An estimated 8.4 million people in England are living in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home, according to a recent report by the National Housing Federation (NHF). That is one person in every seven.

The crisis impacts all ages across every part of the country. The NHF research estimated that:

  •  3.6 million people are living in an overcrowded home – e.g. adults who are not partners sharing a bedroom
  •  2.5 million are unable to afford their rent or mortgage
  •  2.5 million are in ‘hidden households’ they cannot afford to move out of, including house shares, adults living with their parents, or people living with an ex-partner
  •  1.7 million are in unsuitable housing such as older people stuck in homes they cannot get around in and families in properties which have no outside space
  •  1.4 million are in poor-quality homes
  •  400,000 are homeless or at risk of homelessness – including people sleeping rough, living in homeless shelters, temporary accommodation or sofa-surfing.

Some people have more than one of these problems.

The NHF report also estimated that around 3.6 million people could only afford to live decently if they were in social housing – almost double the number on the government’s official social housing waiting list. Social housing rents are on average 50% cheaper than from private landlords, contracts are more secure, and many properties are designed specifically for older people with mobility issues. The NHF estimates that the country needs 340,000 new homes every year, including 145,000 social homes, to meet the housing demand.
Startling, but not really news.

As the Chief Secretary to the Treasury put it in 2013:

“The UK housing market, however, faces longstanding issues. Housing supply has failed to keep up with household formation levels for decades, leading to rising house prices and making good-quality housing unaffordable for many. Between 1999 and 2010, the UK built fewer new homes per 1,000 inhabitants than Germany, almost 30 per cent fewer than the Netherlands and over 40 per cent fewer than France. Britain needs to build over 240,000 new homes each year to meet demand and falls far short of this target every year.”

While there are many factors on the supply side holding back housebuilding – such as shortage of land, inability to grant planning permission quickly enough, incentives for housebuilders to hoard land until prices rise, et cetera – it is notable that in the early years of the Golden Age of Capitalism, the public sector built more houses than the private sector whereas today, in the grip of the narrative of unaffordability, it builds very few.

So the simple answer to the question, what would it take for the UK to have decent housing is Government action.