Addressing the UK Housing Challenge: the Housing Studies Association Autumn Lecture 2017

On Wednesday, the Housing Studies Association hosted its Autumn Lecture in Sheffield. Here HSA Chair Beth Watts explains the inspiration behind the event and gives a taste of the afternoon’s proceedings. Read on for access to Lord Bob Kerslake’s speech in full and more on the new Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence from Professor Ken Gibb.

We decided to hold the HSA Autumn Lecture to bring housing researchers and practitioners together to discuss how we can better develop effective policy and practice in the UK, that achieves socially just outcomes in a highly diverse, uncertain and constantly changing context. The event was a first for HSA. For many years we have looked forward to seeing #ukhousing researchers and practitioners at our annual April conference. But in April this year, we felt there was an appetite – a need even – for another opportunity to come together and discuss these issues.

This decision came in the aftermath of the Housing and Planning Act – seen by many as an attack on social housing – and as the relentlessness of ‘welfare reform’ continued to make housing costs ever less affordable for low income households. In using the analogy of a sector caught up in something akin (but not identical) to grief, I couldn’t have foreseen the events that would follow only a few months later at Grenfell Tower. Since then, we’ve seen statements from the current Conservative Government about the value of social housing that we could barely have imagined at the beginning of the year, and await the promised Green Paper on Social Housing in England with a heady mix of anticipation, trepidation and hope (for example, see this recent update on the tenant consultation now underway).

Housing-related news continued apace in the run up to the lecture, most spectacularly in Theresa May’s extremely welcome announcement in Prime Minister’s Question’s (mere hours before the lecture started) that plans for the Local Housing Allowance cap to be extended to supported and social housing would be scrapped. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, another group of housing practitioners and researchers gathered to discuss the new Scottish Tenancy regime coming into force in December, offering – potentially – a new model of greater security in the private rented sector for other UK nations to learn from.

I don’t think we could have anticipated how timely the first HSA Autumn Lecture was going to be in this disorienting and cautiously hopeful moment. Perhaps this timeliness explains why the event sold out. In the crowd were researchers from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, from Masters and PhD students, to post-docs and professors. We welcomed representatives from the social housing and private rented sectors, from the Housing Quality Network (our event sponsors), the National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing and the Residential Landlords Association; and local stakeholders from Sheffield, from the South Yorkshire Housing Association to Nomad (a local homelessness organisation). We had private renters, social tenants and owner-occupiers in the room; baby boomers, millenials and ‘inbetweeners’. I think the richness and diversity of the crowd was reflected in the wide-ranging Q&A that closed the lecture, and for a taste of the issues covered see Rob Gershon’s (HQN) blog here.

For those of you who weren’t able to make it on the day, I’m delighted to share some of the insights of our two speakers.

Lord Bob Kerslake opened the lecture, arguing that “If there is one issue… that stands a chance of breaking through the smothering Brexit blanket it is housing”, not least because there is common agreement – including cross-party consensus – that the housing market is broken. This consensus, however, is not yet matched by agreement about the required solutions, which is why Lord Kerslake, along with the Housing Studies Association, welcome the establishment of the new UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE).

In his contribution to the lecture, Professor Ken Gibb – University of Glasgow and Director of CaCHE – explained how the Centre would work over the coming years to invert the process that too often characterises housing policy-making. Instead of announcing a new policy, designing it and only then asking ‘what evidence is there that this works?’, we need to use evidence to drive housing policy-making from the get go. Ken closed his contribution by highlighting some of the insights from behavioural economics that might usefully inform future policy-making, while stressing the disciplinary and methodological pluralism of CaCHE.

You can read Lord Kerslake’s speech in full on the HSA website here, and download Professor Gibb’s presentation here. You might also be interested in his recent blog on from the ESRC on CaCHE’s programme of work going forward here.

To all those who made it to the HSA’s first Autumn Lecture and to our sponsors (the Housing Quality Network, University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Social Sciences and I-SPHERE, Heriot-Watt University), thank you. We hope to see you again next year. In the meantime, if you’re not already a member of the HSA, do consider joining. As a member, you can:

Our 2018 Annual Conference will be held in Sheffield on 11th-13th April. Focussing on the theme Professionalism, Policy & Practice: between Theory and Practice in Housing Studies, this year’s organisers (committee members Tony Manzi, University of Westminster and Joe Crawford, University of St Andrews) have already confirmed a great line-up of speakers, including Keith Jacobs (Uni of Tasmania), Brian Lund (Manchester Metropolitan Uni), John Boughton (Municipal Dreams), Gavin Smart (Chartered Institute of Housing), Jenny Osbourne (Tenant Participation Advisory Service) and more. Keep an eye out for the call for abstracts, which will be released shortly. We would love to see you there presenting your research, whether you’re university or sector-based or simply in the audience to hear the very latest housing-related research and evidence.

Beth Watts, 30th October 2017