#AskCaCHE: Covid-19, housing systems and resilience – Twitter Q&A summary

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)’s Festival of Social Science is an annual celebration of the social sciences and their impact on the wellbeing and economy of society in the UK. This year the Festival, which takes place from 7 to 15 November, is a digital-first event; and, for our part, we hosted a series of Twitter Q&A sessions throughout the week. This blog provides a summary of the last session (13/11/20) in which Professor Mark Stephens, our ‘wider drivers’ theme lead, answered your questions about his project on Covid-19 and the resilience of housing systems and their institutions, part of a wider programme of work by CaCHE on housing policy and the pandemic.

Q1. To get us started, could you tell us a little more about the aim(s) of your research on #Covid19, housing systems and their institutions?

The housing systems suffered a major shock in 2007-08 with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The banking system almost collapsed. We are asking whether key institutions learned from the experience of the GFC, and whether they were more resilient going into COVID-19

Then we’re asking how these institutions have been affected by Covid19. The institutions we’re looking at are the mortgage lenders, house builders and private landlords.

Q2. Are there lessons we can learn from the economic response to the last economic crisis to ensure that the recovery supports inclusive growth rather than widening inequality?

Good Question! Within the market, one question is whether the government should support market institutions pretty much unconditionally, or whether they should use the crisis to seek reform.

So after 2008 we protected “insiders” – people who were homeowners with mortgages, but longer term that means we have eluded others – the outsiders – would-be first time buyers form the market through high house prices and regulatory barriers.

What is interesting in this crisis, is the expectation for forbearance by lenders and landlords. That’s a really interesting development. The concern would be how long this can last.

Q3. Thanks Mark – I was struck by that thought reading an article on @KLM and the impact of the pandemic. The Dutch Government provided loans and support but these are conditional on e.g. carbon emissions reductions.

Indeed. The UK government was quite critical of the housebuilding industry in recent years, e.g. in “Fixing our broken housing market” but its response to Covid was to do everything it could to boost the sector (e.g. stamp duty holiday) without condition.

What it didn’t do was to use the opportunity to expand social renting, as happened after 2008. This relates to your earlier point about inclusivity in recovery.

Q4. How is the research progressing, what stage are you at and are there any (other) early observations that you’d like to share with us at this stage?

We’ve undertaken interviews with key informants, and also undertaken a review of literature on resilience. We thought that resilience would be a useful way to look at the way in which market institutions respond to crises.

Q5. What does Covid19 mean for future of new development multi bed care homes?

Thanks for your Question. A report into the Covid-19 outbreaks in Scottish care homes by Public Health Scotland found that the most significant association was with the size of the care home. A similar finding came out of research in Wales.

There must be a review of the care sector after the pandemic is over. It has been shown to be under-resourced and maybe the economies of scale associated with size is something that may be reviewed.

Q6. I have a question about resilience, Prof Stephens. It’s a widely used term; in materials science, mental health etc. does the meaning of resilience in housing need to be “unpacked”: thus is the term used consistently by all actors? How is it measured?

I think we can learn from the way in which resilience is used in other disciplines and environments. It helps us to distinguish between resilience at the individual person level (common in psychology) and organisational level (management studies). But what we’re trying to do also involves at a *system* level response.

Q7. As you know, we’re hosting these sessions as part of the ESRC Festival, which is a celebration of the social science and their impact on the wellbeing and economy of society – could you say something about the value of your (social science) research?

There are periodic crises in the housing market, which have caused considerable social harm and demanded massive government support. By approaching the GFC and Covid through resilience we aim to find a better balance between market institutions and the state.

If we can help market institutions to become more resilient – possibly with appropriate government guidance and support – then the next crisis might do less social & economic harm, and require less government support.

Q8. Last question, when can we expect to see the final report?

We’re doing this in two stages. The first stage looked at the early stages of Covid, and we hope to have an interim report out by Christmas. But we will be returning to this in the spring and re-interviewing some of the key informants to see how things have changed. The 2nd stage will be really interesting. Hopefully the vaccine roll out will go well and we’ll be in – or approaching – the post-Covid world of “building back better”.


Date: November 13, 2020 2:07 pm


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