On Wednesday 24 March 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate the following motion in grand committee:
The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury to move that the Grand Committee takes note of the report Coming Home by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community, and the case for setting out a long-term housing strategy
Coming Home Report
What did the report call for?
In February 2021, the Commission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Housing, Church and Community published the report Coming Home: Tackling the Housing Crisis Together. Produced by ten housing experts, the report argued that around eight million people in England currently live in overcrowded, unaffordable, or unsuitable homes, with those caught in poverty the worse affected. It also claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic had “further exposed” the scale and consequences of the housing crisis. It called the situation a “national scandal”.
The report set out a series of recommendations to address the issues. These were based on five core values the report argued would set a new standard and vision for what housing should look like: homes and communities should be created that are truly “sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying for all”.
The report’s recommendations included actions for the Church of England, the Government, and other actors in the housing sector. For example, it recommended that the Church of England commits to using its land assets to promote more truly affordable homes. It also called on the Government to produce a long-term (20-year) housing strategy backed by an increase in public capital investment and a phased reduction in the price of land. In the short-term, it argued that the Government should review the social security system as it said it currently “fails to provide adequate housing support for a large number of low-income households”.
Other recommendations aimed at a variety of actors in the housing sector included:
- ensuring longer-term security of tenure;
- introducing an explicit duty of care on landlords;
- improving the quality of temporary accommodation; and
- removing unsafe cladding from all buildings.
What was the reaction to the report?
We welcome and encourage the practical steps the church is taking to make more of their land available for affordable housing.
Also commenting, Polly Neate, the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said:
It is brilliant to see the Church of England showing leadership and taking action to tackle our growing housing emergency. Looking at how church land can be best used to fight homelessness is extremely welcome.
What is the Government’s current policy on housing?
The report raised several issues about housing, including: overcrowding; affordability; the number of new homes being built; rights of renters; and unsafe cladding. In recent years, the Government has announced a number of policies aimed at addressing these issues and others. As housing is a devolved issue, the majority of these focus on England.
This section contains information on the Government’s policies and an overview of them, including reactions from commentators, through links to briefings produced by the parliamentary libraries.
Since 2015, consecutive Conservative governments have announced initiatives aimed at increasing housing supply in England. Boris Johnson’s Government is continuing with many of these initiatives and building on them. For example, the 2019 Conservative manifesto included a pledge to “continue to increase the number of homes being built”, stating it would continue to progress towards a target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
The February 2021 House of Commons Library briefing Stimulating Housing Supply—Government Initiatives (England) summarises the main Government initiatives since 2015 aimed at increasing housing supply in England, aside from planning measures. A further briefing by the House of Commons Library, Planning for the Future: Planning Policy Changes in England in 2020 and Future Reforms (10 March 2021), provides information on the planning reforms proposed in the Planning for the Future white paper and changes made due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Various commentators have highlighted a lack of affordable housing, which can refer to both the cost of buying and renting a home. The independent Affordable Housing Commission published a report on the issue in March 2020, Making Housing Affordable Again: Rebalancing the Nation’s Housing System. The report contained a series of recommendations and called for a collective effort, led by government, to rebalance the housing system to make it affordable again.
The Government has acknowledged the issue: in its 2019 manifesto, it pledged to “rebalance the housing market towards more home ownership” and proposed several low-cost home ownership schemes.
The House of Commons Library has published a briefing on affordable housing, entitled What is Affordable Housing? (23 December 2019). The briefing considers how affordable housing is defined in England and looks at key trends in the affordability of different tenure types. It also examines the supply of affordable housing and the role of housing benefit in enabling households to access and retain affordable housing.
Information on the Government’s policies to address the affordability of housing can also be found in the House of Commons Library briefing, Stimulating Housing Supply—Government Initiatives (England) (11 February 2021).
Housing benefit is a welfare payment to support the cost of renting a home. There is a link between housing benefit and the cost of renting. However, the level at which housing benefit is set is also a matter for the Government.
The House of Commons Library briefing What is Affordable Housing? examines the role of housing benefit in enabling households to access and retain affordable housing. A further Commons Library briefing outlined the social security changes, including to housing benefit, that the Government has made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic: House of Commons Library, Coronavirus: Withdrawing Crisis Social Security Measures, 17 March 2021.
Rights of renters
Private tenants and others working in the housing sector have argued that the ability of landlords to terminate an assured shorthold tenancy at short notice has a negative impact on tenants’ wellbeing. In the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019, the Government responded to these concerns by committing to bring forward a Renters’ Reform Bill. It said that the bill would “introduce a package of reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective rental market.” The Government has said that it will bring forward this bill “in due course, once the urgencies of responding to the pandemic have passed”. Further information can be found in the House of Commons Library briefing, The End of ‘No Fault’ Section 21 Evictions (27 September 2019).
In addition, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has announced a series of housing support measures for tenants and landlords. An overview of these measures can be found in the House of Commons Library briefing, Coronavirus: Support for Landlords and Tenants (14 March 2021).
Overcrowding and standards in the private rented sector
During the pandemic, there has been a renewed focus on the link between household overcrowding and poor health outcomes. The House of Commons Library has gathered resources on this issue on its webpage: ‘Household overcrowding and the Covid-19 outbreak’ (5 March 2021). The issue of household overcrowding and Covid-19 was also the subject of a recent House of Commons debate.
In recent years, the private rented sector has grown. Accompanying this growth has been a focus on the need to improve standards in the sector. The House of Commons Library briefing Housing Conditions in the Private Rented Sector (England) (4 February 2021) provides an overview of housing conditions in the sector, explains the legislation that regulates its standards and highlights key issues with the current legal framework.
Homelessness and rough sleeping
During the Covid-19 pandemic, rough sleepers have been highlighted as one of the at-risk groups vulnerable to contracting and spreading Covid-19. Responding to these concerns, the Government has announced several initiatives to support local authorities and their partners to help rough sleepers.
A briefing produced by the House of Lords Library, Covid-19: Winter Rough Sleeping Plan (23 November 2020), focused on the ‘Protect programme’, the scheme intended to help vulnerable people, including rough sleepers, during the period of national restrictions and throughout the winter.
Further information on the Government’s initiatives to support rough sleepers over the course of the pandemic can be found in the House of Commons Library’s briefing, Coronavirus: Support for Rough Sleepers (England) (14 January 2021).
Cladding and fire safety
Following the Grenfell tower fire in 2017, a number of residential buildings were found to have unsafe cladding systems that needed replacing. The work needed to remedy this issue is complex and comes at a significant cost. As a result, there has been debate as to who should pay for it.
Since the fire, the Government has announced several initiatives aimed at supporting the remedial work. A briefing by the House of Commons Library, Leasehold High-rise Blocks: Who Pays for Fire Safety Work? (12 February 2021), has outlined these announcements and the debate on who should pay.
In addition, in July 2020, the Government published a draft Building Safety Bill and a summary of the draft Bill. The draft bill takes forward the Government’s commitment to fundamental reform of the building safety system. The draft Building Safety Bill has been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.
Each year the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government publishes the English Housing Survey. This survey examines people’s housing circumstances and the condition and energy efficiency of housing in England. The English Housing Survey’s most recent report contained the results of the 2019–20 survey.
The following articles focus on the Coming Home report:
- Harriet Sherwood, ‘Church of England land should be used to help tackle housing crisis, says report’, Guardian, 21 February 2021
- Mason Boycott-Owen, ‘Church of England should examine using its land for affordable homes, report from Archbishops finds’, Telegraph (£), 21 February 2021
- Martina Lees, ‘Justin Welby has God on his side in the battle for better housing’, Sunday Times (£), 21 February 2021
Cover image by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash.