Social housing deficit

More people than ever are struggling to afford a secure place to live. Yet, not enough social homes are being built.

Over 1 million households are waiting for social homes. Last year, 29,000 social homes were sold or demolished, and less than 7,000 were built.

In England, there are now 1.4 million fewer households in social housing than there were in 1980.

As a result, millions of households have been pushed into the private rented sector, which has more than doubled in this time.

Our facts and figures explain the issue.

We don't have enough homes

A home is a fundamental human need. But right now, there are simply not enough good quality, low-cost homes available for everyone who needs one.

Social housing on the decline

Graph shows fewer social homes have been built, compared to those lost through sales and demolitions since 1991. The graph also shows the net social housing supply

Graph source: Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), Live tables on social housing sales, Table 678 and Table 684. MHCLG, Live tables on affordable housing supply, Table 1000C.

Graph summary

Social housebuilding in England is at its lowest rate in decades. Since 1991, there has been an average annual net loss of 24,000 social homes.

This graph shows fewer social homes are built, compared to those lost through sales and demolitions. The result is a deficit in social housing.

Drop in social homes built

In 1990, 28,000 social homes built

In 2020, less than 7,000 social homes built

Housebuilding has halved in 50 years

In 1960s, 3 million homes built

In 2010s, 1.3 million homes built

Rise in homeless and temporary accommodation (TA) households

40,000 households homeless in 2019-20

95,000 households in TA in 2020

House price against salary

In 2000, a home cost 4 x average salary

In 2021, a home cost 8 x average salary

Unaffordable homes

The housing emergency is affecting many of us across the country. Priced out of owning a home and denied social housing, people are forced to take what they can afford. Even if it’s damp, cramped, or away from jobs and support networks.

Social housing has declined as fewer homes have been built in England since 1923

Graph shows how private housebuilding and social housing delivery peaked in 1930s and again in the 1950s through to 1970s, with house prices climbing gradually.

Graph source: MHCLG, Live tables on housing supply: indicators of new supply, Table 209, and Nationwide Real House Prices.

Graph summary

This graph shows how private housebuilding and social housing delivery peaked in England in the 1930s and again in the 1950s through to the 1970s, with house prices climbing gradually.

Since the 1980s, construction of social housing and private homes has severely declined, with steep increases in house prices from the mid-1990s onwards.

Housebuilding has almost halved in 50 years

In the 1960s, 3 million homes were built in England. Since 2010 we've built just 1.3 million homes.

This is one reason why house prices are so high. Yet, we rely on the private sector to build houses. And the goal of the private sector is to make a profit.

When fewer people can afford to buy their own home, it affects the number of homes developers sell. And as a result, developers build fewer homes.

Since 1990, as part of their developments, developers must contribute about a quarter of new builds as Affordable Housing (AH). So when private developers don’t build houses, that means we’re losing out on social housing too.

What is 'affordable housing'?

Since 2000, successive governments have known that too few homes are being built and set a target of 250,000 new homes annually. Each year this target is missed. We are now short of around 1.5 million homes.

Impact on social housing

The reliance on developer contributions to deliver affordable homes means that when fewer houses are built, social housing levels fall. Since the 1980s, we’ve seen private developers build less.

Worse still, the government has abandoned social housing delivery to the private market, hoping profit-seeking developers will build social housing as part of their planning permission.

Today, the government provides very little direct funding for social housing. That strategy has obviously failed and is the main reason why there's such a social housing deficit.

English housing stock by occupancy

Line graph showing English housing stock by occupancy 1977 to 2019.

Graph source: MHCLG, Live tables on housing supply: indicators of new supply, Table 209.

Graph summary

This line chart shows the number of households occupying different housing types in England between 1977 – 2020. In the last two decades (2001 – 2019), the number of households living in social housing has declined as more people are pushed into the private rented sector.

Shortage pushes people into unfit housing

The social housing shortage has forced many low-income people who should benefit from access to the social rented sector, into the private rented sector. This pushes hundreds of thousands of people into unacceptable circumstances, such as overcrowding or temporary accommodation (including hostels and bed and breakfasts).

It also puts people at risk of homelessness and living on the streets, because they can’t afford the private rental market.

Rise in overcrowding by renters since 1995

Rise in overcrowding by renters since 1995

Graph source: ONS and MHCLG, English Housing Survey headline report (section 1).

Graph summary

This graph shows the percentage of renters in overcrowded homes has steadily increased since 1995. Since 2000, the percentage of renters in overcrowded homes increased from 4.5 to 7.6.

Overcrowded housing

People become overcrowded when there is not enough affordable housing available, or when housing costs are high.

In London, where housing costs are most expensive, overcrowding is five times higher than the national rate.

People in temporary accommodation doubled

On top of this, many families up and down the country are forced to settle for temporary homes.

People ending up in temporary accommodation (TA) has:

  • more than doubled in the past decade

  • last hit this level in 2007, just before the financial crisis. This is when housing costs rocketed

  • even though the waiting list for social housing has flattened since 2012, the number of families in TA is back up

Rise in temporary accommodation (TA) population since 2007

Graph showing the number of households in temporary accommodation (TA) has been rising since 2012

Graph source: MHCLG, Homelessness live tables, TA1

Graph summary

This graph shows the number of households in temporary accommodation has risen since 2012 and peaked in 2020.

Councils removed families from social home waiting list

Since 2012, the waiting list for social housing in England seemed to flatten. However, it's important to note this isn't because desperate families were placed in social housing.

The reason goes back to 2011 when councils purged their waiting lists due to a massive shortage of social homes.

In 2011, councils were given more flexibility in how they managed their waiting lists. This included limiting lists to people who lived locally for a certain length of time.

Many councils introduced new criteria to help manage how they provided social homes. If families didn't meet this criteria, they were removed from council waiting lists.

The impact is clear. Since 2012, more people have been forced into temporary accommodation because there are simply not enough social homes available.

1.4m households losing out on social homes

While need for social homes is up, the number actually built is falling. And while the government has spent money on so-called 'affordable' housing – homes that aren't actually affordable to most people – it has failed to put enough money towards social housing.

In England, owing to sales through Right to Buy and demolitions, we're actually losing social housing every year. And now there are 1.4 million fewer
households in social housing
 than there were back in 1980.

Demand more social housing

That’s why we're calling on the government to build at least 90,000 social homes a year, to ensure everyone has a safe place to call home.

Want to build a different future? Join our campaign and call on the government to build social homes today.

Get in touch

Do you have a question about the social housing deficit? We'd love to hear from you.

Email our Public Affairs team