According to Shelter, Britain is experiencing a housing crisis. Identify and discuss some of the policies and practices of different governments to target the housing problem, with reference to Grenfell tower (2017)
In this essay I will investigate the many impacts of policies that created, escalated and mitigated the British housing crisis. Social policies are ideas that are set up by the government with an intention of achieving a certain goal. (Blakemore & Warwick-Booth, 2013). Shelter whom describe themselves as a housing and homelessness charity claims that the government has consistently failed to tackle the housing crisis. Shelter also specify that the government fail to consider those trapped in temporary accommodation as homeless, and so the issue is much larger than most realise.
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Council home construction started to decline in 1978 This paired with an increase in the size and standards of homes lead to an increase in the cost of housing, making it less affordable to own a home. The Rent Act was a policy introduced in 1957 to reduce the shortage of houses by making it affordable for the less privileged to rent a house, especially in the cities. This was achieved by removing the restrictions on private property. Furthermore, between 1974 and 1976 the then Labour government purchased and renovated houses that were owned privately, fair rents were introduced so the tenants could afford to live in these houses this ultimately helped those priced out of the market. In a review carried out by Barker on the housing issue in 2004, it was identified that about 250,000 new homes need to be built every year so that the increase of house prices could be prevented as well as the shortage of affordable homes. (Barker, K. 2004). After the 1979 landslide election of Margaret Thatcher, the building of homes by local authorities dropped this again increased the severity of the housing crisis. Some of the reasons that led to the decreased investment in housing include the lack of land available for building, poor process of planning, restrictions when it comes to building on the green belt, shortage of funds for building, influence from rich buyers from overseas and cutbacks in grants from the government (Wheeler, 2015).
Housing associations were then introduced by Thatcher which were meant to replace the local authority in building new homes, unsurprisingly, these associations have not managed to achieve the state’s building figures. Therefore, it can be concluded that the exit of the council from house building spearheaded the housing shortage that exists today, it is the catalyst that initiated the rapid growth of the crisis in the past two decades. Poor housing also leads to various other effects including poor physical health and an increase in likelihood that the children suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma. Having poor general health affects all people that live in bad housing conditions. This also affects the working-age adults which would in turn affect the economy of the nation. (Wheeler, 2015). Furthermore, owning a home has become so expensive that it’s forced the lower class to rent from landlords. This is particularly an issue because renting is insecure; there is a risk of increasing the rent and risk of eviction this insecurity has been linked to mental health issues among those forced to rent.
As seen, various housing policies have been adopted to address the issue of the housing crisis. Perhaps the most important policy adopted was the briefly mentioned social housing which was adopted in 1919. In this policy, the local authority was required to provide council housing to the people (Wheeler, 2015). Council estates were provided by the local authority until the housing associations took over and started providing social homes. Social housing helped provide shelter for those in poverty and couldn’t otherwise obtain good enough housing. Social housing, however, had a negative impact on the youth, affecting school performance. This is due to the neighbourhood that has high rates of unemployment and low qualification rates. Another key policy was introducing the right to buy the homes they lived in at a subsidized price. This was introduced by Margaret Thatcher who proposed the right to buy policy and this policy ultimately increased the number of people that owned private homes. This policy however increased the amount of homes brought, meaning less homes were available for the increasing amount of unemployed. Also, many families who rented, were encouraged to buy their homes but even with the discount many had to take out large loans, causing more harm than good.
The help to buy policy was introduced in 2013 which attempted to stimulate the demand for housing. This is to help buy mortgage guarantees, equity loans and shared ownership of property/homes. This introduced a new buying policy where a house could be purchased with a deposit of 5% of its price and this therefore contributed to an increase in homeownership. From the analysis of the housing market of the UK, it can be concluded that the housing crisis is mainly due to the rigid system of planning. (Hilber, & Schöni, 2016). The planning system of the nation is simply inflexible thus providing insufficient incentives to include the development of residential and making local housing inflexible. It is therefore important for policymakers to fix the planning system instead of introducing more policies that may end up pushing the prices of housing even higher making it more difficult to solve the housing crisis (Hilber, & Schöni, 2016).
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The UK government, in its rush to build cheap homes at a rapid rate has not considered setting up strong policies that help maintain the already built houses, which would thus prevent the escalation of the crisis. The implementation of policies that govern how a building should be set up could help in preventing future losses from accidents. For example, Grenfell Tower in west London was destroyed in a fire at an alarming rate. This could have been easily prevented with strict policies on health and safety in construction and maintenance of buildings. The building had undergone recent construction where flammable cladding was installed, this led to the rapid spread of the fire through the building, therefore, making it difficult to put out the fire. The insulation used in the outside of the building and the cladding had failed in the police preliminary test and these contributed to the quick spread of the fire. It was made clear that the constructors did not obey the policies put in place for setting up the building and this caused the major crisis. The residents of Grenfell had complained previously about restricted access to emergency fire exits. In addition to that, the fire extinguishers placed in the building had not been tested for one year and this alone called for an investigation. The policies put in place, in this case, were not fully implemented. This, therefore, calls for tighter regulations that ensure companies are always following regulations and policies.
In conclusion, the housing crisis in the United Kingdom has been an issue for quite some time and this has called for the implementation of various policies to solve this issue. The government has involved the local government and other bodies in building homes for the people of the United Kingdom. This, however, has not provided enough housing and therefore the government needs to employ better planning that is flexible that could help in solving the housing crisis problem.
- Blakemore, K. and Warwick-Booth, L., 2013. Social Policy: An Introduction: An Introduction. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
- Hilber, C.A., and Schöni, O., 2016. Housing policies in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States: lessons learned. Cityscape, 18(3), pp.291-332.
- Wheeler, B. 2015. A History of Social Housing. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14380936 (accessed 14 October 2019).
- Barker, K. 2004. Review of Housing Supply Final Report Recommendations: London: HMSO.