Social housing: one of the government’s most tragic failures

In the year to April 2008 about 300,000 people joined the waiting list for council housing, which now features one in 12 families in the UK.

In part this is a grim reflection of the economic downturn and rising repossessions (up 92 per cent since last year, according to new figures from the FSA today).

It is also symptomatic of Labour’s failure to get to grips with the problem. Ministers were too busy exhorting people to get on the housing ladder - a mistake which contributed to the boom - to tackle the desperate shortage of social housing.

When the party came to power in 1997 there were 1m families on council waiting lists. The latest figure out today (from last April)  is 1.8m – equivalent to 4.5m people. In April 2007 the figure was 1.67m. 

In the meantime, the housing associations – which how provide most of Britain’s social housing – have been rocked by the credit crunch and will struggle to build much in the coming months.

Margaret Beckett, the new housing minister, has been strikingly silent on this.