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Independent review urges major rethink on social housing

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An independent review, commissioned by the government and published today (Tuesday 20 February), calls for urgent debate and major reforms to ensure social housing meets its aims.

The report, by Professor John Hills of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, concludes that while social housing plays a crucial role in the lives of nearly four million households, much more needs to be done to:

  • Increase the attention given to existing homes and current tenants;
  • Create a better income mix in areas dominated by social housing;
  • Address worklessness and support the livelihoods of tenants; and
  • Offer a wider range of choices to tenants and others in housing need, but without removing security of tenure.

Talking about his report, Ends and Means: The future roles of social housing in England|, Professor Hills said: 'Social housing - provided by councils or by housing associations - plays a crucial role in the lives of four million households. But the evidence is that we are not realising its full potential. We could do more to improve the service tenants receive and to widen the range of choice available. We tend to think of support with housing and support towards work in separate boxes - but often housing problems have their fundamental roots in people's weak position in the labour market. We need to do more to bring support for housing and work together.'

Welcoming the report, Communities and Local Government secretary Ruth Kelly said: 'A decade of investment in social housing has done a great deal to improve the quality of people's homes. Our priority is to build more social homes in the future. But the Hills review confronts us with other challenges - how can social housing be even better at achieving the twin goals of providing support to those who most need it while also equipping people to progress and get on with their lives. This report marks the start of that debate.'

The report examines how social housing - provided by councils and not-for-profit housing associations - performs against its key objectives. Findings include:


  • Rents have remained affordable and social housing has protected the budgets of nearly four million households, while house prices have doubled.

Quality and satisfaction:

  • The physical standard of the stock has improved fast in recent years, with disadvantaged households much more likely to be in 'decent homes' if they are social tenants than if they are private ones.
  • But trends in and levels of tenant satisfaction are disappointing: one in seven social tenants are dissatisfied with their local area and their accommodation; one in five with their landlord; and one in four with the standards of repair and maintenance.
  • Social tenants aged under 45 are much more likely to be unhappy with their homes than older tenants, or than private tenants of the same age.
  • Overall, space per person in housing nationally has improved, but social tenants have less space than others, and less than ten years ago.

Mixed communities:

  • Social housing could help provide mixed communities and prevent social polarisation between areas. But two-thirds of social housing is still in areas originally built as council estates, and for 25 years new tenants have come mainly from those in greatest need. 70 per cent of social tenants are now in the poorest two-fifths of the population, and half of social housing is in the most deprived fifth of areas.
  • In the areas originally built as estates in flats, more than a fifth of social tenants report drug users or dealers as a serious problem. 18 per cent of social tenants in these areas say that they feel unsafe alone even at home or outside in daylight, three times the national rate.


  • Low rents can help tenants get into work, because they reduce benefit traps. But more than half those of working age in social housing are without paid work, twice the national rate. Some of this reflects disadvantages such as disability or lack of qualifications, but even allowing for these, employment rates are low.
  • This is partly because those with the greatest needs are screened into social housing, but out of private housing. But it also reflects its location in particular areas, and the "strikingly low" rate of tenants' job-related house moves. Nationally, one in eight moves is job-related, but each year only a few thousand social tenants - out of nearly 4 million - succeed in moving within social housing (even within the same area) to get a job or to get nearer to one.

Mobility and the housing ladder:

  • Increasing pressures on the sector are making it even harder for tenants to move, as the supply of homes to relet to new tenants has fallen. In the 1980s and 1990s around 250,000 new households were able to enter the sector each year, but by 2005 this was down to 170,000.
  • One reason is that it is harder to compete to buy private housing. Ten years ago, fewer than 10 per cent of young first-time buyers had help from family and friends with a deposit. Now it is nearly half, and those who are helped can afford deposits that are £27,000 higher than others. The report warns that people whose parents and grand-parents are tenants will lose out, as housing wealth cascades from generation to generation of owners.

The report points to encouraging evidence from recent government reforms that have allowed people to make their own choices from a wider range of options. It suggests directions in which reform could be extended further, including:

  • Giving tenants more of a say in how their housing is run.
  • Encouraging social landlords to sell (or rent out commercially) property in some areas, heavily dominated by social housing, using the proceeds to buy property elsewhere.
  • Making sure that support for housing when people need it ties better with support to help get jobs.
  • Making it easier for social tenants to move home to get nearer to work.
  • Making more use of 'low cost home-ownership' options, including allowing tenants to build up a stake in the property in which they live.

Click here to download a summary of the report| (PDF)

Click here to download the full report| (PDF)



LSE press office:

Report author: John Hills, tel: 020 7955 7419; PA 020 7955 6562; j.hills@lse.ac.uk|


1. Launch
The report will be launched on Tuesday 20 February at 1pm for 1.10 pm in the London School of Economics and Political Science's Old Theatre (access via LSE's main entrance in Houghton Street) at an event at which Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, secretary of state for communities and local government will be speaking.

The event will be chaired by Howard Glennerster, emeritus professor of social policy at LSE. A panel of leading housing experts and practitioners will give reactions to the report, including:

  • Jenny Edwards, chief executive, Homelessness Link
  • Ed Mayo, chief executive, National Consumer Council
  • David Orr, chief executive, National Housing Federation
  • Joanne Roney, executive director (neighbourhoods and community care), Sheffield City Council
  • Jon Rouse, chief executive, Housing Corporation

For further information about the launch, contact Anna Tamas (020 7955 6562; a.tamas@lse.ac.uk|)

2. Terms of reference
The terms of reference for the study, commissioned in July 2006, were for Professor Hills to help the Secretary of State "stand back and ask what role social housing can play in 21st Century housing policy". Amongst other issues the report covers key questions raised by the terms of reference, in particular:

  • What can social housing do in helping create genuinely mixed communities?
  • Can the way we run it encourage social mobility and opportunities, including in the labour market, for people to get on in their lives?
  • Can social housing and other support be more responsive to changing needs and enable greater geographical mobility?
    The full terms of reference can be found in Annex A of the main report.

3. Report Author
John Hills is professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, and director of the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at LSE. His recent publications include Inequality and the State (Oxford, 2004) and A More Equal Society? New Labour, poverty, inequality and exclusion (co-editor, Policy Press, 2005). He was one of the three members of the Pensions Commission from 2003-2006.

Press cuttings

Yorkshire Post
Jayne Dowle: We need an alternative to home ownership (10 Aug 07)
In his recent report into the future of council housing, Professor John Hills, from the London School of Economics, said that the main focus of attention should be on how to link housing with employment.

Public Finance
Grasping the housing nettle
(20 March 07)
We are so used to reading articles in the press about housing that are really about house prices, that it is refreshing to look at the issue through the other end of the telescope. If Professor John Hills did nothing else, his report Ends and Means has certainly achieved that. Hills, a social policy professor at the London School of Economics, was invited to study the future of social housing eight months ago by Communities and Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly.

Public Finance
Comment - Grasping the housing nettle (2 March 07)
Article refers to Professor John Hills's recent report Ends and Means: the future roles of social housing in England.

The Guardian
Letters - The bigger picture
(28 Feb 07)
Alison Benjamin suggested that I did not think that providing new housing was an important challenge for the sector (An equitable answer? February 21). That is not so. While the appropriate level of new building was not the focus of my report, factors it highlighted, such as the drop of 80,000 in the number of new households able to enter social housing each year are a critical part of the context within which decisions are made. John Hills, professor, social policy, London School of Economics. 

Socialist Worker
Housing campaigners crank up heat on the government (27 Feb 07)
The government's housing strategy lurched further into crisis last week as tenants, local councillors, trade unionists and MPs came together in defence of council housing. The nationwide tenants' revolt comes as the government unveiled a report it commissioned into the future of social housing in England from Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics.

South London Press
MP says rent rise plan is poverty trap (27 Feb 07)

Public Finance
Social housing should give tenants broader choices (23 Feb 07)
An acute shortage of social housing is reducing tenants' mobility and failing to offer them an incentive to find work, says a government-commissioned review. While households that rent from councils and registered social landlords should retain security of tenure, they should be offered a wider range of choices, says Professor John Hills.

Birmingham Post
Housing a metaphor for social inequality (23 Feb 07)

The Journal
Put social houses in suburbs - professor (22 Feb 07)
Social housing should be created in middle class neighbourhoods to stop communities becoming polarised, a report by London School of Economics professor John Hills commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, said yesterday.

Plan to break up council estates
(21 Feb 07)
The plan to mix and match private and public housing was set out yesterday in a report into the future of council housing commissioned by the Department of Communities and Local Government. Its author, Professor John Hills, called for an end to the idea that towns should be planned with 'rich people on one side of the tracks and poorer people on the other side of the tracks'.

The Guardian
An equitable answer?
Social policy professor John Hills has been wrestling with how we can better use existing social housing to help the most vulnerable make the most of their lives. 

Daily Telegraph
'High earners should live on council estates'

Rich 'should buy in council estates'

We need to bulldoze bad council estates

Ic Wales
Thatcher was green

Kelly urged to shake up social housing

In the news
Kelly urged to shake up social housing

Gulf News
Shake-up to create 'mixed' communities

Birmingham Post
Rich and poor should live cheek by jowl

Channel 4 News
Professor John Hills was interviewed on the programme about his report, Ends and Means: The future roles of social housing in England. 

ITV News
Rich 'should buy in council estates' 

Sky News
Sink estates may be flattened


Radio 5 Live

BBC Radio Four World at One

The Times (20 February)
Councils may put time limit on tenants
Thousands of new council tenants would be able to rent their houses for only six months under radical proposals to overhaul social housing. The report is by John Hills, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, and was commissioned by Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities.

Evening Standard
Homes in London 'only for those who inherit them'

Future of council housing 

Hills' report calls for 'major reforms' in social housing sector

Inside Housing
Hills' review raises prospect of change

Council housing set for shake up (20 Feb 07)

BBC News Online
Housing plan set to be unveiled (20 Feb 07)
A report on the future of council housing is expected to recommend ways of creating more mixed communities to tackle inner-city deprivation. The government-commissioned review, by John Hills of the London School of Economics, aims to help prevent people becoming trapped living on estates.

Press Association Newsfile
Shake-up aims to offer new future for people on 'sink' estates (20 Feb 07)

Councils may put time limit on tenants (20 Feb 07)

Future of council housing (20 Feb 07)
A government-commissioned review of the future of council housing will be published today and could suggest that residents lose their right to life tenancies. The review has been led by John Hills from LSE and has been charged with finding ways to stop people from becoming trapped in council housing. 

20 February 2007