CALL TO SHAKE UP SOCIAL HOUSING
The social rental sector is failing to meet the challenge of the 21st century. It produces too many inadequate outcomes for the nation’s poorer households. The sector needs to recreate itself as more contestable, creative and diverse. This is the main thrust of a report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Better Future for Social Housing’.
A major weakness of the sector is that new housing provision for low income households still lies well below the output of the mid-1990s while homelessness and housing needs remain resolutely high. There are still too many places that people only want to leave and too many young lives that are blighted by inadequate homes and poor neighbourhoods. Owner occupation by 25-29 year olds has fallen since 1993 from 60% to 50% with the same age group in the social rental sector also falling from 22% to 17%.
The report expresses concern at this trend and notes that 60% of those who moved were unemployed and usually single with 40% aged over 35. From this it could be argued that private landlords and the market, with housing benefit support, are now providing better options for some permanently poorer households. It questions whether there is a need to refashion not-for-profit provision arrangements to stem this worrisome flow.
Although Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, claims that Britain is on the verge of a golden age in housing policies, the report presents a different picture and argues that the golden age is still a serious number of leaden steps ahead.
The report concludes that there is a clear case for a social rental sector and it recommends that there must be an end of the policy era that has left the sector at the end of the line. The social rental sector and the government need to aim higher and this requires not only rethinking but also resources. The sector has to be part of a cross-sectoral strategy for housing low-income households in which market provision of rental homes and home ownership options have roles to play. It has to be a solution that tenants will choose.