Don’t let government scapegoat migrants for the housing crisis

2016, November 23 – The Palace of Westminster, London : Tenants and housing campaigners protest outside parliament and call to Axe the Housing Act

And here we are again!

Another in a long line of attempts by the government to distract attention from its failure to solve the housing crisis by attempting to blame others. In 2016 the Housing Act identified better-off council tenants as the problem and the governments solution was to be ‘Pay to Stay’, which was defeated by a combination of local authorities saying it would be unworkable, and thousands of tenants and residents in the campaign we initiated.

This time the government returns to a familiar refrain – ‘Don’t blame us for the lack of council housing, blame migrants!’ The Consultation on reforms to social housing allocations, published 30 January 2024 has been dubbed ‘British homes for British workers’. Yet it contains no plans to increase the overall supply of council housing, only to restrict access further.

Homes for All and Defend Council Housing have initiated a statement in response. Many of our concerns are shared by charities and organisations in the sector. Fourteen housing bodies signed a letter opposing ‘British homes for British workers’ policy. The letter highlighted that 90% of new social housing lettings go to UK nationals.

Please sign the statement (set out below)

Government not Migrants caused the  housing crisis 

It’s time to invest in council housing 

The British homes for British workers agenda is racist and divisive. The proposed  exclusions of people from applying for social housing, and the ill-considered and  draconian new eviction provisions, both meet with our determined opposition. Neither of them will do anything for those people who have been systematically shut out of the housing market by the effects of past government policies. 

Instead, we should celebrate the diverse communities on housing estates and in  housing need. We call upon the government to increase the numbers of social homes by enacting the Five Point Plan endorsed by the campaigning organisations Homes for All and Defend Council Housing.

  1. Government investment in a mass council housing building programme,  including requisitioning of empty homes and abolition of ‘right to buy’ 
  1. Rent controls and secure tenancies in the private rental sector. Robust regulation  of housing associations 
  1. New funding to repair and refurbish existing council housing – do not demolish 
  1. Adequate funding for accessibility, fire safety, and for retrofitting and thermal  insulation 
  1. Planning for the people and the planet, and not for developers’ profits 

The government misunderstands the purpose of housing policy

The government misunderstands the purpose of housing policy, which is to ensure  that every household has a decent, secure, affordable home. Housing policy does not exist for the government to propagate a narrow and exclusive version of patriotism, or to devise double jeopardy schemes for those who have committed offences or engaged in behaviour that the government does not like, or to chuck people out of  their homes. Housing policy does not exist to run deliberately divisive election  campaigns. But all of that is happening here. 

The housing crisis – for some 

The housing problem is one of unequal distribution. The 2021 census reported  that there were 24,782,800 households in England and Wales. There were  26,394,777 dwellings, so the number of homes exceeded the number of  households by 1,611,977.  

Action on Empty Homes report that numbers of long-term empty homes rose yet  again in 2023 by 12,556 (or 5%) to 261,189, while long-term empties are now at  their highest level since 2011 (excepting the special pandemic conditions of 2020).

The Consultation document repeatedly refers to the £11.5bn Affordable Homes programme. However, this provides very little new social rent housing. 40% of the 2022/23 output consists of ‘unaffordable affordable housing’ which is not open to  those households in the highest need. Another 45% is Affordable Rent, and the Shelter report ‘A Capital in Crisis’ (2020) showed that London Affordable Rent (the variant of affordable rent most used in the capital) is not actually affordable for lower income working families. That leaves only 15% for new social rent homes,  many of which are in fact funded to support demolitions. 

Government policy is directly responsible for the scarcity of social rent housing, which the current policy initiatives purport to address. 

Council housing pays for itself 

The Five Point Plan requires government investment. The Shelter report ‘Building  for our future: A vision for social housing’ has shown in much detail how investment  in council housing pays for itself in reduced benefit costs, while enhancing social  inclusion and averting the unnecessary costs of social disadvantage. This is true  investment, bringing back a return greater than the initial outlay. 

There are some easy wins

Some proposals in the Five Point Plan are easy wins. The Right to Buy has reduced the social housing stock and has caused the scarcity to which this consultation refers. It should be abolished, to preserve the social housing stock which we have now.  

The government should revise and amend the National Planning Policy Framework  (December 2023 version) paragraph 65 and footnote 31 which does NOT require replacement of the affordable housing floorspace demolished in redevelopment and regeneration schemes. There should be a full and tenure specific replacement of such homes in such circumstances, along with full compliance with affordable  housing policies for the additional homes built.

Retain the space for local policy initiatives

These government proposals remove the local initiative and responsibility for many  aspects of allocations. Many local authorities have retained a social awareness and a social conscience in declining to enact the exclusionary policies which have been  permitted by the government on an optional basis in the past.

No to UK residence and local connection tests

Well over 80% of Britain’s housing is allocated solely by market mechanisms, creating and reinforcing inequalities which reveal the diversity of applicants and residents in social and affordable housing. The government should accept diversity and stop scaremongering about it. UK residence tests are unnecessary  and show that the government does not want to assist those in the highest need – and is not concerned about equalities.  

Local connection tests are discriminatory towards those who are homeless, but who have a limited connection to any specific area because of their homelessness. Mandatory tests would make that problem much worse, affecting the already socially excluded groups who are protected under the Equality Act, 2000.

No to mandatory income tests

The proposal for mandatory income tests ignores the strength that comes from mixed income communities in council housing and other social housing tenures. Nobody gains from making social housing a tenure exclusively for the poor. 

In response to consultation question 22, consulting on minimum income thresholds for applicants ‘to incentivise being in work or to ensure that the household can afford the property’, we say that too many providers are already using affordability tests to keep the most economically vulnerable households out of social housing. These barriers to access are a leading cause of homelessness, and they operate in a structurally racist manner. See more detail in two detailed reports that show how Housing Associations refuse to house the poorest. The  government should ensure that poor families have enough income to afford the  rent and service charges on a suitable social rent property. Landlord Affordability Tests for such properties should be made illegal.

Anti social behaviour tests and eviction plans

Anti social behaviour already provides grounds for possession claims. There are anti social behaviour orders, introductory tenancies, starter tenancies and demoted tenancies. Research for the Home Office (The drivers of perceptions of anti-social behaviour) shows that nuisance behaviour is closely linked with social exclusion, which can be ameliorated by initiatives to  improve the physical environment and to foster community cohesion. Instead of promoting exclusionary policies, the government should fund and develop  mediation schemes to build the capacity of residents to resolve disputes, along with work, education, training, and cultural activities for alienated youth.  

The government’s eviction plans make no reference to where people are going to  live afterwards. But this is the question we need to be asking.  

The crude and draconian requirement for social landlords to evict people gives the lie to the claim that the objective here is to house more ‘British’ people.

Proposed exclusions related to the Terrorism Act

The government is seeking to scaremonger people, using double jeopardy policies again. The definition of terrorism is questionable, owing more to selective foreign  policy objectives than to housing policy. We therefore oppose the planned exclusions of applicants related to the Terrorism Act. 


We note that the government has failed to secure the support of those who  primarily own and manage social housing, and of those concerned with housing needs and homelessness, and immigrant and refugee welfare. 

The National Housing Federation, Local Government Association, Association of Retained Council Housing, National Federation of ALMOs, PlaceShapers, Shelter, Crisis, St Mungo’s, Generation Rent, the No Accommodation Network, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Welsh Refugee Council, and Tai Pawb have all signed a letter of opposition.

These proposals should be rejected, and replaced by investment in homes and  communities instead.