You can tell things must be getting really bad when even the Conservatives are concerned about the shortfall of affordable houses. Survation recently polled 121 senior Conservative councillors, on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ahead of the government’s publication of its social housing green paper, expected in the next few months. The poll found 71% were concerned that the £2bn Government set aside for affordable housing in the Autumn Budget will be insufficient to meet the needs of their constituents.
So what solutions do we need? Alex Marsh, a housing policy expert, has set out some truly radical proposals n the Social Liberal Forum’s new book, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas. After setting out the commonly accepted “truths” of our current housing crisis, he crucially asks, “Is it all about new supply?” He argues:
"A more profound criticism of this [supply] approach to dealing with our housing problems is that it is based upon a misdiagnosis. The argument is that if we view the issue in terms of the amount of housing available relative to the number of residents then the country is not suffering from a significant shortage of accommodation. The issue is its distribution . Some people are occupying a lot more housing than others, many households are squeezing into overcrowded accommodation and others are squeezed out of the market entirely. In this respect the problems of the housing market are in part a manifestation of broader social and economic changes, including changes in income and wealth inequality or welfare reform and increased use of benefit sanctions. We see problems in the housing market, but they are not necessarily problems of the housing market."
It is through these kinds of radical ways of looking at our current problems that we can generate new ideas and new solutions. And Alex proposes some truly radical liberal ideas—ideas that should be of interest to any true Liberal. He says:
"If we are going to solve Britain’s housing problem then we are going to need more profound change: a change to the way we understand housing. We need to view housing primarily as a means of meeting fundamental human needs for security, shelter and privacy rather than as a vehicle for passively making large amounts of money. We need to recognise that the housing system that we have allowed to develop is a mechanism for increasing inequality and for transmitting inequality across the generations. We need to recognise that there are significant environmental and social costs to arguing for more house building as a means of dealing with the housing problem, while failing to ask searching questions about how our existing housing infrastructure is distributed and utilised. We need to accept that our current understandings of how a housing system should work needs a radical overhaul."
Provocative? I hope you find it is! You can find out more about the SLF’s new publication here.
The eighth annual conference of the Social Liberal Forum takes place in London on 28th July, and it will be about Big Ideas and the themes of the book. The early bird rate is still available!
We hope you can join us to be provoked, think radically and enter the debate.
Four Go In Search of Big Ideas is available from the SLF website for £9.50 including postage and packing. Find us at www.socialliberal.net
A version of this blogpost originally appeared on LibDemVoice.org.uk