Time to end the stigma around social housing, says Prime Minister

Theresa May has called for an end to the “stigma” of social housing, as she promised £2 billion to build tens of thousands of homes.

Speaking to the National Housing Summit in London, Mrs May said the programme would offer housing associations the chance to secure money for projects running from 2022 until 2028/29.

Downing Street believes the approach will offer long-term certainty to associations to plan new developments.

A housing graphic
(PA Graphics)

The funding, for social and affordable housing, is separate to the £9 billion of public funding for an existing programme running until 2022.

Speaking to an audience of housing association representatives, Mrs May said that social housing had been “pushed to the edge of political debate” under successive governments.

The Grenfell Tower fire last year exposed the extent to which tenants feel “ignored, patronised and overlooked” by those responsible for their homes and safety.

Social homes should be designed, built, maintained and managed in a way which makes clear they are not a “second-rate” alternative to home ownership, she said.

“For many people a certain stigma still clings to social housing,” said Mrs May.

“Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority.

“On the outside, many people in society – including too many politicians – continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home… It shouldn’t be this way.”

In future developments, social properties should not be “tucked away” out of sight behind private homes, but built so that it is not easy to tell between the two, said the PM.

And she added: “We should never see social housing as something that need simply be ‘good enough’, nor think that the people who live in it should be grateful for their safety net and expect no better.

“Whether it is owned and managed by local authorities, TMOs (tenant management organisations) or housing associations, I want to see social housing that is so good people are proud to call it their home.

“Our friends and neighbours who live in social housing are not second-rate citizens. They should not have to put up with second-rate homes.”

Housing associations will be encouraged by Mrs May to change how tenants and society view social housing, and also to lead major developments themselves.

However, Labour warned Mrs May’s promises “fall far short” of what is needed for the sector.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “The reality is spending on new affordable homes has been slashed so the number of new social rented homes built last year fell to the lowest level since records began.

“If Conservative ministers are serious about fixing the housing crisis they should back Labour’s plans to build a million genuinely affordable homes, including the biggest council house-building programme for more than 30 years.”

The chief executive of housing charity Shelter, Polly Neate, said: “There are over a million people on social housing waiting lists, and yet last year we built the lowest number of social homes at any point since the Second World War.

“This is why it’s good to see the Prime Minister today indicating the Government is starting to get serious about correcting this historic failure.

“This must be the start and not the end. What we need now is more social homes actually being built as well as a big shift in attitude to start viewing social housing as a right for hard-pressed families across the country.”

The English housing survey 2016/17 reported that 3.9 million households, approximately nine million people, lived in the social rented sector – which was 17% of households in the country.

The survey added 10% rented from housing associations and 7% from local authorities.

By contrast, 20% of households were private rented and 63% owner-occupied.

Today at @natfednews summit PM @theresa_may pledged to work in partnership with housing associations to build more homes and get more people on the housing ladder #NHF18 🏘️Here's what she said: https://t.co/s3lKhxYlHFpic.twitter.com/1DkbTcIMqo

— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) September 19, 2018

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire rejected suggestions that Mrs May’s comments represented a break from Margaret Thatcher’s vision of home-ownership as a central pillar of Conservative policy.

“I think home ownership absolutely is a really core credo of what I believe and what the party believes,” Mr Brokenshire told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“There’s a false dichotomy of it being one thing or the other – social housing or actually seeing home ownership as well. I think we can do both.”