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“But what will Labour do differently?”

The general election is well underway. Across the country, thousands of Labour activists are speaking with voters and making the case for them to put their trust in us.

By all indicators, Britain is sick of fourteen years of Conservative failure. Only 15% of voters are satisfied with the government, and only 16% with Rishi Sunak’s record.

But we cannot take for granted the millions of voters intending to vote Labour, and need to reach out to the millions still who have not made up their minds. The need to make the case for a Labour government is greater than ever.

Voters may be sick of the Conservatives, but will still ask that crucial question: “what will Labour do differently?”

Housing is one of the sharpest dividing lines of this election. As the housing crisis intensifies it has risen up the list of voters’ priorities. It is an area where the Conservatives have most evidently failed, and where Labour has a clear plan.

Labour’s manifesto may well drop soon- this usually happens three weeks before an election. But, until then, how do we answer this question from voters?

Delivering the homes we need

Since the Second World War, the UK has failed to build 4.3 million homes compared to the average European country. Campaigns across the political spectrum recognise the need to build at least 300,000 a year to meet this backlog.

The Conservatives promised this at the last election, but repeatedly failed to deliver. They dropped a promised reform of the planning system to get Britain building, and scrapped their own housing target to appease their own backbenchers.

Meanwhile, a decade of austerity has hollowed out council planning departments, preventing them from making local plans to let communities have a say in what homes are built where. By accelerating the Right to Buy they sold off 113,000 council homes, while the number of households in temporary accommodation has soared to over 100,000.

Labour has a plan to undo these mistakes. With a sizeable majority, Labour will have the ability to reform the planning system to get Britian building, prioritising brownfield land to deliver 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament. By also reforming planning and slowing down the Right to Buy, Labour plans to deliver the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation.

This won’t just be a builders’ charter either. By recruiting 300 extra local planners, Labour will empower local communities to take back control of their local areas and have a say over what is built where. And Labour will ensure that Section 106 agreements by developers are met, so that essential schools, roads, and GP surgeries are delivered alongside the homes we need.

Key to this will be a fresh generation of New Towns, built with mandated principles behind them, of 40% affordable and social homes, community infrastructure, transport links, and beautiful design.

By delivering the homes the country needs, Labour will put in the cornerstone to tackling the housing crisis.

Ending exploitation in the private rental sector and leasehold

The housing shortage has enabled bad actors in the private rental sector to abuse their power. While rents skyrocket, tenants are forced into overcrowded, poor-quality accommodation, often with the threat of eviction if they ask for even the slightest improvements.

The Conservatives came to power with a crystal-clear commitment to strengthen renters’ rights, and even introduced legislation in 2021 to do so. But the chaos of three prime ministers and sixhousing ministers, and the opposition of a hardcore lobby of landlord MPs have obstructed progress, and so Rishi Sunak failed to get this bill passed into law.

Not only will Labour strengthen protections for renters, but they will go further to ensure that they have the stability they deserve. A Labour government will end Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, ensure that reported hazards in private rented homes are investigated within 14 days, and outlaw rental bidding wars.

Similarly, the Conservatives promised to reform the feudal practice of leasehold, to protect leaseholders from exploitative service charges and unfair practice. But, once again, this was watered down. A Labour government will pick up their mess by implementing the thorough recommendations for reform presented by the Law Commission.

Better and warmer homes

The UK has some of the oldest housing stock and least energy efficient homes in Europe. As a result, residents pay more for less, with higher energy bills, colder homes, and health risks from damp and mould, while heating our buildings also comprises 14% of our carbon emissions.  

Improving the quality of our homes will improve lives, tackle climate change and make the UK less reliant on oil-rich dictators like Vladimir Putin.

But Rishi Sunak has failed to take the necessary steps to improve home quality. Not only did he scrap the UK’s Energy Efficiency Taskforce as a political stunt, but his Great British Insulation Scheme, designed to insulate 300,000 homes by 2026, has so far only helped 7,720 households.  

Labour has a clear plan to improve home quality for the millions impacted by our poor-quality stock. A Labour government will introduce a ‘Decent Homes Standard 2’ for the private rental sector, after the first iteration by the Blair government improved lives for millions of renters. Meanwhile, a Warm Homes Plan will insulate 5 million homes by 2030, bringing them up to a minimum EPC C rating.

Reasons for hope

Fourteen years of Conservative housing failure have left the whole country footing the bill. But a Labour government with the energy and passion for change can put a stop to this. The party has a clear plan to deliver the homes we need, improve the ones we have, and protect from exploitation those at the sharpest end of the housing crisis.

“What will Labour do differently?” In housing, a hell of a lot.   

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The promise of New Towns

A new generation of New Towns – tree-lined and with character rooted in local history! Angela Rayner outlined Labour’s ambitions at a UK housing conference in Leeds yesterday. The announcement adds more detail to the headline-grabbing New Towns plan unveiled at the Labour Conference in October 2023.

Housing campaigners have been delighted to see Labour’s priority for tackling the severe shortage of homes in England, but there have been some words of caution from economists on the lessons to be learnt from previous New Towns.

Rayner set out a robust code for Labour’s proposed New Towns with six principles. The boldest is a gold standard of 40% social and affordable housing. Another is a guarantee of public transport and public services such as GP surgeries. The code aims to overcome common objections to new developments with a focus on characterful buildings, incorporating local design, and access to nature and children’s play areas.

There has been some pushback from researchers who worry about the possible locations of New Towns. According to Ant Breach, Associate Director of the Centre for Cities, all “the easy fruit has been picked”. Breach emphasised that “you have to lean into the geography of the economy in Britain.” Others have pointed to the lack of delivery on new community infrastructure in more recent iterations of New Towns. Northstowe is one such example, where over 2,000 residents lack any shops, café or GP surgery.

New Towns such as Milton Keynes have been successful because they have close connections to vibrant existing economies. They attracted new residents with the promise of well-designed new communities with good transport links to job opportunities in nearby cities.

Some of the most successful New Towns are urban extensions to existing cities, such as Edinburgh’s New Town or Barcelona’s Eixample. Less successful New Towns have been poorly located with no such links to jobs nearby or there were already lots of local housing options already. Skelmersdale and Cumbernauld are often mentioned as New Towns that struggled to thrive for these exact reasons. The key is location, location, location.

New homes in Britain are difficult to build in part due to complex and lengthy planning processes. New Towns can help with that and may even help sidestep the political logjams that currently block homes. One motivation for New Towns is that Labour could get the best electoral outcomes by choosing deep rural locations with good rail connections, to avoid controversial measures in the more electorally challenging suburbs.

There are clear lessons from previous plans that New Towns need to be in the right locations and that delivery is a challenge. The Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and, Communities has limited resources, as does Homes England. It will be important to pick New Town sites that deliver the biggest social and economic benefits. Urban extensions of existing unaffordable towns and cities such as York, Oxford and Reading would be a great way to do this. Locations in areas where homes are more affordable, or less unaffordable, such as Nottingham or Stafford, offer less opportunity for land value capture to fund infrastructure and more social housing. Labour’s new commitment on New Towns is a bold proposal to build affordable, plentiful homes. A Labour Government must be focused on delivering homes at scale to tackle Britain’s housing crisis. New Towns can offer hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to have a home of their own. It can also unlock the economic potential of some of our most constrained cities, helping with housing, jobs and public services across the whole country. The key will be delivery at pace. I have confidence in Angela Rayner to do that.

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Can a Labour government build more homes without exacerbating climate breakdown?

By Paul Brannen, former MEP 2014-19

With 40 per cent of global climate emissions sourced from the built environment, a future Labour government will need to be alert to the danger that its welcome pledge to build 1.5 million homes could exacerbate climate breakdown. The good news is that the exact opposite is also possible: every desperately needed new home could also help address the climate crisis.

Why is the built environment such a major cause of climate breakdown? Concrete, steel, bricks and breeze blocks can only be manufactured using large amounts of energy, energy which is still predominately sourced from the burning of fossil fuels. Concrete is an acute problem because, as well as the energy needed, the manufacturing process of extracting the lime from the limestone triggers a chemical reaction resulting in the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. In fact, concrete is responsible for a staggering eight per cent of total global carbon emissions. Steel is almost as problematic but is partly redeemed by its high recycling rates. Currently, virtually everything we build has an unnecessarily large carbon footprint.

The CO2 emissions do not cease once construction is complete, as buildings in the UK typically need to be heated for more than half the year and, increasingly, cooled for the rest of the year due to warmer summers. Again, this is mainly done using energy sourced from fossil fuels.  In this case, the solution is much better insulation but, even our newbuilds use far greater energy than those in comparable countries.

[Global CO2 emissions by sector – source UN Environmental Global Status Report 2017]

[Global CO2 emissions by sector – source UN Environmental Global Status Report 2017]

Is there then a material out there that we could use as a substitute for concrete, steel, brick and block? Yes: Timber! Scotland, Canada, the USA and the Nordic countries build 80 per cent of their family homes with timber frames. But England builds less than 20 per cent. Does it matter? Yes. Timber’s carbon footprint is considerably lower than most construction materials, plus it also stores carbon – a virtue that will be of increasing importance in achieving net zero.

Recent developments with a material known as engineered timber (or mass timber in North America) mean that it is now possible to build at height and at scale with timber in urban settings. Labour-led Hackney Council, has the largest concentration of engineered timber buildings in the world – including flats, offices, a cinema and a church.

[Murray Grove, Hackney, London - the world’s first modern engineered timber tower at nine storeys, built in 2009, Waugh Thistleton Architects]

[Murray Grove, Hackney, London – the world’s first modern engineered timber tower at nine storeys, built in 2009, Waugh Thistleton Architects]

Professor Michael Ramage of the University of Cambridge calculated that erecting a 300-square-metre, four-storey student residence in wood generated only 126 tonnes of CO2 emissions. If it had been made with concrete the tally would have risen to 310 tonnes. If steel had been used emissions would have topped 498 tonnes. Indeed, the building can be viewed as “carbon negative” as there is the equivalent of 540 tonnes of CO2 stored in the wood, resulting in a long-term subtraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.

A switch to building more with wood rightly raises questions around the supply of sustainable timber, forests, biodiversity, land availability, fire risk and timber builds. I have set out to answer these questions  in detail in my forthcoming book Timber! How wood can help save the world from climate breakdown. Suffice to say the construction industry can provide answers to these questions.  

Hopefully a Labour government will be up for the switch to timber for the sake of the climate. If so, what should they do to encourage a greater use of timber in construction? Six specific steps should be promoted by an incoming Labour government:

1. Implement the Environmental Audit Committee’s proposal to legislate for mandatory whole-life carbon assessment of all new buildings, including the amount of stored carbon, as part of the planning permission process.

2. Set maximum standards for the carbon footprints of new builds and their energy use, which can then be tightened over time as we aim for net zero in 2050.

3. Incentivise the use of nature-based materials such as timber in construction, including insulation, in part by recognising that the storage of carbon in buildings is a climate benefit.

4. Facilitate education about the use of nature-based materials across the whole of the construction-value chain.

5. Increase the home-grown sustainable wood supply by increasing commercial forest planting.

6. Implement the current government’s 2023 Timber in Construction Roadmap which includes working with industry and academia to identify opportunities and barriers to the use of timber in retrofit and promote best practice and innovation by 2027.

Labour is right to state that there is no magic money tree. There is, however – when it comes to tackling climate breakdown – a magic timber tree. A Labour government can deliver the homes the country desperately needs, and at the same time turn the built environment into a carbon sink rather than a carbon emitter. A win-win for Labour, the country and the climate.

[There are 1,000 tonnes of carbon safely stored in the timber used to construct the new Founder’s Building at the University of Washington. This climate benefit was recognised, monetised and sold for $150,000].

[There are 1,000 tonnes of carbon safely stored in the timber used to construct the new Founder’s Building at the University of Washington. This climate benefit was recognised, monetised and sold for $150,000].


Timber! How wood can help save the world from climate breakdown will be published in June 2024 and can be pre-ordered

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Delivering 1.5m homes:  Why we need a diverse and competitive housebuilding industry

The UK has a huge backlog of housing need, with the effects of this rippling across our society.  Studies in 2018-19 suggested that there where over 4.75m households in need of suitable housing, with recent updates outlining the need for an additional 60-70,000 social rented homes per year, rising to 80-90,000 by 2030.  Beyond this, many argue that we should be adding 300,000 homes in total to our housing stock each year. This is something Labour are committed to, in the delivery of 1.5m additional homes over the next parliament.

But we need to wake-up to the scale of this change. Over the last five years we have added under 16,000 social rented homes a year across England, Scotland and Wales. Net additional homes in England have been below 250,000 for well over 20 years and new housing completions across the UK have not exceeded 300,000 per year for over four decades[1].

In sum, we are miles off Labour’s supply targets, and to get there would take a radical long-term approach far beyond the proposals presented so far.  Assuming the proposals around planning reform, land compensation and compulsory purchase, and the creation of new towns, all deliver significantly more land for development within five years – something we are justified in being sceptical about – one fundamental issue would remain. Who will produce these homes?

At present, over 40 per cent of new homes are built by just eight housebuilding firms, as the market share of SME developers has shrunk over several decades.  In contrast to Germany, where over 50 per cent of homes are self-build, or directly commissioned by future residents, the equivalent supply here in the UK is just 7 per cent.

This matters for a number of reasons. Firstly, to create 300,000 new homes a year we will need to ramp-up of delivery by lots of different producers, in order to meet the varied housing needs that exist.  Secondly, as explained in the recent Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) report on housebuilding, diversity of supply affects the speed at which homes are built-out, and therefore how fast you can add new supply. The greater the diversity of housing types, the quicker the market ‘absorbs’ them. Thirdly, as stated again by the CMA, the particular brand of speculative housebuilding we have in the UK is problematic, and not only in terms of the level of supply we get, but also in terms of its effect on prices and the extraction of value.  Value extraction through dividends and other shareholder returns represents lost investment, or more precisely, lost homes.  There are other factors that affect new supply, with the CMA at pains to stress the dysfunctions in our planning system, but far too often the nature of speculation in our housing system, and associated capital flows, are overlooked.

Over the past few decades, large UK housebuilders have changed markedly, particularly in terms of who owns them and how they are governed. The largest shareholdings in our big housebuilders are now largely held by global asset managers who, when studied, seem to extract more capital from these firms than they impart into the wider housing supply system. When we case studied one of the biggest shareholders in our PLC housebuilders we saw investments of £45m to support new housing production in a given year, but this was eclipsed by capital returns of £158m.

In our recent report, The Invisible Hand That Keeps On Taking, we showed that in 2005 the eight largest housebuilders paid out 16 per cent of pre-tax profits in dividends. This equated to just over £5,000 per home built. By 2022 their dividends were 47 per cent of profits, representing £22,000 per home. Dividends increased by 230 per cent in real terms, compared to new housing completions which rose just 23 per cent over the same time frame.  Dividends have been made possible by a long running period of ‘super-normal’ profitmaking, evidenced by the CMA’s analysis and our own research.  Whilst the claim is these super-normal profits are part of the ‘cyclical’ nature of housebuilding, and therefore just a feature of a boom period, we see that for twelve out of the last twenty years housebuilders have made super normal returns.  Only five of these years saw returns on capital below a ‘normal’ range.  We would argue that is a pretty favourable cycle, if indeed it is one. When we analyse changes in the costs per home built we see that this profitability has made possible, in part, by driving down land costs.

And herein lies the problem for Labour. Building 1.5m homes offers little time for slow market restructuring, to boost competition and production by different actors. And yet, reliance on the current market suggests completions will not rise at the rate required, largely because that would have a deflationary effect on the price of those homes, something which cannot be tolerated if your modus operandi is increasing margins rather than increasing volumes. 

So, what can be done?  Firstly, Labour should reorientate itself to targets on affordable homes, focusing its efforts on policy responses which boost affordable supply. If we cannot borrow more to increase funding for more affordable homes (as per the fiscal rules) then this should be achieved through targeted taxation or by capturing value elsewhere to reinvest.  Here it is instructive to note that between 2016-21, the UK government allocated £9bn in affordable housing grants in England, to create tens of thousands of new affordable homes. Over same period, the dividends of the eight biggest housebuilders equated to £11bn. And so just the dividend payments of a few companies exceeded government expenditure on affordable housing grants, and this does not factor in the other means of returning capital to shareholders that such companies engage in.

If there is surplus in this system, then it needs to be directed toward increased supply, or captured for the public purse to then be redirected.  Forms of taxation, and conditioning public funding and support for housebuilders, are just two means to do this.  If you are benefiting from public subsidy – for instance where a housebuilder is building homes funded with affordable housing grants – then you should adhere to certain requirements on the reinvestment of surpluses. If we can levy charges on housebuilders to remediate fire-safety issues, then perhaps we should be levying charges to help address critical housing need.

Beyond private housebuilding, there is much that can be done in policy terms to incentivise development by small and medium builders, self-builders, and community-led housing groups.  This could include incentives in the planning system, making better use of exception site policies, and creating presumptions in favour of these types of development.  Labour has had very little to say on this to-date, and it’s time to dedicate some proper policy attention to this issue, which can help us diversify the production system.

The hope is that in the rush to increase housing supply, we do not deepen the dysfunctions within our housebuilding system further, and instead we play the long game to radically shift who builds, and therefore who benefits.


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What’s holding back estate regeneration? Personal reflections and hopes for joined-up policy

I don’t know exactly when it started to set in, this pessimism about housing I’ve had lately.

If I had to put a date on it I’d say 2021, probably the summer, when I was working as a Housing Operations Manager, responsible for thousands of residents’ homes across different estates and schemes across London. I knew our plans for the renovation of 1940s walk-up blocks were held back again by failure demand, due to the mounting backlog of routine and emergency repairs to our homes and estates which stripped away our allocated maintenance routine and planned budgets. Inflation, to my eye mysteriously low until now at a headline level, could also go up at any time.

The Office for National Statistics Housing Construction output prices indices shows that between June 2018 and June 2020 the cost of housing repairs and maintenance rose from 104.8% of 2015 prices to 106.9%. Between June 2020 and June 2021,  it rose to 109.3%. Thereafter, the index spiked sharply, peaking at 120%) where it has stayed since. Our economic circumstances in housing and homelessness are now vastly different, just like those early Covid-predictions.

From my viewpoint, financial instability, deprivation and lack of clear national direction were already biting local communities, holding back housing reinvestment and regeneration and stressing our social housing workforce.

The national headlines about an exponential rise infood bank and emergency food relief usage were played out in the real world in front of our eyes as residents set up or expanded food banks and emergency food delivery schemes, which we supported financially and with our own system of well-being calls and free food deliveries for those who needed help.

While this was ongoing,  the pressure on our finances began to tighten with soaring maintenance and repair costs, cross-subsidy demands for new building, loan repayments, while our income was restricted by rent freezes, capped increases and constricting credit systems that usually serviced a 100,000 unit housing association smoothly but were starting to tighten as interest rates began to rise.

This meant residents and some frontline housing workers – many living in social housing themselves – were not only living through a pandemic but also an outbreak of delayed and broken promises of home and estate improvements.

Across the country, we knew from forums and Inside Housing, some of the most alert housing associations were scrambling to adapt to a new post-pandemic future – they didn’t expect much yet from the government given how little they were used to being guided on housing management since de-regulation after 2011 and 2015!

When Covid started looking serious in early 2020, we’d been so relieved both for our residents, and as a team,  that the first phase of the renovation plans were completed, not knowing how long or severe the disruption to housing services would be. Never had the phrase “fix the roof while the sun is shining” had so much relevance when storm clouds were gathering around again. 

This was work for me, but it was personal as well. As we discussed in the neighbourhood office every day, long-term plans for individual homes and whole neighbourhoods underpinned thousands of people’s lives. People who I quickly learned from doorstep conversations, in meetings and by email frankly didn’t care much about what their social landlord thought. As long as they could get on in life with their lives, education, work, personal challenges, life plans – they were happy to leave their social landlord to competently operate in the local economy and manage their home and neighbourhood in partnership with the council, social services, police, faith and charity groups.

Trust was fragile, and there’d been very little of it in the area when in autumn 2018 I was first set a very stretching target of implementing plans rapidly developed with residents to rebuilding trust with the residents’ associations and residents of several estates, all told it would amount to around 3,000 homes.

I was determined to rebuild that trust with my team and colleagues, by driving rapid improvements to estate reinvestment and regeneration locally, improving routine maintenance and delivering neighbourhood communication for the age of social media, enabling people to live in their homes without the need to chase their landlord or complain.

Trust needed constant work with a section of residents, many with lived experience of homelessness, with bad experience with private landlords or insecure housing in the past, as we understood from speaking with them.

From the many personal conversations I had with residents on the doorstep and in meetings, emails, Twitter and newsletter feedback received to our dedicated inboxes between 2017 and 2022, I also knew that some also felt that delay and disappointment from their social landlord meant they were reliving their own journeys of the insecure private housing, being asked to leave or being evicted and then approaching hard-pressed local authority housing departments, only to be advised of long queues to be offered the chance to bid on precious social housing flats. 

As a trainee, in constant dialogue with the residents’ associations and local Labour councillors, I’d drawn estate reinvestment plans for each of the big estates with an assembled taskforce of senior colleagues. 

These had focused on the basics, first cleaning and antisocial behaviour, then security and safety for the day-to-day challenges people faced: including stronger communal doors, new lifts, better lighting, roof repairs, water pumps. These plans were formed only in late 2018 in answer to and with residents’ associations and the local councillors, and were delivered just in time for the end of 2019/20. The next phase would focus on warmth, decency and efficiency: new heating and energy systems including heat pumps, more efficient boilers, solar panels (several residents’ associations had declared climate emergencies and were discussing community energy schemes), and communal cleaning. 

Now I felt sick speaking to my colleagues in the Repairs, Reinvestment, Neighbourhoods Department, as we looked at the plans for 2021/22 and realised how difficult it would be to deliver them. Inflation, already bad after 2016, was going south on ‘specialist’ parts for lifts, door entry systems and for window frames, certain heating system parts. Wages were increasing too. The cost of some maintenance projects had doubled, due to contractors being unwilling or unable to deliver work – they had plenty of quotes themselves. Even with an in-house contractor the same issues with materials and wages arose rapidly, and even our in-house team and trusted suppliers were unable to keep up by summer 2021.

The quotes we’d shared for full transparency with the residents’ associations would now be just promises we’d made standing up in front of a room of residents, that we’d written down and sent to our local councillors. 

Should I have felt so ashamed and angry about the prospect of my organisation, which I was proud to be the local face of for many residents, being unable to deliver everything we’d promised? 

Well, reflecting on it, the picture was more complicated. After all, successive Conservative Governments had caused a great degree of this instability, successive rent freezes and rent caps and with price shocks, material shortages, distortions in the skills and labour market, meaning that Maintenance and Planned Reinvestment and Regeneration budgets, often possible to squish together in the process of cutting them to meet straitened income was increasingly stretched or disappeared to build new homes, service debts or deal with other more pressing issues, especially fire safety checks and works.

Looking back, I can see from a policy perspective what I knew from a personal conversation with a resident talking to their housing teamthat each disappointment of a delayed repair, each broken promise to fix up their estates communal parts and gardens could seem to compound their history of bad experiences in their homes and with local public services.

But it felt like a betrayal, and we would do all we could to put it right. In the end we delivered almost everything in those neighbourhoods, a little late, to everyone’s relief by the Summer of 2022. But only after some very difficult financial decisions, including rearranging funding allocated to other high need, high priority neighbourhoods, and some brave communication with residents and their associations.

We kicked so many things down the road that residents told us would be needed which we could confirm from our stock data, and which I know will still be needed now.  Not least the local employment scheme, the solar panels, the heat pumps and the fundamental renovation of the fabric of estates and, where the residents and data pointed us, regeneration, things that my predecessors and colleagues had felt forced to push into the far future due to funding pressures and constantly changing political priorities. This showed the Conservative illiteracy of the basics of how social housing ‘worked’ on the ground.

We were far from perfect as a social housing provider, and we welcomed the new Social Housing Regulatory Regime that the Conservatives finally realised was needed, after scrapping consumer standards as a neo-liberal, austerity experiment, and yet we did try to keep up with everything and deliver new homes to boot.

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How we talk about homes matters

Knowing how to communicate effectively and having the right framing strategies at our fingertips can help us win support for new affordable and decent homes. In this article, Natalie Tate, Project Lead for Talking about Housing at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, presents the toolkit recommendations developed by FrameWorks UK with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation. Using these recommendations to help us talk about our homes will build support for solutions among the public and with stakeholder audiences, such as local branches and planning committees.

 The way campaigners and communicators talk about homes matters. We need to build support from the public for the changes that are necessary in our housing system. 

A proven framing strategy is available to anyone who wants to make the most of their voice when they’re talking to the public. It can help you tell a story that shifts thinking towards seeing homes as the foundation of a decent life. The recommendations are based on evidence – tested and verified through rigorous research and analysis by FrameWorks UK. This included interviews, survey experiments with a nationally representative sample, and peer-discourse sessions (a type of focus group). In total, over 7,000 people from across the UK were included in this research. You can learn more about the research and methods here.

People in the UK recognise the housing crisis. Even if they’re not experiencing the lack of decent affordable homes themselves, many people know someone who is negatively impacted, and it’s an issue that’s widely reported in the media.

So, what’s getting in the way of action? Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation teamed up with FrameWorks UK to understand how people in the UK think about homes – what mindsets are acting as obstacles to progress, and how we can prime more helpful ways of thinking by making choices about how we frame our communications.

We’ve been working together to reveal and share the best ways to frame our communications about homes, in ways that diminish fatalism, build understanding and activate a ‘can-do’ attitude.

How people think about homes

To persuade people that everyone can and should have a decent, affordable home, we must shift the dominant narrative away from property and wealth. Instead we need to move people to thinking immediately and primarily about homes as benefitting our mental and physical health, providing the foundation that we all need to thrive in our lives.

One of the big challenges we face as communicators is that although people see there’s unequal access to homes and that poor quality exists, they don’t know why these problems have come about and therefore they can’t picture how, or even if, they could be fixed. It’s our job is to build efficacy by explaining solutions, as well as helping people understand how we got here and who needs to take responsibility.

By using the right framing, we can help people to believe that change is possible and that it is worth calling for, moving them away from thinking that the problem is simply too big, or the system is too complicated to redesign.

Our recommendations to shift mindsets

Our top tips and examples for writing and talking about homes are:

  • Talk about homes as a source of health and wellbeing to build understanding of why access to decent and affordable homes matters.
    e.g. ‘Our homes are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. If our homes are poorly maintained, with problems like damp and mould, it’s putting our physical health at risk, as well as weighing us down with stress and worry.’
  • Describe homes as the ‘foundation’ for people’s lives, as an effective way to build understanding that decent quality homes are essential for us all.
    e.g.:New social rent homes will provide a firm foundation for families living in Swansea.’
  • Invoke people’s sense of moral responsibility to build collective concern and make the case for making decent and affordable housing available to everyone.
    e.g.:‘As a caring and responsible society, we need to do the right thing and make sure that everyone has a decent home they can afford.’

Using these evidence-led framing principles to communicate about decent and affordable homes will help us to all have more impactful, productive conversations, whether that’s when we’re talking to a public audience in our work or to our friends and family.

Find out more

The Nationwide Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and FrameWorks UK want to enable anyone with a passion for improving our housing system to play their part in changing the narrative and building deeper public support for systemic solutions. We’ve created a suite of helpful and easy to use resources that can support anyone who wants to talk about homes in a way that’s proven to work.

The Talking about Housing project is co-funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation, in partnership with FrameWorks UK. Natalie Tate is the strategic project lead, supporting voices advocating for the availability of more decent and affordable homes to apply the framing recommendations in their work.

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Labour’s London Assembly achievements and what winning a majority could mean

Housing is one of the biggest challenges facing Londoners. Keeping housing affordable, especially in the face of the Government’s cost of living crisis, has been one of the biggest priorities of Labour at the London Assembly.

Red Brick readers will know better than anyone the outcomes that come from the perfect storm of low supply, high demand, few protections of renters, recent hikes in interest rates and a decade of Government policy that has been dedicated more to keeping developers and landlords happy rather than providing housing.

London Assembly Labour’s work is helping protect our city from the damage the Government has done to the rest of the country.

While the Mayor has been delivering London’s Affordable Housing Programme, along with other crucial measures like the Council Homes Acquisition Programme, funding for domestic abuse shelters and emergency homelessness support, Labour Assembly Members’ campaigns have focused on what the Government in Westminster needs to do to support Londoners.

Particularly, we’ve seen wins on our campaign to raise Local Housing Allowance (LHA). Until last year, LHA rates had been frozen since April 2020 at 2019 levels – meaning that they would cover the cheapest third of homes in a local area as it was calculated based on the 2018/19 rental market. The huge jumps in rent since then were ignored by the Government, meaning that those claiming Local Housing Allowance were sometimes priced out of up to 98% of homes in an area – or had to cross-subsidise from the other meagre benefits they were entitled to.

Along with my London Assembly Labour colleagues, I campaigned for this to be raised – seeing the rate returned to a third of the market price. By putting pressure on the Secretary of State, along with raising the profile of those with lived experience of Local Housing Allowance, we were able to make sure that the Government weren’t able to ignore the issue.

The Government didn’t build in annual revaluations of LHA, so we know that this will need re-raising in coming years, but, hopefully, for now, this change will provide some much-needed respite for some of our city’s most vulnerable.

We’re the largest party on the Assembly, supporting the Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, but we don’t have a majority.

On 2nd May, our hope is to win more seats on the Assembly to build support for some of the most urgent housing issues facing our city.

Firstly, we must tackle the crisis in temporary accommodation. We know that councils spend £90 million every month on temporary accommodation – a 40% increase from the year before. Although there are some good temporary accommodation providers, we know many Londoners are forced into insanitary, overcrowded, and hazardous living conditions.

We know that everyone in temporary accommodation would rather not be there. They often end up in this crisis by being asked to leave informal situations – “sofa surfing” with friends or family – where they can no longer be accommodated, or private tenancies coming to an end (increasingly through Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions). Sadly, 64% of those in temporary accommodation are families with children. For many of those, the problems with the private rented sector and an under-supply of council housing means they are in temporary accommodation for months if not years.

This is the outcome of several years of failure: council underfunding, decades of right to buy meaning that the council houses were privatised without being replaced, low overall housing stock meaning that the cost of temporary accommodation is going up, and few rights for renters meaning that those in precarious situations are much more vulnerable than they need to have been. Our capital is seeing some of the worst temporary accommodation pressures, so London Assembly Labour won’t let the Government continue to ignore this problem.

Secondly, Sadiq Khan and London’s Government are focusing on council housing and affordable rent in the next stage of the Affordable Housing Programme – with the first stage seeing more homes for purchase built. Readers may have seen his pledge to build 40,000 council homes by 2030. Seeing how urgent the situation has become, this will also be coupled with schemes like the Council Homes Acquisition Programme that will subsidise councils to buy homes in their areas for their housing stock. We’ll make sure that the Tories in City Hall don’t cause problems for this programme, which we know will change lives.

Finally, we know that as a result of the crisis in supply chains stemming from the 2022 mini budget, labour costs and materials prices have slowed down construction across the country. In London, we risk housebuilding grinding to a halt it the Government doesn’t step up the funding for the Affordable Housing Programme. They are the ones who got us into this mess – we cannot have a generation of Londoners missing out on affordable housing as a result. Labour in City Hall make sure that the Government doesn’t oversee these problems getting worse and instead properly funds housing in London.

London’s housing crisis has been decades in the making, and it will take ambition from local, regional and national governments to address it. London Assembly Labour is just one piece of this puzzle, but we’re an impactful one – and we’ll make sure that our housing crisis doesn’t get worse for the next generation of Londoners.

Blog Post Event

From promises to delivery – making Labour’s housing goals a reality

One of Labour’s most significant pledges ahead of the next general election is a promise to build 1.5 million homes over the next parliament. Doing so would go a significant way to tackling the housing crisis, particularly if such a level of construction were maintained in the long term.

However, this will be particularly difficult to do given the spending constraints which the party is also promising to maintain. At the recent Mais lecture, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves promised to only borrow to invest, and to maintain the Conservatives’ fiscal rule of ensuring that debt was on a track to fall after five years.

Speaking at Labour Housing Group’s 2024 Annual General Meeting, Toby Lloyd presented a roadmap for how this might be achieved. Toby is an independent housing consultant, formerly Head of Policy at Shelter, and advised the May government on housing issues, with previous experience as a policy advisor for local councils, housing associations, developers, and the Mayor of London.

Toby’s presentation covered a number of key themes on how Labour’s housing promises could be delivered while maintaining their fiscal rules:

Making the existing system work:

The 1.5 million home goal is ambitious – the last time that this was achieved in a five-year period was from 1968 – 1973. While tinkering with elements such as the planning system may be helpful, relying solely on this, or on any other tweak will get in the way of the need to deliver – a Labour Government will need to hit the ground running and work with the system as it is, at the same time as initiating more fundamental reform.

Ensuring committed money is spent:

Eye-catching sums of money committed for unlocking or building new housing have recently been returned to the Treasury. These include two thirds of the £4.2bn earmarked for the Housing Infrastructure Fund, and £255m allocated to building affordable homes.  

Part of the reason that these funds have not been spent is inflexibility on the Treasury’s part – rules set by them in how the money can be spent mean that inflation and viability changes can quickly scupper a project. Adding flexibility into how these funds are spent will not only unlock this money, but will be crucial to ensure that future pots does not face the same issues.

Encouraging diversity in housebuilding:

Part of accepting the reality of the existing situation is realising that private sector developers will continue to deliver the overwhelming majority of homes for the foreseeable future. However, with the market as weak as it currently is and land values likely to fall, there is less incentive for developers to build, rather than to withhold their land supply.

In the short run there will be opportunities to acquire stalled private schemes and convert them into affordable homes, while in the longer term decent funding social housebuilding will be a key to restoring diversity to the sector, so that councils, housing associations, small builders and community groups can all contribute. Not only will this be crucial for providing homes for those facing the most acute housing need and driving up quality, it also will help make the whole development system less vulnerable to market cycles and so raise overall housing supply.

Strategic planning:

While tinkering with the planning system will do limited good in the short term, reasserting the proactive state role in shaping the development system will be crucial to achieving the 1.5 million homes goal.

Key to this will be reinvigorating spatial planning, which the state has taken largely abandoned over the last 14 years. Implementing a national spatial plan which clearly identifies the locations for strategic growth, and delivering this in partnership with regional and local stakeholders, would give a greater degree of purpose to the planning system.

This will be particularly important for the delivery of New Towns, best devised as extensions to existing settlements such as the new Cambridge Urban Quarter. In order to deliver these, Development Corporations with Compulsory Purchase powers will be needed to ensure that land is acquired for a fair price.

Improving existing stock:

While building new homes is key, the number of existing dwellings which fail to meet quality and safety standards is a crisis in itself.

Funding is needed for a ‘Decent Homes Programme 2’, to upgrade existing stock to current energy efficiency and safety standards. This will have significant savings down the line from lower energy bills, improved health outcomes for residents, and a decrease in major safety risks.

However, the UK’s definition of fiscal debt is unusual in including the debt of public corporations, including councils borrowing to invest in housing stock. Changing the measure of public debt used for fiscal rules to exclude this ‘public corporation’ borrowing would remove incentives for the Treasury and local authorities to ignore this pressing need.


After his presentation, Toby answered several questions from Labour Housing Group members on a variety of topics including siloed thinking in government, ending homelessness, ensuring that homes with planning permission are built, and empty homes.

We are grateful to Toby for speaking at the AGM, and look forward to working with him further.

Blog Post

A Tenants’ Manifesto

Our leader, Keir Starmer, has vowed to enable communities to take control. This got me thinking about how we make this a reality for social housing tenants.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy and the death of Awaab Ishak have highlighted why it is critical that tenants have an effective voice. The responsible organisations, Kensington and Chelsea ALMO[1] and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing Association had tenants’ representatives on their boards. The problem was that they could not affect the culture and practices of these organisations.

The challenge is captured in the introductory paragraph of the London Tenants Federation (LTF) 2021 Tenants’ Manifesto.

As social housing tenants, we and our homes are often written about by government ministers, journalists, think-tanks, charity policy teams, architects and academics. Some portrayals are sympathetic to us, but many are not.

The vast majority of these ‘experts’ have no experience of living in social housing. It is essential for us that a strong and articulate social housing tenants’ voice is heard in respect of the decisions made about our homes and communities.

In 2016 the Conservative Government drove the Housing and Planning Act through Parliament with next to no engagement with tenants. I cannot imagine a government passing legislation affecting the private sector without consulting with lobbying organisations. The outcome was that the Act was passed, but was not enacted, because the in-coming Prime Minister, Theresa May, realised that it would cause too much hardship.

The reason that social housing tenants are disempowered is due to class. Most social housing tenants are working class, however there is also the sadly familiar intersection with other forms of discrimination.

The starting point of tenant empowerment and even more importantly improving the living conditions and safety of tenants, must be adequate funding for social housing. Councils and housing associations have been systematically underfunded for decades. Most councils are now reporting that they do not have sufficient funding to make their ageing stock liveable and safe. Social housing tenants have experience of making ‘tough decisions’ about priorities in their personal lives and this is an expertise that they bring to decision-making. However, it is unfair to expect tenants to serve on boards and take on legal and moral responsibility for housing that is insufficiently funded to be safe.

A tenants’ voice

Tenants either know best or a very least can bring a helpful insight. They need a voice at a local, regional and national level. Active tenants make a difference. I can walk onto a housing estate and tell from the standard of cleaning and communal repairs whether it is benefitting from an active tenants’ association. I marvel at the varied mutual aid initiatives that happen on many estates.

Effective empowerment requires training and support for both the unpaid, tenants, and paid, officers. Those being paid may need training to help leave behind negative stereotypes and to support them to deliver the outcome that tenants desire. Tenants also need support to engage effectively. We need to acknowledge that open democracy can bring to the fore difficult people, whose bad behaviour, if not effectively challenged, will alienate others. Tenant engagement is risky, the biggest risk is that there is no outcome from the consultation and that those who got involved are never seen again and their experience of powerlessness is reinforced.

The 2023 Regulation of Social Housing Act gives individual tenants new rights as customers but is weak on collective rights. When the Social Housing Regulator finds its stride, it should require housing providers to demonstrate that tenant engagement has made a tangible difference to the way services are delivered. The same criteria should be applied to funding applications to build new homes. Why should we be funding organisations who are not managing their existing homes well to build more homes?

A tenants’ levy

Councils, ALMOs and housing associations fund landlord lobbying organisations, but there are no parallel, equally well-funded, bodies for tenants. Landlord organisations may encourage collaboration with tenants’ groups on issues of mutual interest, such as increasing the supply of social housing, but there is little evidence of engagement on issues where tenants may have a dissenting voice, such as the CEO’s salary. Landlords should look again at the fairness of this arrangement. Also, a tenants’ levy of say a penny on the rent each week by every housing provider could help fund independent tenant activism.

Neighbourhood management

Tenant empowerment presents the greatest challenge for the largest and most geographically dispersed housing associations. Many areas have several social housing providers operating within them. I live on the eastern side of the Old Kent Road in Bermondsey, South London. We have a concentration of ageing, under-invested in social housing. Landlords include Southwark Council, City of London Corporation, Peabody and Hexagon. Problems on one estate spill over on to others. What we desperately need is a coordinated approach to investment, management and support for our community. My proposal is that diverse social housing providers devolve responsibility and funding for housing management to a new local and democratically controlled neighbourhood management organisation, whilst retaining ownership. This would allow councils and housing associations to use their assets to build new affordable homes, whilst management would become local and better.

These neighbourhood management organisations, would have a board of elected tenants, operate in urban areas where there is a high density of social housing and cover around 2,000 homes. Funding would be provided by existing housing providers contributing what they currently spend on housing management and maintenance into the neighbourhood pot.

Tenants Empowerment Grant

Up until 2010 there was a Tenants Empowerment Grant (TEG) of around £1m per year in England. It was slashed by the Government in 2010 and then abolished in 2015.

TEG paid for the support and training that council tenants needed to exercise their Right to Manage. 140,000 council residents on 130 estates have taken on the direct management of their homes. Tenant Management Organisations (TMO) consistently achieve higher levels of tenant satisfaction than the rest of the council stock. Tenants’ groups that gain confidence managing their estates often undertake wider activities to support their community. TMOs must hold a formal continuation ballot every 5 years to test with their residents whether they are staying true to their principles and they retain tenants’ support. If a TMO fails to gain the support of its tenants the TMO folds and staff lose their jobs, this level of jeopardy has a profound and positive effect on the culture of the staff team.

Whilst the Right to Manage still exists, without funding for training few tenants’ groups have been able to exercise this right since 2010. As well as restoring the Right to Manage as a funded option for council tenants, the right should be extended to housing association tenants. As with a neighbourhood management organisation, housing associations would still retain the asset and the rental stream, minus a management and maintenance allowance, therefore their ability to build new homes will be unaffected.

TEG also paid for tenants to explore options short of full management control, For instance a group of tenants may be particularly aggrieved about estate cleaning standards and want to take it over.

National and Regional Tenants’ Lobbying Organisations

Just before the TEG was cut in 2010 moves were underway to create a body known as the National Tenant Voice to represent the interests of social housing tenants and be a sounding board for the government.

In 2022 the Government set up a rebranded Resident Opportunities and Empowerment Grant of £500,000 for partner organisations to bid to provide training, capacity building and independent advice. This is exactly one of the roles that a national, mass-membership, representative tenants-led organisation should be performing. Hopefully, when the current contract comes up for renewal there will be such an organisation in place.

The LTF argue for a tenant-led think tank to generate policy ideas, rather than just respond to the agenda of the government of the day.

With Labour committed to greater devolution to regional authorities, tenants’ representation at this level will become important. A model is provided by Sadiq Khan’s Housing Panel, in which representatives of Londoners at the sharp end of the housing crisis advise on housing policy.

Combined approach

There are different approaches that people can take to collectively improve their housing situation, tenant associations, tenants’ panels, TMOs, housing cooperatives and community land trusts. If funding exists, the funding streams are separate. There is an argument more joint working, lobbying and sharing of ideas will give tenant empowerment a higher profile.

Community Land Trusts and other community organisations are playing a vital role in encouraging support for new housing developments when local opposition may be an issue. Hopefully, the Labour Party will not lose the idea of transferring unsafe homes from the private sector into public and community ownership. During the 1970s, 80s and 90s tenant cooperatives demonstrated that they could restore rundown street properties in a cost-effective way.

Low cost-high impact

We all know that Labour will inherit the consequences of the Tories’ financial mismanagement. In the context of overall government expenditure the cost of the proposals outlined is small, however their adoption will demonstrate Labour’s commitment to empower some of the most voiceless citizens of this country.

For too long tenants’ voices have not been heard with devastating consequences, if we can win the next election, we have the chance to change this.

I want to apologise to participants in the 2019 London Tenants’ Federation and 2023 London LHG conferences, whose ideas I have stolen without crediting them. My theft would be too egregious if I do not mention Sharon Hayward, Pat Turnbull, Lee Page and Cllr. Mick O’Sullivan.

Andy Bates is a member of the LHG Executive. He has recently retired from full-time work after 40 years working in council housing. For 27 years he was manager of Leathermarket JMB, a TMO in Bermondsey, South London. He is now an associate for Community-Led Housing London and TPAS, a CIH tutor and board member of Wenlock Barn TMO.

[1] You may be more used to references to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). This is a name that the organisation gave itself. However it is an important principle that it is correctly referred to as an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO). Kensington and Chelsea own over 9,000 council homes. Every other TMO is much smaller, managing between 50 and 1,500 properties, with more direct resident involvement and scrutiny than was the case in Kensington and Chelsea. For a fuller explanation read Pete Apps’ excellent book Show Me The Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen

Blog Post

If Life is a Ladder, We are Letting 136,000 Young People Per Year Fall

Imagine the transition from childhood to adulthood as a ladder. At each point you reach out there are rungs of opportunity – housing, education, hobbies, employment, training, qualifications.

Imagine there are people at the top and bottom of the ladder – parents, family, teachers, friends, tutors, mentors, youth workers – helping you navigate the rungs, keeping you on track and encouraging you when you struggle. If you fall, there is a harness of state support to catch you.

Now imagine that these rungs of opportunity keep disappearing from your grasp and you face discrimination at every turn. Imagine that the people you relied on to help you keep leaving, or perhaps were never there in the first place.

The harness has broken; suddenly all you have is yourself and a ladder with no rungs.

This is the situation which many of our young people who are experiencing homeless find themselves in when they come to New Horizon Youth Centre.

Young people come to us looking for housing support to restore a desperately needed rung on their ladder (a step onto the housing ladder, you might say), but they stay to climb further into employment, education, and training. They stay to build their support networks of people who don’t give up on them.

But how do we make sure that young people never face those challenges in the first place? When 136,000 young people experiencing homelessness are turning to their councils each year, it shows us that way too many young people have broken ladders.

So, fixing this must be fast, radical, and really work. That is why over 130 charities across the UK are campaigning for a cross-departmental Government strategy to end youth homelessness: a #PlanForThe136k.

This collective knows what works when ending youth homelessness and they know how to help young people safely climb to the top. But to ensure no-one ever faces a broken ladder again, we need the Government to step up and make young people a priority.

Here are a couple of evidence-based solutions that could end youth homelessness for good:

Removing financial discrimination

When trying to climb up to decent employment and housing, young people find themselves entitled to a lower minimum wage, they receive less Universal Credit and are only eligible for shared housing allowance (which is less than what over 35s get).

We must stop assuming that all young people have a ‘bank of mum and dad’ to act as a harness, or that living in shared houses is safe and suitable for all.

When a young person becomes homeless due to financial pressures, such as we are currently facing in the cost-of-living crisis, they are not a priority in the Homelessness Reduction Act. So, their age means they are often blocked from getting homelessness support by local authorities. But with the existing discrimination to wages and housing benefits, it also means they can’t afford to live independently in their own homes.

We have to end financial discrimination and give young people fair wages, fair benefits and access decent financial support when they need it.

Creating the housing young people need

Let’s focus on creating the sort of housing that young people can benefit from. Because councils are so stretched, young people are usually not priority need for social housing, or even temporary accommodation. And on the rare occasion they are placed in temporary accommodation, it can be totally unsuitable.

Instead, charities are helping to fill some of this gap. They show how public, private, and voluntary sector partnerships can provide suitable, secure accommodation for young people that sustainably solves their homelessness.

We need these projects to be scaled up massively and available for all young people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

An example is St Basils who run a Live & Work Model accommodation project in the West Midlands for young people, to ensure they can safely climb up their ladder with rungs of housing and employment.

It looks like this:

  • St Basil’s Live & Work accommodation offers young people aged 18-25 the opportunity to access high-quality, low-cost stepping stone accommodation, which enables them to live and work, without the complexities of navigating the benefit system, for a settled period to save and extend their choice of next step accommodation.
  • Phase 1 which opened in 2015 comprised student style furnished flats at rents reduced to a level that enabled young apprentices to pay their rent and energy costs through their earned income. Since then, over 170 young people have lived in the scheme, all working and moving on when they have saved. None have claimed housing benefit.
  • Phase 2 has just finished providing a further 54 studio apartments for young workers at deflated rents.
  • The Live & Work accommodation is supportive rather than supported accommodation but St Basil’s on-site bespoke housing management staff will be on hand to provide guidance and to help them sustain their home.

“From St Basil’s perspective, the scheme extended our options for young people without family support, enabling them to benefit from similar opportunities to their contemporaries, who do have such support.

“In Phase 1, the young people were all overcoming difficult starts, some with multiple needs and all with the trauma of the underlying issues which lead to homelessness. None have returned as homeless.” St Basil’s CEO Jean Templeton.

This is just one example that shows that by making sure young people having living rents and living wages, we can help them safely climb their ladders.

Our campaign

Ending financial discrimination and expanding St Basil’s Live & Work model for housing are a couple of the vital solutions recommended by our campaign, #PlanForThe136k.

Our evidence-based strategy for ending youth homelessness is organised into three areas: prevention, housing and finance.

We are calling on political parties to adopt our strategy before the general election, so that the next Government is committed to making ending youth homelessness a priority.

You can get involved by signing and sharing our parliamentary petition calling for a cross-departmental strategy to end youth homelessness:

You can get involved by spreading awareness about the campaign and calling for the solutions within your party, with your colleagues in local councils and with your MP.

We can make it easier for young people to climb between childhood and adulthood. We can give them the support they need to thrive. We can prevent 136,000 young people becoming homeless. But we just need political will to do so.

Editor’s note: Anybody interested in this campaign can get in touch with Phil at [email protected]