It's not just about the numbers

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Despite some difficulties in getting the message across, and varying opinions on how the funds can be made available, Tom Chance blogs exclusively for SHOUT to explain why the Green Party feels so strongly about building 500,000 social rented homes by 2020.

Here Tom Chance, the Green Party spokesperson for Housing, blogs for SHOUT on the personal factors that went into the formulation of the policy.

The Green Party has pledged to build 500,000 social rented homes during the course of the next Parliament. But our pledge isn't only about numbers, it's also about the value of social housing.

We want to bring housing back as one of the pillars of the welfare state. We should be able to collectively rid every citizen of the fear that they may not be able to feed their family, get an education for their children, receive treatment when sick, or keep a roof over their heads.

Keeping a roof over our heads is also about more than just the cost and affordability, it is also about security and comfort.

Jenny Jones, our lone peer, spoke in her maiden speech in the House of Lords about her family history, highlighting what council housing meant to her in childhood.

Her grandfather was killed in the Senghenydd mining disaster in south Wales leaving her father to grow up in abject poverty, sharing a pair of shoes with his brother. When he left school he walked to London where he slept rough, was helped by the Salvation Army, and eventually arrived in Brighton where he married, found work, and moved into a new council home.

These stories imbued in Jenny a gratitude for the welfare state which she described as "the mark of civilisation". She grew up in this council home in Moulsecoomb, on the edge of Brighton, "very happy and secure, not realising that we were quite poor".

Were she growing up in Brighton today, her family might have it tougher in some respects.

On arriving homeless in Brighton, the council would probably have to place them in a private rented home, with rents for a three bed home averaging over £1,300 per month. Even if they got access to a housing association home, it might be on a so-called Affordable Rent, making her parents dependent on housing benefit to pay the rent.

If they did rent privately, they would face a one in three chance of living in a non-decent home, and could be evicted every six or twelve months without cause. Poor conditions and insecurity cause or exacerbate a lot of physical and mental health problems that are all too easily overlooked when housing is boiled down to abstract quantities of "units" and "products" and "consumers".

Just subsidising these insecure, unaffordable and uncomfortable homes with housing benefit can only be a short term fix.

Social housing isn't a panacea; it is too often left to decline into a poor state of repair, and landlords are too often distant and inhumane. But it doesn't deserve the stigma it has attracted, and needs to be championed by all political parties.

Social housing is one way in which we can, collectively, ensure that people growing up across the country today can afford a secure and comfortable home. Whether it is built and owned by a council, housing association or co-operative, the Green Party wants to put those principles back at the heart of the housing debate.


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  • Thank you for your question, Jean.

    SHOUT would broadly agree with Tom and Mabinogogiblog that providing social housing at increased scale is not just affordable, but actually better for the public finances than subsidising private sector rents (or indeed the new “Affordable Rent”) through Housing Benefit. See our submission to the Lyons Housing Review last year: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/4socialhousing/pages/39/attachments/original/1415276816/submission_to_the_lyons_housing_review_final_(2).pdf?1415276816

    For us, fiscal profligacy is continuing to subsidise private landlords, bringing more and more people into the welfare net (working households on housing benefit having doubled during the financial crisis), with this public spending contributing nothing to new supply.

    Where we might part company with Mabinogogiblog is that new building on this scale will need to take place both on brownfield and greenfield land. Social landlords are sometimes, for sure, able, without compromising the quality of the environment for existing residents, to create new homes on existing estates through converting garage blocks and the like. New build on, for example, former industrial sites is also possible. But this would not be enough to expand supply on the scale SHOUT and the Green Party advocate.
  • The Green party’s Richard Lawson has looked into the economics of this and I wonder what you think of his analysis of how it can be funded?
    http://greenerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-economics-of-building-500000-units.html?m=0
    UPDATED October 2016 Capital Economics report: Building Social Rent homes
    SHOUT Supports ending the Housing Crisis in a Generation