Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said even the most “Thatcher-worshipping” people want more social housing, as he acknowledged there is an “urgent” need for action.
The housing secretary warned that the “inadequacy” of many homes, and the “fragility and vulnerability” that people face in their daily lives, is “insupportable and indefensible”.
Speaking on Wednesday at a conference on social housing hosted by the charity Shelter, Mr Gove said there has been a “failure to ensure that there are homes which are genuinely affordable for all”.
“It’s urgent that we address the lack of social housing and the poor quality of social housing at this time,” he said.
“We’ve reached a situation for a variety of reasons where the number of people living in social housing, the availability of social housing, is simply inadequate for any notion of social justice or economic efficiency.
“The number of people who have been able to access ownership – to own their own home – in this country has been declining for years now.
“It’s a cause of concern for me as a Conservative because I believe that the aspiration to own one’s own home one day is a noble thing.”
Mr Gove said that while the number of homeowners has diminished, the number of social homes has not gone up – with people in private rented accommodation on the rise instead.
“The reason why that’s a problem for social justice and for economic efficiency is that we know that the quality of the private rented sector, the circumstances in which people find themselves, the inadequacy of so many of those homes, the fragility and vulnerability that so many people find in their daily lives as a result of that, is insupportable and indefensible,” he said.
“Of course, the majority of those in the private rented sector are provided by good landlords who provide a good service.
“But the cost even for those who are in the care and in the hands of good landlords, compared either to what they would be paying if they had a mortgage or what they’d be paying if they were in social housing, is again indefensible in many cases.
“It’s a function of broader supply questions, but it’s also a critical function of our failure to ensure that there are homes which are genuinely affordable for all, our failure to ensure that there are more social homes.”
Mr Gove said one of the “significant barriers” to homeownership is “acquiring capital over time”.
“If people are in the private rented sector paying the rents they are – particularly in our major cities – the ability to save to acquire… that capital for a deposit is vanishingly small,” he said.
“That is why even the most – how can I put it – Thatcher-worshipping, home ownership-fetishising, capital-accumulating members of this audience… you want more social housing.
“Because you want people to be in decent homes where they can pursue the jobs that they love and save one day for a home that they might want to call their own.”
He added: “The case for more social housing – the ‘why’ – I think is increasingly well-understood and has been made by Shelter for years now. But it’s an argument that has reached not just maturity, but urgency in our political debate.”
On how this might be achieved, Mr Gove suggested measures to use existing money more effectively and the liberation of Government-owned land for new social housing stock.