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Strengthening the housing policy – evidence relationship

Bob Smith blogs on a new drive to link research and evidence to housing policy and practice.

The first Autumn Housing Studies Association (HSA) lecture was held in Sheffield on October 25. An audience of policy makers, practitioners, tenants and academics heard Lord Bob Kerslake and Professor Ken Gibb talk about addressing the UK housing challenge and how research and evidence might contribute more fully to understanding the nature of the housing system and the development of policy and practice.

Although Brexit currently dominates the political/policy agenda (and on this issue at least one Westminster MP has recently expressed keen interest in the views of academics) Lord Kerslake began by arguing that there is a real opportunity for housing to break through as a key political priority. Everyone is affected by housing and has views about the subject.

Issues of affordability and access are seen as widespread problems, housing in many ways symbolises the growing generational divide in the UK and there is an increasingly shared political view that the housing market has stopped working and requires interventions by government (though not necessarily a shared view as to what form these interventions might take). The tragedy of Grenfell has also brought into stark relief the wide differences between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

Lord Kerslake concluded that housing was front and centre in debates about inequality and that despite the need for increasing housing supply there is no quick way of building our way to housing affordability. This is borne out in Wales where just over 6,800 new homes were completed in 2016-17 (the second highest annual number since the recession in 2007-08) but a figure still significantly below the rate of new housing output achieved before the financial crisis and the Welsh Government’s current principal projection of annual housing requirements. He argued that traditionally much housing thinking in the UK has been too short-term and that there is a need for a longer-term perspective which bridged market cycles and different political administrations.

Ken Gibb, Professor of Housing Economics at Glasgow University and director of the recently established UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), spoke of the role that evidence could play in informing housing policy and how CaCHE will be working collaboratively with policy makers, practitioners and residents across the UK to identify and prioritise evidence gaps and to influence policy and practice.

As an economist Ken also spoke about the role of ‘nudging’ housing policy (American economist, Richard Thaler, has recently won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work on ‘nudge theory’), the potential for economic and predictive analysis in shaping policy development and the opportunities (as well as the possible pitfalls) for customised policy transfer. Whilst Wales can be proud of much of what has been achieved in housing policy since political devolution it must continue to learn from as well as contribute to experiences elsewhere, both across the UK and internationally.

In a lively Q&A session contributors to the discussion welcomed the opportunity to develop the relationship between housing theory, policy and practice (this is the theme of the next HSA conference in April 2018) as well as the opportunities for greater knowledge exchange (a key role of CaCHE) which will hopefully enable ideas to be communicated in ways which are useful to policy makers and practitioners.

This event took place just hours after the Prime Minister had announced that plans to cap housing benefit for supported housing for elderly and vulnerable people and the wider social rented sector were being dropped. As someone noted, when push comes to shove politics usually trumps evidence, but sometimes the weight of evidence does make a difference and in the longer term evidence helps to shift political and policy priorities.

The Glasgow-based UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence is a joint venture between 10 universities and three professional bodies. Staff are located at hubs across the UK. In Cardiff Peter Mackie, Scott Orford and Bob Smith will spearhead the Wales contribution, bringing together policy makers, practitioners, academics and service users across all sectors of housing to identify and fill evidence gaps and inform the development of Welsh housing policy and practice.

Bob Smith is senior lecturer in housing at Cardiff University. For further information about the Wales hub of the Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) contact either Peter Mackie ([email protected]), Scott Orford ([email protected]) or Bob Smith ([email protected]) at Cardiff University.

 


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