What do we really know about people’s housing aspirations?

There is often the presumption that in the UK we aspire to be a nation of homeowners. Social norms and political interventions have both directed and reinforced these dominant narratives. One of the most notable policy mechanisms was the Right to Buy, first launched in the 1980s and now abolished in Scotland, which enabled sitting council tenants to buy their homes at heavily discounted rates. Other measures to widen access to homeownership include Help to Buy and a number of shared equity products. In addition, wider taxation structures foster an environment in which homeownership is constructed as a tax-free wealth or asset safe haven, for example through the restriction of Capital Gains Tax, failure to revalue council tax since 1991 (excepting Wales), and widespread opposition to wealth taxes such as inheritance tax. Meanwhile, access to affordable and secure rental housing for low-income groups has been made more difficult by the erosion of grant funding for the building of new social rented homes, tightening eligibility requirements, the restriction of housing benefit for tenants in the private rented sector, and rising costs in many local housing markets.

State discourses have, and continue to, promote homeownership. As recent at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister Teresa May declared that she would ‘take personal charge of the government’s response, and make the British Dream a reality by reigniting home ownership in Britain once again’. Such narratives normalise homeownership, and by default stigmatise other tenure options, especially social housing. These narratives are embedded in popular culture, in which TV shows, lifestyle magazines, and commercial marketing images promoted by house builders and interior designers, suggest that certain types of housing belong to ‘successful’ lifestyles, while other tenures are denigrated and stigmatised. Clear examples can be found in the contrasting way that housing tenures, property types, locations and occupants are portrayed in programmes such as Location, Location, Location and Grand Designs on the one hand, and Benefits Street and The Scheme on the other.

At the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) we recognise that understanding housing aspirations is central to being able to deliver housing that meets people’s needs. We have undertaken a comprehensive review of the research evidence on housing aspirations, expectations, choices, preferences and decisions. This review has highlighted that much of the research in this area has focused on the relative importance of a range of factors in housing decisions, for example the role of life course events in decisions to move house or change tenure. However, we have identified a lack of clarity around definitions of terms such as choices, preferences, expectations, aspirations and decisions, which are often used interchangeably, and therefore might refer to a range of different behaviours. We also do not have a clear understanding of the role housing expectations may play in shaping expectations.

Through this review, we have been able to identify a number of gaps in the evidence base, which include:

  • Housing transitions and the pathways of young people
  • Housing, identity and how people perceive the security of their housing situation
  • Understanding the formation and meaning of housing aspirations and expectations
  • Understanding contemporary tenure experiences and preferences.

These are currently very broad areas, but the research team will be engaging with stakeholders from across the sector to collaboratively identify key gaps in evidence and research priorities.

If you would like to learn more about this project or find out ways that you can engage with the team, please get in touch.

This blog draws on work undertaken by Dr Jenny Preece, Dr Joe Crawford (University of Sheffield) and Dr Kim McKee (St Andrews University) and Professor John Flint and Professor David Robinson (University of  Sheffield).

Dr Gareth Young is Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fellow and Dr Jenny Preece is a Research Associate at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence.

This blog relates to two CaCHE Research Projects:


Date: April 24, 2018 4:01 pm


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