Housing and fairness

Housing and fairness

A right to housing

Housing is a fundamental human right. As such, we believe that the state should provide a minimum standard of housing (in terms of quality, affordability and security of tenure) to everyone, while allowing those with more resources to rent or buy in the private sector. While we are not advocating for equal outcomes, we need more than simply equal opportunities to secure decent housing. Everyone should be guaranteed housing that is equal to or better than an acceptable baseline level.

Housing on the basis of need

Access to housing that is either provided or funded by the state should be on the basis of need. In an ideal situation, while a fair process would of course be necessary, there should not be a need for positive action to deliver genuine equality of opportunity, since a properly functioning and resourced social housing sector would deliver housing for everyone who requires it. However, in practice some kind of priority criteria would need to be applied to ensure that those in greatest need were able to access social housing ahead of others, as supply and demand are rarely likely to be perfectly matched.

Impacts of poor housing

Poor housing is a key driver of inequality of opportunity. It has proven negative impacts on mental and physical health, educational attainment, job prospects and a wide range of other social and economic outcomes. Housing inequality is both a cause and a symptom of a range of broader socio-economic inequalities.

Housing inequalities never exist in isolation but are always connected to other issues. Every aspect of inequality has a housing dimension, with causal chains running in both directions so that they are mutually reinforcing. For example, people living in poor quality housing suffer from worse mental and physical health, which reduces their chances of escaping poverty. The flip side is that investing in housing is investing in society and can rapidly create positive feedback loops.

Beveridge called it the problem of the rent – the cost of housing is the main cost in most people's lives, and you can't reduce it unlike some other bills, so as soon as it is unaffordable it has a knock-on effect on everything else. The cost of housing is a key driver of poverty. In London, poverty rates almost double when housing costs are accounted for (increasing the poverty rate from 16% to 28%).

Housing is a ‘gateway right’: the human right to adequate housing is the foundation on which a set of other rights depend. If you don’t have a fixed address, it is hard to get a job, receive welfare benefits and so on.

Security of tenure and lack of affordability are inter-related problems. People who can't sustain a stable home for financial or other reasons have to make unwanted moves between places that they would rather not live in. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated the situation as affluent people leave the cities for the suburbs or the countryside. Infection and death rates from COVID have been several times higher than average in poor areas characterised by overcrowding and poor-quality housing. The quality of housing and of the broader environment in which they grow up has a proven effect on children’s cognitive and physical development and on their long-term mental health.