Welfare safety net or tenure of choice? The dilemma facing social housing policy in England

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    This paper considers the future role of social rented housing in England. It is based on an analysis of policy trends over the past 30 years, and a critical examination of current policy dilemmas. The central contention is that there are fundamental tensions underlying the present government's policy objectives to maintain the 'safety net' role of social housing but at the same time widen access to the sector so that it becomes a more mixed 'tenure of choice'. The paper charts the marked change of direction seen since 2000, with a switch from a highly rule-bound approach emphasising equity in housing allocations, to a more consumerist system stressing choice. Survey data and statistical returns are analysed to illustrate the changing mix of households entering social rented housing and to reveal the sector's varying role in regions characterised by contrasting housing market conditions. The paper charts the spread of the 'choice-based lettings' approach and discusses the possible implications of this development for the pattern of rehousing outcomes, and for the sector's broader role. It is concluded that, in higher demand regions such as London and the South, it remains very difficult to see how a social sector continuing to contract can widen its role from that of safety net for the most disadvantaged.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)163-182
    Number of pages20
    JournalHousing Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


    • Choice-based lettings
    • Homelessness
    • Housing policy
    • Social housing


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