10 September 21

Can Developing Social Housing Address Other Societal Challenges Too?

It is no secret that the UK is in the midst of a housing crisis. House prices, relative to income, have risen dramatically over the past 20 years. Today, the median house price is eight times that of the average salary. Furthermore, according to a 2017 government whitepaper, the UK needs 225,000 to 275,000 new houses annually. But, since the 1970s, has only averaged 160,00 per year. These issues have been exacerbated by green belt restrictions, the UK’s planning system, and a collapse in social housing.

Housing for vulnerable UK citizens

The acute shortage of housing in the UK has meant that lower income households, the elderly, and those with disabilities or other needs have struggled. Overcrowding, evictions, rent arrears and homelessness have risen amongst these groups due to:

  • Lack of capacity in council housing departments to build new homes
  • Reduced supply of social and genuinely affordable housing
  • Lack of appropriate government investment in social housing
  • High costs of renting and homeownership

There are currently 1.1 million households on the social housing waiting list in the UK. This means some of the UKs most vulnerable residents are not living in decent, secure, stable, and safe homes.

Addressing fuel poverty

Whilst the housing shortage is evidently a societal challenge that requires serious upheaval, another element impacting low-income and vulnerable households in the UK is fuel poverty. A household is said to be in fuel poverty if:

  • Their required fuel costs are above that of the national median level
  • Spending this amount means their residual income would be below the official poverty line

The latest Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics released by the BEIS revealed that 3.18 million households are in fuel poverty in England. Household income and the cost of energy are used to calculate fuel poverty. However, the energy efficiency of a property also has a part to play in rising levels, as well as:

  • Increasing energy costs
  • Lack of funds to improve energy efficiency of the home
  • Rising cost of living

There are grants and schemes available to help eligible citizens cover the cost of their fuel bills and improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Winter Fuel Payments help those who have reached pension credit age.

Cold Weather Payments are available to those on certain benefits if the weather falls below 0°C for seven or more days.

Warm Home Discount could see individuals receive a £140 annual discount from their electricity bill, but this is dependent on eligibility and if the supplier is involved in the scheme.

Grants for Energy Efficiency are available for low-income households who claim income or disability related benefits.

However, with the majority of low-income and vulnerable citizens having a lack of knowledge, support, and access to these offerings many are still living in fuel poverty. Furthermore, due to means testing, few qualify, or the financial help doesn’t stretch far enough.

Blueprint for more sustainable social housing

Independence and stability are paramount for individuals with specific care and support needs. The requirement for properties which provide sustainable, high-quality accommodation that is a home as opposed to an institutional care facility is growing. Parallel to this is the delivery of value-for-money to local authorities by offering housing that is both more suitable and cost-effective than traditional alternatives.

Back in 2020, social housing providers were set a target to attain a C rating on Energy Performance Certificates by 2035. Whilst this was initially a piece of the puzzle to meet net zero by 2050, the knock-on effect to alleviating fuel poverty is undeniable.

An EPC comprises of two ratings – Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impact. The higher the EIR, the more environmentally friendly a property is. This goes hand in hand with the EER, meaning it is also cheaper for the homeowner to run.

Those who require social housing are typically low-income households. Therefore, high private rental prices, lack of social housing, and unaffordable energy bills create an ongoing cycle of financial drain. By building more social housing that is designed with sustainability and affordable energy in mind, it will provide vulnerable citizens with a home they deserve and can financially upkeep.

Tags on this post: social housing, soho