A decent place to live

A new housing report commissioned by UNISON paints a shocking picture of the UK’s housing crisis, while offering a positive vision for the future of affordable housing

For many people in the UK there aren’t many things more important or personal than where they live. Most hope to live in a place of consistency, comfort and security, a home. In the UK, the housing crisis has taken this hope away from many.

A decent place to live, a new report commissioned by UNISON and produced by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) was released on 20 July. It identifies the shocking extent of the housing crisis in the UK and outlines a clear, positive vision for the future of affordable housing – one spearheaded by local government and with the potential to kickstart the UK’s post-COVID economy with a focused move into green sectors.

“The housing crisis” is not a new phenomenon and it is no surprise that the pandemic, with its catastrophic effect on income consistency, combined with the transformation of many homes into makeshift workplaces, has deepened this crisis. UNISON’s goal, for access to safe, secure, affordable housing to be a basic right for all UK citizens, seems a long way off.

A complex problem

As with any complex problem, finding a good solution requires a clear understanding of the issues. As UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards says: “Many would argue that the UK doesn’t have one housing crisis but multiple housing crises, played out differently, dependent upon the geography and supply of housing within local areas.”

That’s why APSE’s in-depth research identifies and lays out both the wide range of housing issues and how these issues play out across different areas in the UK.

For example, on supply, the report finds that the decline in funding for council housing has been matched by a decline in the new homes being built. On affordability, it finds that workers in some areas of the UK would need to earn over 12 times their salary to afford a home in which to live and that a 27 to 30-year-old would need 18 years to save for a deposit as house-prices continue to outstrip earnings, year after year.

The report also highlights the effect of the crisis on public sector workers and concludes that in many areas of the UK, particularly the East, South East and London, public sector pay cannot keep up with the rising cost of housing, and the lack of affordable homes to either rent or buy means workers are struggling to live near their work.

It concludes that the developer-led market is failing generations of workers who are unable to access a decent home and that unmet demand for affordable homes is growing exponentially.

Harrowing stories

It’s easy to think of the housing crisis in purely statistical terms, look at supply and demand curves and conclude that we just need to build more affordable homes. But the report also moves past the facts and figures, drawing on UNISON surveys to understand the personal aspects of every housing story and identify examples of success at council level.

Just last year UNISON heard countless harrowing stories when we surveyed our public service members about housing during the pandemic.

One registered mental health nurse from Camberwell said: “I’m a newly qualified mental health nurse. Single mother. No hope of council housing. I relied on friends for food. I do not have a contract with my landlord as he wanted to increase the rent to £1800+ pm for a run-down flat in South-East London. I will have to move as there is no hope of cheaper accommodation for me and my daughter.”

Another worker from Southsea said: “I had to take out loans to help cover bills. Scraping every last penny to cover rent and monthly bills. My partner can’t even afford his half of the rent and bills and I am having to try cover it all. I don’t think it will be long before I am on the streets.”

A bold vision

UNISON and APSE’s bold vision aims to put an end to stories like this. It outlines how a well-funded, forward-thinking approach can not only solve the housing crisis, but kickstart the country’s economy after the pandemic and provide the foundations for huge job growth into the green tech and construction sectors.

The report outlines seven primary recommendations including:

  • Investment in a new generation of council housing, at scale;
  • Maximising opportunities within that investment for green growth and green upskilling;
  • Re-empowering local authorities with meaningful control of planning; and
  • Restoring the link between local housing allowance, housing benefit and rent.

The report concludes: “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic there is a real opportunity to take-up the slack created in the economy to inject public sector led investment in social housing – new homes, that are green homes, and which generate spending in supply chains, jobs and reskilling displaced workers from industries that have either not survived the pandemic or are simply hanging on by a thread.

“A green-growth investment plan, in a new generation of council homes, may be the very route-map to post-COVID recovery that ministers have promised.”

In her foreword to the report, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea says: “As a nation, we managed to build a whole new generation of council housing, when the UK emerged from the horrors of war in 1945. Surely it is possible to capture that spirit and innovation now?

“Let’s kickstart our post-COVID recovery with a commitment to building new green council homes and developing green construction skills. Let’s be ambitious in our vision for council housing that provides high quality homes for generations to come.”

34 thoughts on “A decent place to live

  1. Valerie Clarke says:

    I am a Gateshead council resident. I have been told I can’t have a new kitchen, my kitchen consists of one sink unit and four wall units, these are dropping to bits, don’t match and have rusty hinges.
    The sink in my bathroom is cracked and has been for 14 year but again I can’t have a new one unless I pay for it.
    My next door neighbour allows his dog to use the communal area as a toilet again, along with the people who also have to use the communal area have complained for several years but Gateshead council are not trying very hard to rectify the problem.

    1. Suzy says:

      Valerie, I live in a Housing Association home and have been here 15 years. It took me 4 years to persuade them to inspect the lagging in my loft. When they did it was discovered there was no insulation above my bedroom or bathroom, hebce there was black mould on those two ceilings. I encountered numerous problems which they dragged they feet over
      In exasperation with their reluctance to act I had a consultation with, the then, constituent MP. He then contacted the Housing Association
      and my goodness these issues were rectified in no time !
      I would urge you to consult your constituent MP without delay and miracles may yet materialise as there are rules and laws they must adhere to
      Good luck, don’t give up

      1. Brian Pitts says:

        Afraid the the anti social behaviour is epidemic in the social housing area. Many have never really had to struggle and live in the private sector. Unfortunately the councils have to pick up the peices of these people who don’t appreciate that they have a roof over their heads…and seem or pecieved by many somehow get on the ESH….”Essential Housing Needs”…of course not everyone….but quite few. As usual decent folk are trodden over.I

  2. Lee Metford says:

    Although it might not be a ideal solution low-rise apartment buildings should be re considered along the lines of the supported housing already built: these have cafes and other communal areas. Buildings for families should be (crucially) sound as well as heat insulated. have indoor soft play areas as well as outdoor green space and, also crucially, be properly ‘policed’ by the housing management (and maybe have a permanent police presence) to prevent as soon as possible the anti-social behaviour that wrecks otherwise decent places. (I have seen very good supported accommodation given to alcoholics and the like who quite frankly don’t deserve it owing to their previous and subsequent behaviour….I suspect that opinion will not be popular however)

    1. Mary M Green says:

      Agree with what you have commented. All to often a good area deteriorates due to lack of supervision. The problem of selfish inconsiderate behaviour runs through all housing sectors these dsys

  3. Albert Dutton says:

    Before new housing is considered the government and councils need to bring present housing stock back in order. employing more housing officers and managing the stock they have taking on repairs an anti-social behaviour taking back ownership of terminated tenances and bringing properties lay empty back on the market

  4. Penelope Wells says:

    A big issue where I live and many other places ls that lover priced accommodation is being bought by investers to be used for airnnb. This means shortage for local people to buy and drives rents and house prices up.
    Also many buying for second homes. This needs to be regulated and taxed .

  5. Alli says:

    I am a tenant of Newcastle Council. We keep our property tidy ans clean We keep the garden tidy too. I know this is swaying off a bit from topic in hand but Some of the other houses on the state are very unkempt. Gardens piled with rubbish.. Surely there should be regular checks by someone and people should be made to tidy up their property too. I do understand some people have health problems and can’t do it some are just bone idle. Even Council owned community centres have weed and trees over grown onto public walk ways… So they can’t enforce someone tidy their own garden up when the councils own places are an unsitly tip.

  6. David Parker says:

    The housing build figures need to clearly distinguish between houses and flats instead of just calling them homes. It hides the fact that councils answer to lack of housing is to build tower blocks to deliver max number of flats, flats, flats. This is to the detriment of town centres and condemning those in affordable homes with families to forever living many floors up with no gardens.

    The councils need to take back control and start building affordable houses in the suburbs. But MPs and councilors won’t take this step because they are worried about losing votes from all the nimbies out there concerned about their homes being devalued. I hear councilors recommending town centre living because its near railway links, no need for a car, near the shops etc. They rarely mention extra pollution and lack of gardens with some of these councilors making such decisions for others while they live in 5 bedroom homes in leafy suburbs with large gardens and two cars on the driveway.

  7. Julie Park says:

    I could not agree more. My 37 year old so. Wishes to live in rented accommodation in London where there is the type of work he wishes to do as well as the social aspects he enjoys and currently to even get a decent sized and nice home he will have to pay £1000 per month!! Plus 6 weeks rent as a bond!

  8. Vic Clara Adeniyi says:

    I have been in waiting list for over 10 years, bidding every Fridays without fail, my account was suspended recently due to the council inability to do their two two years assessment and uphill now my account is still on suspension. Renting from private landlord is taking 3/4 of my salary so have go without some essential things. Still don’t know if I will ever be able to get any accommodation from the council.

  9. A says:

    Whatever comes on to the market will be snapped up by property developers or landlords and then rented out for huge sums of money. There are so few houses as these people buy them all up. If there was a law/rule for how many they could own or some sort of legislation that enabled people to buy for their own home to live in – there would be more houses to buy. If rent was capped at a reasonable price also it would allow people to rent and try to save to buy their own place. There are a lot of landlords that own many properties and maintenance is not very good. The process to refund deposits – if you can ever get a refund as they find any little excuse not to give it – is extremely slow. We have been told it will take 5-6 weeks from the date the key was returned!

  10. Carline Ikoroha says:

    Enfield Council needs to invest in building some affordable decent LOW RISE flats and houses for our hard- working young people, who have been forced to leave the borough they grew up in, due to high rents or unaffordable prices to purchase their own homes! Young people are not being given the opportunity to have or experience their natural independence. It is so hard today.
    This then causes all sorts of mental health issues, because arguably they are forced into other living arrangements they would naturally avoid.
    Let’s consider the next generation and their future.

  11. Aileen Cheetham says:


  12. Kristine Gill says:

    Two of the major “industries” in the city I call home are education and tourism. Our housing crisis has beein caused in part people buying up multiple properties to build their property portfolios. They then charge exorbitant prices to long and short term renters alike (especially students and holiday lets) because they can to so while upkeep on the properties is done to a bare minimum standard. Housing prices here are the most expensive in the north of England and just keep getting worse. We will never be able to afford to buy but we also don’t qualify for council housing. People in similar situations are forced into progressively smaller, and increasingly run-down properties as rents increase. It’s disgraceful that there aren’t limits to the number of properties that someone may own, and that multiple property owners aren’t held more to account for the condition of their rental properties without automatically passing the bulk of the costs on to their tenants.

  13. Clare Tucker says:

    This is not a new problem in Devon (my experience). I am 57 now and have had no chance as a single person, working full time as an HCA of affording a secure home. I am in a housing association flat, luckily, after moving 6 times in eight years due to rental homes being sold, becoming too expensive etc. Even when I was in a well paid job £30,000 per annum I could not afford to buy and support two children on my own. I reflected that my parents had similar issues during my childhood and we were homeless several times, moved 13 times .

  14. Kate Foley says:

    This is a really welcome report highlighting very important issues. Housing Associations continue to provide affordable housing solutions, as well as social investment in communities. Policy solutions are needed that will continue to support the sector in delivering good quality, accessbile, social rented housing. Community-led housing can also play a role and would also be helpful to reference within the policy recommendations

  15. Paul Rosenberg says:

    This is far from straightforward. There needs to be a proper full profiling of the population make-up in terms of age, density, socio economic status, land availability – including brownfield sites, etc. The findings of that to me modelled to determine the sort & type of housing is needed & where is it is required. That to be reviewed every 10 years ( based on the census?). Then investment in quick build solutions – there are some excellent prefabricated buildings available. All this to be under a Government Building Development Tsar focussed & targetted to deliver.

  16. Angela Williams says:

    Both my husband and I are key workers but are in a tiny Studio flat. Forget getting anything from the council. When we were both working at home it was not good

  17. Aaron Moison says:

    We should be definitively focusing on renovating old buildings and mandating that new builds are net zero carbon. Earth houses and straw bale walls should be looked at for wider roll out – they are as fire safe as any new build and have better insulation, both thermal and acoustic, than current designs.

    A change from council tax to a land value tax would help encourage developers to use derelict land rather than sitting on it for profit as per the current system, which would free up inner city space for developments practically overnight.

  18. Pamela Provan says:

    It’s becoming abundantly clear that building resources such as blocks/bricks, timber, eco heating and trades people to build with them are in extremely short supply, due to Brexit.
    We can’t move forward in making homes for people who need them without the right materials and skills.
    What’s to be done?

  19. Mark Newby says:

    I live in an ex mining village in County Durham. In have managed to buy and renovate one 3 bedroom terrace house for under £65,000. Pulled back to brick new wiring, plumbing, kitchen and two bathrooms. Ideal for a family or couple and affordable. The area is in the middle of a SSI fell. Lots of walks and open countryside outside the front door.

    Meanwhile new estates are being thrown up, some reconing to sign up to affordable housing at £145,00?;

    There are a number of empty houses and unscrupulous landlords making money out of vulnerability and poverty. I have been told by Durham District Council empty homes department they are unable to find the owners of the property and do nothing about unscrupulous landlords. Why do these departments exist if they can not deliver basic remit.. ?,

    The local authority, all through the pandemic, have used the pandemic to almost bring a standstill to service delivery.

    These houses are solidly built and ideal for renovation. Why then new builds; overcrowding areas when communities already exist where multi generational family units can live near each other naturally developing areas of SSI and families being able to stay close to each other.

    Durham County Council offer £5,000 to people free if they renovate a house and £15,000 interest free loans to Renovate too. This unfortunately is not well published but maybe an answer to help property and community development. Also more economical both on the planet and stop erosion of communities.

  20. John Lawrence says:

    There are too many people who regard being a ‘landlord’ as a job. They maximise rents, making it difficult for their tennents to save a deposit. (I know of somebody who owns and rents out 30 houses). If such a person owns, or is buying on mortgage, a property that they rent out, if they can show a profit on paper, they can then increase their borrowing to invest in even more rental properties.
    Thus, we have a substantial section of the population living off the backs of others. I am told that over 300 MP’s are landlords.
    We need a government that is prepaired to rapidly build more homes on a grand scale. Perhaps using prefabricated construction methods.

  21. Sam says:

    I have my own home, got it cheaper because it needed work doing.
    I work Full time and extra hours when I can.

    What really frustrates me is people can get support to start them on the property ladder, people on benefits get help with heating, but as a FULL TIME single person I will never get an support to help me pay for things.

    It frustrates me that when you add up what people get on benefits, it works out mor than we get.

    They don’t have to pay rent, council tax, any prescriptions, free dental and eye treatment. And then get support to pay their heating in the cold. If something needs
    To be repaired on their rented homes they don’t have to find the money to do it, whereas if you own your home you have to go without and borrow Peter to pay Paul.

    I know a single mother with a teenage child who gets £300 per month more than I get full time. Free school dinners and £15 a week for extra food when child is not in school)

  22. Elaine says:

    I have a friend who is a landlord with about 6 properties. They are his pension as the bosses in a previous employer raided the employee pension scheme for their own purposes and left almost nothing. He works hard to address problems when they arise and to keep the properties in a good state. Many of his tenants look after the property and pay rent on time. But there are a few who need a reality check, for example one couple never cleaned the house and expected my friend to replace the carpets and furniture after two years even though it was all new when they moved in. It is not as simple as tenants are poor and good, landlords are rich and bad. There are good and bad landlords, and good and bad tenants.

  23. Carol J says:

    I live in outer London. Affordable housing is classed as property that costs 20% less than the local house prices. A flat is £450k and you can buy a 25% share for £100k. The rest is rent. Then there is the maintenance fee – £150 per month plus rent plus council tax plus . . .
    I always thought affordable meant it was related to your income!

  24. Tw says:

    What the goverment and housing associations and developers are doing when building is down sizing everything to fit more people into one space. They build tacky little houses and flats and expect us to live peacefully with our neighbour’s. I live in a housing development where our social landlords re house a multitude of people with different back grounds, from alcoholics, drug users and those that have been kicked out of other social housing due to behaviour, as well as those that work.

    It does not work, I am at the end of my tether there is no silence people play thier music and TV so loud day and night, not respecting other residents. There are continuous shouting, arguments and fighting. We can hear what the neighbour’s are doing through the wall.

    I have had to call the police many times because of my neighbour’s antisocial behaviour, our social housing landlords do not give a dam.

    To top it off, the housing landlords built on our green space tacky little house’s, so now the noise level has excabated. I can hear what they are saying in thier little gardens, any noise just echoes.

    Speaking to the police they have said that through lock down the number of calls about unruly neighbour’s have three fold, especially in multi story flats, as everyone is living ontop of each other.

    The developers, government and housing associations need to rethink the way they design urban spaces and not just think how many people they can squeeze onto a plot of land. It’s not brain science, all this crap about well being and resillience at work, they should look deeper many mental health problems come from inadequate, tacky close living.

  25. Sylvia Redhead says:

    It is about time Councils had access to funds to at least carry out basic repairs but in the long term there needs to be planning for the acquisition of new homes designed to be more efficient and comfortable for tenants/homeowner. Could this not be brought about by encouraging tenants and future tenants to bank their income or invest with a Council, in other words banking with the Council hopefully will eventually bring about housing development if the Council can provide a deposit with a builder. There would need to be regulations for the tenant/future tenant to keep a basic sum in their account to make the scheme viable. Would it not be beneficial in turn for the Council to possibly invest the funds in a Building Society solely for housing giving tenants and homeless an aim to take part in restoring and converting run down premises to healthy living accommodation.

  26. B. Nepean says:

    Why doesn’t the government think about helping first time buyers a different way?

    Why can’t they get 100 per cent mortgage then pay back the deposit either when selling or at the end of the term?

    This way it would help first time buyers who cannot get help with a deposit.

  27. Abeba says:

    Heloo im a mum of 3 young kids under 5 and leaving with a friend after i seperated with their father, i have medical issue which i got a letter from.my GP and Doctors to the counsil amd my son have mediacl issue as well. I was given priority Aplus because of our aitaution but i have been biding for a house for about 2.6 years. They keep saying you need to bid in df areas bit with my sons.mediacl iasue i cant.

    Its This is how really bad the sitaution with the housing situation is.

  28. Housing Association CEOs and Managers are on high profit motivated wages. Income from tenants is not being used well enough. Pride is eroded by neglect and estates in disrepair from a lack of workers and the current workforce spread too thinly and some not pulling their weight. Repairs contracts done cheaply and quality of work is of a poor standard. Mental health patients are dumped alone into flats and are incapable of independent living without adequate support and soon ASB escalates and they become a risky to other residents safety. Whole Social housing systems needs reforming sooner than later.

  29. jakki says:

    I am 60 and my landlord wants me out, he blamed it on covid yet has tens of properties.
    I am in touch with the local council, there isn’t any hope of renting from the council though – I am way down the list. I’ve worked most of my life, lost everything in the past due to ex husband racking up monotonous debts. I work full time in the community, suffering with the side effects of long covid but unable to reduce my hours because of debts. I’ve written to my local east devon councillor but as yet no reply. Greedy people, some with mega portfolio’s are buying up all the houses for air bnb or to put out to rent as the can now get much more due to the pandemic and people wanting to move to devon and cornwall where they can work from home. We are in a severe crisis and nobody is doing anything about it. is this my life in a nutshell? Hardworking but worth nothing.

  30. Louise says:

    There are so many things tied up together here. The Government quotas for new housing mean that my local council (Medway) are allowing woodland and farming land to be destroyed to build houses. The houses do not have any green energy measures and are very expensive (too expensive for locals). I read that the Government is thinking of giving first time buyers up to £100k towards their first property. All that will do is sustain the too high pricing. The Government needs to start thinking about policies and future planning in a holistic way instead of forming half-hearted policies that counteract one another.
    Going slightly off track here – I read an earlier comment about someone who is financially worse off as a working single parent than a neighbour on benefits. I am in the same position. Some people are not able to work, but the Government need to do more to encourage people who can work to do so. It is not just about the economy – working can help people improve mental health conditions, improve physical health and learn essential life skills.
    It is all connected – economy, natural environment, people. If one fails they damage the others

  31. Geogia says:

    The goverment are not bothered about anyone but them selves……More council housing shou;d be built……but even if they are built people will struggle to pay the rent…… Most people are on minimum wage…. When council tax, rent,water rates, heating, are deducted they havent enought left for any thing else…… Renting has got out of control and should of been capped ages ago and Covents should of been put on the right to buy schemes to stop sell for profits, and giving others a chance to get on the property ladder as 60k is a life times savings for many people….as not everybody has a luxery job and 60k wont buy anything in many places now

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