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Housing policy is a devolved matter and so this briefing focuses on England. The number of socially rented houses in England has been falling consistently since the 1980s; between 1981 to 2016 social housing stock has decreased by 25%. In 2016 17% of houses were socially rented compared to 30% in 1981. Some commentators have put this decrease down to aspects of government housing policy. For example, right to buy, a policy introduced in 1980, allowed local authority tenants to purchase their council houses at a reduced rate, which has contributed to reducing social housing stock numbers. A commitment to replace a proportion of the properties sold under the scheme was introduced in 2011, although the latest statistics suggest that these obligations are not being met. Over the same period, central government funding for building new homes for social rent was also reduced, replaced in part by funding for construction of homes for affordable rent, with rents up to 80 percent of market rates.

It has been argued that these housing trends have had implications for several housing-related issues. Statistics show that private renters spend a higher proportion of their income on rent than social renters. Although, in general, rents have risen roughly in proportion to income, renters in London, 25 to 34-year olds and those on low incomes are facing increasing housing burdens. Real-term spending on housing benefit has also increased substantially over the past thirty years, with some attributing this to the lack of investment in social housing. In addition, Crisis has argued that insecure housing in the private sector has also led to increased rates of statutory homelessness, and that the lack of available social homes has posed additional challenges for local authorities when trying to house those which it owes a duty of prevention or relief.

In 2017, the Government committed to working with local councils to build more social homes, and its 2018 green paper outlined its strategy for achieving this. However, its proposals have been criticised by housing groups and homeless charities for being unambitious and failing to meet demand for social housing. In addition, Labour denounced the plan saying that it did not include any government investment for new homes.


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