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BLOG: Change? Hopes for UK housing policy under Labour’s new leadership
Dr Gareth Young, Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), reflects on last week’s election results and what they could mean for housing policy in […]
Published: 9 Jul, 2024

Dr Gareth Young, Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), reflects on last week’s election results and what they could mean for housing policy in the future.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of CaCHE.

During my time working in housing studies, I’ve only ever known a Conservative-led government, so Labour’s landslide victory at last week’s general election will be interesting to observe. I hope for a more positive trajectory for solutions to the many housing crises we are facing, and in particular, from my perspective, a shrinking in the gap of inequalities and inequity in housing in the UK.

I began my PhD in 2012, and my PhD focused on social housing and urban unrest on the back of the 2011 riots that hit several towns and cities that summer. My PhD was particularly interested in how the powers of possession at the disposal of social housing providers were being used as a response to any social housing tenants’ involvement in the riots. As the mainstream media positioned the disorders aligned with political narratives at the time, these riots were the product of a decline in social morals. But who were these people whose morals had been eroded, and how nothing better than to go out and commit mindless vandalism and looting? Of course, it was the social housing tenants of the sink estates. A lazy narrative that is too easy to fall back on, it would seem, but one that proliferated and even resulted in an additional clause being added to a Bill being passed through legislation at the time, which gave providers a discretionary power of possession to evict social housing tenants found to be involved in the riots. There was no evidence linking social housing tenants to the riots, especially when Grant Shapps, the housing minister at the time, made the pronouncements.

I don’t need to go into detail about the trajectory of housing policy since this time. Countless housing ministers later, we have seen a continuous lull in housing supply despite the perennial promises of building back better. We have seen a reversal in trends of people in Temporary Accommodation to 2010 levels. Poverty in the UK has persisted, with 6 million people (roughly 4 in 10) considered to be in deep poverty in 2021/22, with the continued cost of living crisis seeing 47% of households in arrears with their household bills or scheduling lending repayments. We also have strong evidence to show how inequalities in housing are only widening. Issues of building quality have been brought into sharp focus because of unspeakable tragedies such as Grenfell Tower, which killed 72 people and the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak.

The shape of local government has also changed, with a push to a new model of devolution through the establishment of Combined Authorities and Metro Mayors. This model is still relatively new, and some success stories, particularly from the Mayoral Combined Authorities, have seen the greatest levels of redistribution and responsibility through the Trailblazer Devo Deals in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. However, for this model of devolution to work, there needs to be more ring-fenced money, and I would argue that trust is required to allow CAs to do the expected work.

So, what does all this mean for Labour? Well, it won’t be easy, and while their manifesto is undoubtedly positive and encouraging (a commitment to build more social housing for example), we have Angela Rayner as deputy prime minister and housing secretary, who grew up in social housing on a council estate in Stockport and became a carer for her mother at the age of 10, we know in the short term there won’t be more money and this will hamstring certain ambitions, such as their New Towns proposal, which we haven’t seen since the late 60s. In their manifesto, they have committed to immediate updates to the National Policy Planning Framework to restore mandatory housing targets and to ensure planning authorities have up-to-date local plans, with a strengthened presumption in favour of sustainable development and a brownfield first approach. They propose to help local authorities by providing additional funding for planning officers, which will be raised by increasing the stamp duty surcharge rate paid by non-UK residents. There is also a commitment to strengthen planning obligations to ensure new developments deliver more through the Affordable Homes Programme.

There are also proposals to start providing combined and municipal authorities with new mechanisms for cross-boundary strategic planning, greater freedoms, and flexibility to make better use of grant funding. Elsewhere in the manifesto, housing and devolved Combined and Mayoral Authorities are discussed in the context of more joined-up systems thinking, such as helping to reduce reoffending by conducting a strategic review of probation governance after observing the work being done in Greater Manchester, where we have seen the CMA facilitate links between probation, housing and health services to ensure people get the support and that prison releases are sustainable for those individuals and the surrounding communities.  

It is early days (and the new announcements are coming out quickly, including today’s announcement by Angela Rayner that the department’s name will revert back to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as she promises no more ‘government by gimmick’), but personally, after seeing the new cabinet lineup and some of the early messaging and responses from the sector, I can’t help but feel that, over time, we might see some of the changes we’ve been asking for. If we could see greater engagement between housing policy and academia and practice to help inform the future shape of housing and related fields in the UK, and a greater sense of collective ambition and collaboration, then hopefully, find and action the solutions to provide better housing futures for all in the UK.

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