Housing

The nation faces a desperate housing crisis. We need to build at least 300,000 homes per year to meet housing demand but less than half the homes we need are being built.

The acute shortage of housing – particularly social and affordable housing – has led to spiralling rents and house prices across the nation causing an affordability crisis – especially for young people and families on low to middle incomes who struggle to afford to rent or buy a decent home. As a result there is an increase in overcrowding, evictions, rent arrears and homelessness.

UNISON is calling on the government to address the housing crisis by taking urgent action to invest in a national house building programme to increase the supply of all types of housing, particularly social and affordable housing provided by councils and housing associations.

Affordable housing

UNISON is campaigning for more housing that is affordable for our members, their families, key workers and citizens.

The union is concerned about the housing crisis the nation faces. We are particularly worried about the dramatic reduction in the supply of housing, especially social housing; the lack of effective regulation in the private rented sector; the high costs of renting and homeownership; and the effects of cuts to housing benefit on vulnerable people who struggle to meet their housing costs.

Government policies such as the Affordable Housing Programme which now focuses on the development of new ‘affordable’ homes at 80% of market rents, which are not actually affordable and the Right to Buy have dramatically shrunk the social housing stock.

We are concerned that Government plans to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants in England will further reduce the number of social housing available, worsen the housing crisis and threaten the financial viability of housing associations. 

That is why UNISON is campaigning for urgent Government action to deliver more social and affordable housing, which thousands of people on low to middle incomes depend on.

Our housing campaign aims to:

  • Raise housing high up the political agenda;
  • act as a clear voice calling for urgent government action to deliver more social and affordable homes to tackle the housing crisis;
  • highlight the need for a properly functioning housing market where supply meets demand and key workers can afford to rent or buy a home;
  • promote the economic benefits of house-building and the need to invest in and build more housing;
  • Support the TUC’s call for a moratorium on Right to Buy sales;
  • Campaign for stronger rent controls and better regulation of the private rented sector to drive up standards;
  • Highlight the effects of welfare reforms on vulnerable people;
  • provide a forum for balanced policy debate.

The Housing Crisis 

Everyone has a basic human right to a decent, secure, stable and affordable home, yet the UK government has failed to ensure the right to adequate housing. The nation faces a desperate housing crisis in a generation, which is characterised by an acute shortage of housing, particularly social and affordable housing, lack of housing security, overcrowding, evictions and homelessness. The housing crisis is compounded by the fact that household formations are occurring at twice the rate that new dwellings are being built – in 2013 just 109,660 new homes were built in England (128,000 across the UK), which is less than half of the homes we need to keep up with demand.

The lack of housing supply is leading to spiralling housing costs across the nation, creating an affordability problem, with thousands of families struggling to meet housing costs. Government cuts to housing benefits have also left thousands of people, particularly young people who rent from the private rented sector, more at risk of rent arrears, evictions and homelessness, causing financial hardship and problems to those affected. 

Facts and Figures  

  • The government has presided over the lowest level of housebuilding since the 1920s and the lowest level of social house building for two decades
  • In 2012 the total supply of additional affordable homes fell by 26% on the previous year, and by over half in the social rented sector
  • 109,660 homes were built in England (128,000 across the UK) in 2013, which is less than half of the 250,000 homes we need every year to meet demand
  • There were one million fewer social homes to rent in 2009 than in 1979 – and the situation has got worse since 2010
  • The Right to Buy policy has seen just one new home built for every 10 sold in England, despite the Government’s pledge to replace all council homes sold
  • The average house price in England and Wales is £275,123, in Scotland the figure is £173,000 and in Northern Ireland it is £152,000
  • Homeownership has fallen to a 30-year low due to high house prices: there are over 200,000 fewer homeowners since 2010
  •  The cost of housing in England and Wales has reached almost £133bn a year
  • 4.5 million people are on housing waiting lists
  • 600,000 families are living in overcrowded homes
  • Homelessness in England has increased by 9% since 2014
  • Rent arrears, evictions and homelessness have increased across the country due to high housing costs and cuts in housing benefit
  • 1 in 4 (3.35 million) are living with their parents into their twenties and thirties due to high housing costs
  • 69% of private tenants (up from 54% since 2010) cannot afford to buy their own home
  • First-time buyers have to pay nine times their annual salary to buy a house in London – the figure is five times across the UK
  • Key public sector workers cannot afford to buy homes in nearly 80% of towns, despite falling prices in some areas
  • In London welfare reforms and rising rents have led to the ‘social cleansing’ of 50,000 families who have been forced out of their homes, this has happened because they fell behind with their rent payment, became evicted and made homeless
  • The high costs of housing is putting a strain on the housing benefit bill which is currently £24.4bn; experts warn that it could rise further to £197bn in 2065-66

What UNISON is calling for

We are calling for a joined-up public sector response to the housing crisis:

  • a target for increasing the supply of housing to 250,000 new homes per year, with a significant proportion – 80,000 new homes per year – being affordable and social homes provided by councils and housing associations;
  • more investment in a national house building programme;
  • a better choice for people looking for a home, with a wider mix of affordable and social housing options, independent housing advice and an end to the idea that home ownership is the only game in town;
  • A duty on local authorities to build new council homes to meet housing need, which will create jobs and boost the economy;
  • help housing associations to build on their historic mission to provide homes and be accountable to the communities they serve;
  • security of tenure for all tenants – in council homes, housing associations and the private rented sector;
  • Councils to be given powers to require all private rented properties within their local areas to be licensed to improve private renting, drive up standards within the private rented sector and deter rogue landlords.
  • stability for all housing workers – decent pay and conditions for people who work for local authorities, housing associations and in the private sector are essential to delivering decent quality housing services.

What UNISON is doing

UNISON campaigns for economic policies that will help our members and other workers on low and middle incomes and understands the particular challenges faced by young people, who are affected most by the housing crisis of affordability and lack of decent and accessible housing supply.

UNISON is calling on the government to commit to a national house building programme and to effectively regulate the private rented sector which houses most of our young members starting their life journey. We want to see a private rented sector where renting is more affordable, secure and stable.

We are also calling for reforms to mitigate the effects of welfare changes such as cuts to housing benefits, which has left thousands of people, especially young people vulnerable.

We are working with the TUC, other trade unions and the campaign Group Generation Rent to raise these issues.

Our members in housing

UNISON members work in the housing sector providing all kinds of services including administering housing benefit, managing homes, housing-related social care, housing advice, repair work and administrative support.

UNISON represents members from the workplace up to government and industry bodies, such as the National Housing Federations (NHF, WFHA, SFHA and NIFHA) the Housing Corporation, the Homes and Communities Agency and Tenant Services Authority.

Whether it’s pay negotiations or government policy, UNISON is the independent voice of the housing worker. That gives us a unique knowledge of the issues affecting tenants, potential tenants and people working in housing.

Housing voice

The Housing Voice campaign led by UNISON produced a report in 2012 which sets out in detail our policies for improving the supply and regulation of housing, following a year-long independent inquiry across England. The report was designed to create a climate that would encourage politicians to make housing a key issue, and this strategy has had some success in that there is a general consensus among politicians that the nation faces a housing crisis which requires joined-up solutions to tackle it.

Visit the Housing Voice website

Download the Housing Voice report 

Resources