Is our social housing system broken?


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Soaring rent costs, evictions, and the ongoing cost of living crisis are resulting in more people than ever turning to their local authority for housing support. But are they getting the help they need?

In short, no. It’s becoming abundantly clear that many local authorities simply don’t have the resources to meet increasing demand, whilst astronomical budgets are being used to place families in emergency accommodation as an interim solution. This is currently just one example of the many viscous cycles of homelessness. 

All of this begs one very important question; is our social housing system broken? Let’s take a look. 

Rents highest on record 

The Office of National Statistics recorded the highest rent price increase in eight years at the end of 2023. The whopping 6.2% rent increase is likely due to the very real imbalance of supply and demand. 

The average monthly rental price in England in October 2023 was £825. This is the highest figure on record. Those in London have experienced a particularly extreme price hike of around 6.8%, meaning that people are paying an average of £1,625 to rent their homes. A survey by Renter’s Voice found that nearly half of respondents were spending 40% or more of their total income on rent payments. In many cases, tenants are having to settle for cold, damp, sometimes uninhabitable properties just to get a roof over their heads. 

For many families, these rents are simply not affordable, nor are they sustainable. The rental increases are driving many out of their homes, which in turn is driving the demand for more affordable housing, up. 

The cost of living crisis 

When you add inflation on basic utilities and groceries on top of inflated rent prices, it’s easy to see how many households are pushed to breaking point. So many families have to face impossible choices on a daily basis - rent, food, heat, or leave the property for uncertain local authority support that may not be there.  

More households are relying on the services of food banks for the first time, and between August and October 2023, nearly 8 in 10 food bank services had first-time visitors. But once again, demand outweighs supply, as the ongoing economic crisis has seen food banks see a 73% drop in donations. 

There simply isn’t enough social housing 

Over 1 million households are currently waiting for social housing from their local authority. However, almost 30,000 social homes were either sold or demolished in 2023, and less than 7,000 were built. 

In fact, figures show that social housing is at its lowest rate in three decades, with an annual net loss of 24,000 homes. 

A 2023 report from University College London stated that significant investment in social housing could save the UK government as much as £1.5 billion. The principle being that reducing homelessness to a minimum saves in other areas, for example unemployment, the criminal justice system and children’s lost education. 

The system as it stands is clearly flawed. And ultimately, we need to see the government prioritise building new social housing, or preserving existing properties and ensuring they’re still managed by local authorities. 

At Simon on the Streets, we don’t want to see any family go without a suitable home. But for many of the people we work with, that’s their reality. We’re aligned with those of our colleagues calling for urgent action from the government to make ending homelessness a top priority. 

If you’d like to support our work locally here in Leeds and Bradford, you can donate here. 

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