Building our way out

How investing in social housing can boost the economy and level up the country.

This year, Shelter has been looking into how coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected those hit hardest by the housing emergency.

We’ve found a surge in homelessness in Manchester, an emerging crisis in Cheshire East and Wolverhampton, and an increase in shoddy former holiday homes in Blackpool’s private rented sector. There's growing unaffordability in Thanet, an undersupply of affordable homes for workers in the villages of Harrogate, and deep housing inequalities in Kensington and Chelsea.

Up and down the country, the impact of the ongoing housing emergency has been intensified by the pandemic. Tens of thousands of homeless families have been forced to lockdown in unsafe and overcrowded temporary accommodation, while many more have struggled to pay sky-high rents for cramped and squalid homes.

We need government to invest in social housing that’s affordable, safe and secure. If the government is serious about ‘building back better’, now is the time to invest in social housebuilding.

What we’ve found

  • 2.1 million A quarter of private renting adults – 2.1 million people – said their housing situation made lockdown harder to cope with

  • 2x Private tenants are in fact twice as likely to have struggled than tenants in secure social homes

  • 43% 43% of people think building more social homes is the most effective way to tackle the housing crisis in this country

  • 60% Almost 60% of people think that building more social homes in their local area would help people living in poor quality homes

  • 47% Almost half of people (47%) think that building more social homes would help reduce inequality in this country

  • 1 in 96 There is currently only enough funding set aside to provide 1 social home for every 96 households on the waiting list

Who’s impacted by lack of social housing?

We’ve spoken with the increasing number of people experiencing the sharp end of the housing emergency. Here are some of their stories.


Krystalrose is 26 and privately rents a one-bed flat in Enfield that is too small and riddled with damp issues. She lives there with her two-year-old daughter.

'I’ve applied for the waiting list, but I don’t know where I stand. I feel like I’m going round in circles.

'I took the flat because they accepted DSS (housing benefit) and it’s so hard to find someone who accepts benefits, especially when you don’t have a guarantor. I felt so pressured to accept – so I went for it.

'I’m so desperate and would do anything to get out of this situation. I feel so helpless and don’t know which way to turn.

'I would love to get into social housing. To me it means security. I feel that my child would be protected and that we would have a roof over our heads that no one could take away from us.

'That’s all I want and that’s all we need. I feel so frustrated that I’m not able to get somewhere stable to live and I’d do anything to have that.'

Krystalrose stands in her doorway with her daughter.


Michelle, 58, is a store manager from Hereford. She was diagnosed with a serious and life-limiting condition in February this year and has been shielding throughout the pandemic.

But in July after just four months in her home, she was served with a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice by her landlord as he wanted to sell up.

'I feel so tired of the renting game in the UK. When you’re in your late 50s like me, even on a good wage there’s no way you can get a mortgage – even if you can afford to pay it. So, you’re left with renting.

'I just don’t think landlords realise the implications of their actions on renters, especially during the pandemic. I was diagnosed with severe Vasculitis in February this year, and then in July, after only four months in my home, my landlord gave me an eviction notice because he wanted to sell. I was very shocked. I had to look for a new home while I was highly vulnerable and shielding.

'If I could get a social home, it would give me peace of mind that I wouldn’t have to move every six months. It would mean I could unpack, put things up on the wall, have a cat – just little things in life that would make such a big difference.

'At the moment, I can only put my pictures on the hooks the landlord has left. It sounds really basic, but it is part of wanting to make a home.'

Michelle sits looking thoughtful in front of her front door.

What are we calling for?

We are calling on the government to invest in a targeted rescue package for social housebuilding. This would see an investment of 12.2bn over the next two years, building 50,000 social homes. This is almost four times the number currently delivered each year and 145,000 'affordable' new homes overall in that period.

Why is social housing the solution?

The solution to the housing emergency has always been to build our way out of it, with more decent social rented homes that people on low incomes can afford. Now, in the current recession, investing in social housing will also help to save our housebuilding industry and the vital contribution it makes to the economy.

Social housebuilding is currently the lowest it’s been for 40 years. And yet there are over one million households on the waiting list.

Putting in the investment will boost housebuilding, boost the economy, level-up housing and deliver the social rented homes we need to end the housing emergency for good.

What can you do about it?

Join our campaign to secure more investment for a new generation of social homes.

Let's build a better future.