Julie McLaren is Head of Society and Global Security at ESRC
Supporting robust evidence for UK housing policy and practice
Stories about housing are an almost daily feature in the UK newspapers: ‘Britain’s housing crisis is a human disaster’; ‘The Housing Market is Broken’; ‘Right-to-buy throws petrol on blazing housing crisis’.
There’s little doubt the challenges for UK housing are serious. There’s a fair amount of consensus around the fact that we’re not building enough affordable homes in the UK, and possibly not in the right places. Housing was at the centre of the recent financial crisis that impacted national economies around the world and it remains a big risk for the UK economy in terms of economic stability but also as a limiting factor in economic growth. Housing is also a key determinant of many other outcomes including education and learning, physical and mental health, employment, and safety and security.
So housing is a critical issue and it’s also a deeply political one, subject to the ebb and flow of political positions that move through Westminster and the devolved governments of the UK. This then highlights a further challenge; there is no such thing as ‘UK housing policy’, nor one area of professional practice with responsibility for housing, and the further devolution of powers to UK nations and regions – as we have seen with the Northern Powerhouse – will make it more challenging to seek consensus on how to address housing needs.
How to navigate different political positions, differences in locational concerns, and disjointed responsibilities is a major difficulty to be overcome. One way forward is to ensure a supply of robust and trusted evidence on housing that draws on high quality research.
Making a positive contribution: a UK Housing Centre?
At the ESRC we think this is where we can make a positive contribution. We’re doing that by working with a consortium of partners to explore the feasibility of a UK Housing Centre that engages, from the outset, with a wide spectrum of stakeholders, but ultimately sits independently from governments and other sector interests and builds a solid reputation for being a trusted voice on housing policy and practice.
This idea has been raised in various circles in the past few years. The creation of a UK Housing Centre, particularly during austere times, is challenging to say the least. But what we have found during a year of discussions with stakeholders is that there is a significant will to make it happen, and to bring together knowledge to enhance the evidence base that informs housing policies in the broadest sense.
To that end, at a consultation workshop in January 2016 we’re convening a diverse group of some 60 or 70 stakeholders – including academic and non-academic researchers, as well as policymakers and practitioners from central and devolved governments, professional associations, public interest bodies, trade bodies and a few commercial organisations. This will enable us to gauge the views of both academics and research users on the key thematic priorities and core functions of the proposed centre. All being well, though subject to our budget allocation, we hope to be in a position to launch the commissioning process in spring 2016 – keep an eye on the Funding Opportunities section of the ESRC website!
More information about previous ESRC research and publications on housing can be found on the ESRC website.
You can follow me on Twitter @ julie_mclaren1 and follow progress on the project using #ukhousingcentre