, have widened inequality, increased government spending and made the housing crisis worse.
How can it be that we have a national strategy for space exploration, but no strategy for homes back here on earth? With such strong public support for and proof of the need for more social housing, it’s time for politicians to catch-up and make meaningful commitments that will solve the housing crisis and ensure everyone has access to a safe secure and affordable home. We urgently need a long term plan aimed at drastically increasing the number of affordable and crucially social homes built over the next decade.”