Britain urged to build millions of social homes after Grenfell

The scaffold clad Grenfell Tower is seen from Holland Park in London, Britain, August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain has experienced a shortage of social housing since the 1980s and years of underbuilding, rising rents and cuts to social-housing benefits have exacerbated the problem

By Adela Suliman

LONDON - Britain needs to build 3.1 million new homes in the next 20 years to solve its housing crisis, a commission set up in the wake of London's Grenfell Tower disaster said on Tuesday.

The fire that killed at least 71 people in a social block in one of London's most affluent areas in 2017 triggered outrage, with campaigners saying successive governments had neglected a growing shortage of adequate housing.

Homelessness charity Shelter brought together Grenfell groups with lawmakers from different parties and housing experts to compile recommendations that will be presented to political leaders on Tuesday and include a 20-year homebuilding programme.

"Today's landmark commission sets out a bold new plan for social housing which aims to tackle this crisis head on," Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Building on this scale will give hope to everyone who is seriously struggling with their housing situation."

The recommendations include 1.27 million homes for those with the greatest housing needs, such as rough sleepers and disabled people, 1.17 million homes for "trapped renters," who face a lifetime of insecure private renting and 690,000 homes for older private renters.

Housing Minster James Brokenshire said in a statement providing quality and fair social housing was "a priority for this government," which would deliver 250,000 affordable homes by 2022, including homes for social rent.

Britain has experienced a shortage of social housing since the 1980s when the government allowed tenants to buy their homes at rock-bottom prices without replacing the stock.

Since then, years of underbuilding, rising rents and cuts to social-housing benefits have exacerbated the problem.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the government will seek to build 300,000 more homes a year until the mid-2020s to try to address a broader supply shortage that has pushed prices up.

The Shelter report said that target was unlikely to solve the housing crisis alone and urged the government to adopt more long-term policies, such as new regulators and standards to support those in social housing.

"The serious lack of affordable housing is locking families out of achieving a decent life," said Campbell Robb, head of Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an organisation that works to eradicate poverty in Britain.

"Millions of families are backed into a corner, leaving them in a daily struggle to get by."

A lack of affordable housing has also led to a growth in homelessness each year, say housing charities, with 80,000 families in temporary accommodation such as hostels, including more than 120,000 children, government data show.

The report, which followed a year of public consultations, also recommended a new regulator to enforce common standards and a national union to represent social housing tenants.

"Social mobility has been decimated by decades of political failure to address our worsening housing crisis," said commissioner and lawmaker Sayeeda Warsi.

"Our vision for social housing presents a vital political opportunity to reverse this decay."

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