The UK government could save a fortune off the costs of homelessness – if only it invested in building more social and affordable homes.
A report this month, led by researchers from University College London (UCL), claims an estimated £1.5bn a year could be saved for the public purse by eliminating “substantial” costs related to homelessness.
That figure comes from reduced costs in a host of areas: Housing and other benefits, in health impacts, social, homeless and criminal justice services, in unemployment, and in children’s lost education – if homelessness was reduced to a “minimal level”.
Indeed, the report argues the £1.5bn is likely an under-estimate, as it does not include all the costs in these sectors, or wider beneficial impacts on economic growth, productivity and life chances.
Such a scale of saving is possible, the report claims, because the costs of homelessness in the UK, encompassing people in temporary accommodation and insecure or inadequate housing, as well as rough sleepers, are an estimated £6.5bn a year.
The savings estimate is based on the report’s proposal that government spending be gradually raised up to £5bn a year over the next five years or so (up from £1bn currently), to enable the building of 72,000 additional social/affordable homes a year.
Co-author professor Rosalind Raine, of UCL’s Applied Health Research, said: “The housing crisis impacts on individuals, families and communities directly and indirectly. It is possible to tackle the holy grail of improving everyone’s lives, with benefits accruing the fastest for the most vulnerable.
“Our report does not rely on polemic but on published data. This summarises the evidence on the health and wider social impacts, the economic costs and savings, and highlights exemplars of social and affordable housing which can feasibly be scaled nationally.”
The report was produced by a cross-disciplinary team from UCL, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, and it sets out the wider economic benefits of building more social and affordable housing.
This includes increased council, income and corporation tax revenue, and greater economic growth and productivity, as well as reductions in the extensive health and social costs associated with homelessness.
The report also spells out how its social and affordable housing targets could be met and highlights recent successful examples of affordable and sustainable housing that could be scaled nationally.
It argues that new housing should be a mix of social rent housing, partially discounted affordable housing, and dwellings to be sold or rented at full market value, both to subsidise the costs of the social housing and to “prevent ghettoisation”.
It notes that the bulk of new social and affordable dwellings would need to be provided by local authorities.
Image credit: sommart sombutwanitkul/Shutterstock
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