The UK housing crisis: could the Church have a key role in its resolution?

Kerri Farnsworth , 09 September 2021

In our last blog for the NHF, my Thinkhouse colleague, Francesca Albanese, looked at how a long-term plan for resolving the UK’s homelessness crisis – including the ‘hidden homeless’ in temporary accommodation – must be part of the government’s post-pandemic recovery strategy.

This blog will focus on a small handful of the 36 reports we have reviewed here at the Thinkhouse library recently, and expands further on the theme Francesca started in the last blog – namely the needs of our rapidly-ageing demographics, and the role of the Church of England. 

Yes, I did just write The Church of England – for they are an oft-forgotten key player in the UK property market, owning 200,000 acres of land assets across 42 Dioceses in England, and being an active ongoing stakeholder in 25% of primary schools and over 200 secondary schools right across the country. 

Our review of reports on housing needs of an ageing population

The Thinkhouse panel has had a number of high-quality reports looking at how prepared the UK is for the housing needs of an ageing population. A lot of focus to date has been on downsizing of property, but making existing homes fit and ready to meet the needs of an ageing population is an equally-important part of the nation’s preparedness to the coming change of demographics. 

The Housing Care Grey Paper by the Association of Retirement Community Operators’ Housing is one of the reports we evaluated in depth. Each chapter of this report is authored by a different expert in this field, with topics ranging from the key design and financing principles for asset-rich and income-poor pensioners, the need for a government-led ‘housing and care’ taskforce to expand the options and learn from other countries would help capture these elements, and the need to review the pension system model to ensure that savings are provided and can be utilised to give comfort in older age. 

The report concludes with five key steps towards good-quality older people’s housing:

  1. Better planning (‘lifetime neighbourhoods’)
  2. National design standards
  3. Investments (a range of personal finance options)
  4. Consumer confidence (relevant enforceable standards)
  5. Better advice and information

The Centre for Ageing Better’s short report Getting our Homes in Order looks specifically at the quality of the homes lived in by the over-55s. It argues that the very poor situation of many of this demographics’ homes, and the associated long-term health impacts (£513m to the NHS over five years) could be prevented by simple repairs and adaptations, higher standards of regulation on rented properties, and improved access to government grants and quality-assured information and advice. Not rocket science in terms of policy, but all needing a willingness and resourcing from central government.

The last report on this topic, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing and Care for Older People, looks specifically at the needs of housing for older citizens with dementia. The vast majority of people living with dementia do not live in purpose-designed housing. The report sets out the impact of dementia on not just the person living with the condition, but all of those around them with a caring role, for example partners, children, other relatives, and friends.

But the report importantly also highlights the situation for those who live alone, and have no family or friends to help them, either in situ or nearby. It sets out the 20 key issues for older people living with dementia, and argues for the increasingly urgent need within UK government, and society as a whole, for “a dementia-inclusive approach”.

What’s the link with the Church of England?

Thinkhouse also took an in-depth look at what we felt was a must-read report, Coming Home: tackling the crisis together, by The Commission of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury on Housing, Church and Community. This is a highly-detailed but inspirational report, setting out the Church of England’s role as a stakeholder in the UK real estate market, and a bold, ground-breaking vision for the Church to mobilise its real estate assets to play their part in solving the current UK housing market crisis. 

The report is surprisingly frank and blunt about the current UK housing system: real estate prices are over-inflated and need a managed phased reduction, building standards are “deeply-flawed” leading to “homes built to the lowest standards... where cost-cutting is rife”, and the UK social security system “fails to provide adequate housing support for a large number of low-income households”. It berates the ongoing short-termism within UK government, saying “Simply building more homes without regard to whether people can afford them will not solve the housing crisis”. 

It calls for a coherent and sustainable 20-year cross-party strategy that responds to those in greatest need’, and calls for reform of private rental sector legislation to provide long-term tenure security, with an explicit duty of care on landlords. It concludes that the current housing crisis in the UK is “neither accidental or inevitable”, and that there is an urgent need for every stakeholder – including itself, and interestingly, existing homeowners – to show a willingness to share the costs if resolving this crisis together. 

In considering all of these highlighted reports, along with the longstanding Christian tradition of almshouses, it struck me that the Church of England could do well to look at some of the relatively simple interventions for older-age housing recommended above as a first step to achieving their aims.


Curated by an independent panel of experts, Thinkhouse is a free online library of research pieces, policy publications and case studies that propose ways to increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this.