Before the outbreak of the COVID -19 pandemic, the UK was facing a major housing crisis, brought on by a nationwide housing shortage, soaring rents, local budget cuts and a steady and continuous fall in government funding since the 1980s. Years of underfunding has led to nearly 8.4 million people living in unaffordable or unsuitable homes. While the cost of solving this crisis may be high, the cost of allowing it to continue is far greater.

The pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our society and is forcing us to re-evaluate what’s most important. Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the rough sleeping figure increased by 141 percent from 2010 to 2019. Although many cities have been lauded for their “extraordinary efforts” in protecting the homeless during the lockdown, many now ask why it took a global health emergency for this to happen and what happens next?

What’s more, as COVID-19 cases have surged around the globe, so too have reported cases of domestic violence. There has been a spike in calls to domestic abuse helplines after a rise in the number of women and girls experiencing abuse at the hands of a partner or family member. Domestic abuse is a scourge in our society that has worsened during the lockdown. Providing suitable housing for spouses and children of domestic abuse should be a top priority.

As fears of future lockdowns enter the fray, we may begin to see an avalanche of evictions with more people on the streets and a continuing rise in domestic abuse. Clearly, significant long-term solutions are required to address a lack of funding and suitable, stable housing. This societal crisis needs addressing as a matter of urgency.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”

As soldiers, sailors, and airmen returned to Britain at the close of the ‘Great War’, they expected the world to be a better place, a safer and more secure society. Unfortunately, the UK was about to confront an entirely new beast and set of harsh economic challenges.

In 1918, the UK not only had to try and recover from the brutality and expense of the War but with a devastating pandemic – the Spanish Flu. The human and economic cost of the war had been enormous with over 700,000 deaths and 25% of its GDP spent on the war effort – the pandemic would take the lives of a further 228,000 Brits.

This was indeed a bleak backdrop for the returning military servicemen – many of whom were suffering from shellshock and conflict related injuries. The absolute priority for government was to provide a higher standard of living for them on their return and good quality housing for all under the campaign slogan ‘homes fit for heroes’.

However, after decades of underfunding and a largely emaciated labour force, the UK was facing a chronic housing shortage with limited means of resolve. Efforts by the government to construct 500,000 homes within three years under the 1919 Addison Act, fell short by a few hundred thousand - largely as a result of obstacles met by local authorities in accessing adequate labour and materials, and most importantly, finance.

Zoom forward 100 years…

In the present day, the UK is facing a housing crisis which requires the biggest social housing drive in our history to rescue hundreds of thousands of people from a future in dangerous, overcrowded or unsuitable homes.

In October 2018, the government announced a pledge - reminiscent of the Addison Act - targeting the construction of 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s - with a long-term objective of building three million homes by 2040. This national commitment came as a response to a significant shortfall in suitable housing and a mismatch between social housing supply and demand.

Coronavirus = the perfect storm

As we face the unprecedented challenge of a global health emergency, it’s clear that the Government, indeed any government, will struggle to meet this target without the additional support from the private sector.

The fact that fewer homes will be built this year compounds the problems. Shelter estimate there will be 84,000 fewer homes built this year after 116,000 construction jobs are lost, bringing the figure to 171,000 homes for 20/21.

This would mark the lowest number of social homes built in any year since WW2 and would be a devastating blow for the million plus households on social housing waiting lists.

To address this crisis, action is required in the form of institutional capital, deployed quickly to make an immediate impact in providing the right mix of suitable housing to support communities across the UK.

What is social housing and why is it important?

Tackling the housing shortage is not simply a matter of constructing new buildings but providing the right mix of suitable housing to support a range of demographics and communities.

Social housing refers to the provision of wholly or partially funded state supported housing with or without additional care requirements. For example, specially adapted accommodation for those on the autistic spectrum. Outside of the care provision category are a range of groups that have faced significant pressure since the outbreak of the pandemic. Social housing also extends to the provision of housing for the homeless, asylum seekers and those fleeing domestic abuse situations.

Each of these sectors and groups have their own respective challenges and funding requirements. But the central goal for all of us is to deliver better health and social outcomes for vulnerable children and adults from all backgrounds.

Help address a societal crisis

Institutional capital can be the key ingredient in addressing the social housing crisis, supporting positive long-term change. Institutional investors can create significant impact in providing capital to fund high-quality, sustainable properties that provide better outcomes for tenants.

Investing in social housing is an opportunity to make an immediate impact in supporting UK communities, whilst providing pension schemes with steady and sustainable income streams. In the coming months and years ahead, building homes for the increasing number of vulnerable within our society has to be a priority.

There are a number of managers managing social housing funds today, including Triple Point. Please do talk to your investment consultant or your in-house investment team today about the ways your pension scheme can genuinely help transform our society. Please help.

This article was written by Triple Point's Hal Briggs