As our research reveals a public call for affordable, quality housing to top the government's levelling up agenda, we look at how the housing system can work more effectively to respond to that call.
In response to the widening of socio economic divisions during the pandemic, the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to levelling up. While much of the focus of levelling up has been on road, rail and regeneration, our research shows that the public’s top priority has largely been overlooked. Our survey, Rethinking levelling up, found that 70% of the public say that a focus on housing would be the most effective way to level up the country and reduce inequality, and they rate quality almost as highly as affordability.
In the last year the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to lead their lives much closer to home. For some, it has been a welcome opportunity to spend more time in their homes and communities, but for those with small, substandard homes, it has brought to the fore long standing issues of affordability, quality and equality.
Tackling the country’s housing shortage has long been a priority for successive UK governments. The current government has had some success in working towards its aspiration for one million homes to be built in the lifetime of this parliament, and continues to progress towards its target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. However, this is short of the target and prioritises both quantity over quality, and national targets over local needs.
Though investment of successive governments - both in policy and financial terms - has had positive impacts on the housing system, a significant gap remains between the investment and effort going into the system and the outcomes for the public.
Of course increased funding for building new homes would help, but this is not just a funding issue. To deliver the best outcomes, there is a need to look beyond individual policies and funding programmes, and connect and align the disparate parts of the sector working across real assets: public, private and not-for-profit.
We believe there are four levers which together could deliver the housing the UK needs and contribute to levelling up the UK.
While each of these levers requires central government to intervene, they are just as reliant on the leadership of other sectors to mobilise at a local level and suggest the need for greater strategic housing planning at a regional or place level.
If the government is to tackle housing as part of its levelling up agenda, it needs to look beyond house building targets and take a localised approach. The public values not just the availability of housing but its quality and affordability - as well as the creation of vibrant and sustainable neighbourhoods and communities. The role of government will be different in different places, but the focus everywhere needs to be on understanding local needs, ensuring decisions are made at the right level, and investing in skills, capabilities and capacity to ensure that people across the country get the homes they need.