Housing, poverty and citizenship: The politics and principles of housing reform

Seminar 6: 21 January 2014

Housing, poverty and citizenship: The politics and principles of housing reform

James Gregory

James GregoryDr James Gregory is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics (CASE), where he is working on welfare policy and the ideology of the welfare state, with particular reference to wealth and housing policy. Prior to this, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Fabian Society, which he joined after completing a PhD in political and social theory at the London School of Economics. His research interests include theories of social justice, social housing provision and asset-based welfare.


Since the coalition government came to power, there has been a radical shake up of housing and welfare policy across the UK. Grant funding for social housing is now based on the assumption that ‘social’ rent is close to the maximum allowable of 80 percent of market rent, and in England the 2011 Localism Act has ended the right to security of tenure, introduced new powers to restrict allocations to working households, and has given councils increased freedoms to discharge their homelessness duty through the private rental sector. At the same time, the housing benefit caps of 2011 and the reforms of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act are already having an impact on neighbourhood composition, with some cities being ‘hollowed out’ by a combination of market forces and welfare reform. At the same time, there are mounting concerns that housing costs are a major source of household poverty in the UK.

In this presentation, we discussed the underlying political objectives and normative assumptions of these housing and welfare reforms, looking in particular at the entitlements and expected behaviours of ‘good’ citizens. We first set the context by exploring the existing evidence on the relationship between social housing, poverty and ‘life-chances’, with a particular emphasis on ‘worklessness’ in social housing. The presentation then looked at competing interpretations of the evidence and the implications for the way in which we think about housing, citizenship and the future of the welfare state. Particular attention was paid to the future of social housing as a tenure and the changing role of social landlords.

This work has been supported by the Webb Memorial Trust, which is in the process of developing a research programme on the place of housing in a good society, free from poverty.