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Policy report: why a house is more than just a roof above our heads

How to ensure we build out of this crisis—and prepare for the next
January 28, 2021

We’re spending almost all our time at home these days. With homes tripling up as offices and schoolrooms, each of us is counting our blessings (or our curses) regarding our living space. But the crisis provides a stark reminder that housing is also a societal issue. Cramped housing has surely fuelled infection spikes and the 2.5-fold gap in Covid mortality between the richest and poorest places in England. In the first wave great efforts were made to ensure nobody went unhoused, including offering rough sleepers hotels. The efforts seem weaker this time, and, as Thangam Debbonaire notes, some of those struggling in a locked-down economy could face eviction if the emergency ban is allowed to end in mid-February.

Yet, in truth, Covid-19 is intensifying problems that have built up over a generation—problems that every government since Gordon Brown’s has insisted are a priority. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick argues for building many more homes. Before the crisis, the gradual trend in housebuilding was indeed (somewhat) up from the pits of the Great Recession a decade ago. But regardless of what happens to the housing supply, emergency policies like quantitative easing could see cash slosh into the market, and keep prices high. If so, rent will be affected, while stuck or severed wages put deposits firmly out of reach. If we really want decent housing for all, we may need to build a new economic settlement—as well as a lot more homes.