A good home is where we start

Home decoration on a windowsill

By Aileen Evans, Group Chief Executive – 22 June 2023

It should come as no surprise that I believe it is everyone’s right to live in a decent quality, affordable home. This shouldn’t be an unachievable goal either, especially for financial reasons.

When the NHF’s report, ‘Why we need a long-term plan for housing’, came out earlier in the week I was pleased to see that 76% of the public share my view.

As the report shows, decent homes that people can afford are the foundations for a good life and strong economy.

For too many people though, affordability is an issue. In fact, it was the single biggest reason for people in housing need, needing social housing according to the NHF’s report.

Affordable homes are only that if those on the lowest income can afford them. We recently published a report on the UK’s welfare system that shows how for more and more people, this is no longer the case. We found that for too many people there’s not enough money to cover the essentials.

Those in private rented accommodation are struggling too. Earlier this week I read an article on the BBC about how the average UK tenant now spends more than 28% of their pay before tax on rent. One of the people they spoke to was struggling to find a rental in London despite a monthly budget of £1,750.

We know from extensive research that a number of our customers have clear aspirations to own their own homes. However, many of these couldn’t afford the deposit for a rent in the private sector never mind one for a house purchase.

How have we got here? Well, as the NHF’s report shows, the lack of a national plan for housing over many decades has led to the housing crisis we are living through.

Now is the time to be ambitious and build the homes we need. We should consider the issues around planning, affordability and land use. Let’s finally have a sensible discussion on the use of the green belt too – much of it isn’t green and it constrains some of the highest house prices in the country.

As a country we are bearing the cost of no plan too. Poor quality housing costs the NHS £1.4bn each year and we also spend billions on temporary accommodation – the report states that in December 2022 there were 127,220 children living in temporary accommodation.

We also subsidise expensive private rent properties with housing benefit. The report shows that over the five years from 2021 the Government is expected to spend £58.2bn on housing benefit to private landlords. This is compared with just £11.2bn in capital spending on social housing via the Affordable Homes Programme.

This is completely backwards. We know that investing in social housing delivers economic benefits. A number of reports, particularly those by SHOUT and Shelter, have consistently proved that capital investment in properly affordable social housing will save the taxpayer billions in the medium to long term.

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Ireland recently and was impressed by the number and quality of the homes being built as part of their long-term housing strategy; it can be done.

TS Eliot wrote that “home is where one starts from”. I couldn’t agree more and even used this quote in my speech at the CIH’s Presidential dinner a few years ago. And as the report suggests, we need to think about housing as a means by which we enable good lives for our population – because a good home really is where one starts.