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Conservatives have always understood that for families to thrive, secure foundations are essential. A sense of belonging, investment in your own community, a stable place to raise children – these are the foundations for families and for society. Only safe homes can build safe communities. A safe home is a fundamental human need.

Most people aspire to own their home. Yet home ownership is falling. And for those who cannot buy, there is simply no stable option at all.

In the three and a half decades after the Second World War, Governments led by figures including Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan played a vital role in delivering four million social homes, at an average rate of more than 126,000 per year. It was in this period that we last reached the level of home building that the current Government is committed to – only when social homes have been delivered in significant numbers has the current Government’s target of 300,000 ever been reached.

Yet, over the past 40 years, social housing, and its value to society, has fallen out of our national conversation. As a result of this, last year fewer than 6,500 new social homes were delivered, while 1.1 million households face the uncertainty and hopelessness of council waiting lists.

This failure has come at a terrible time for our nation’s housing situation. Homeownership is in decline, there are 124,000 homeless children in England, and millions of families are trapped in unstable and expensive private renting.

Today, 800,000 people renting privately can’t even afford to save £10 per month. For many, saving for a deposit on a home of your own will forever remain out of reach, whatever interventions government might make to incentivise homeownership.

The sheer scale of the challenge we now face means no political party is able to ignore the need to take action. And a strong answer to the housing crisis will be required by voters of all parties at any general election.

Behind these statistics is also a human face of the housing emergency, the destructive despair, confusion and, frankly, destitution that Shelter’s support services are all too familiar with.

The only way we can help those at the sharp end of the national emergency our housing crisis has become, the only way to rediscover the sense of opportunity and stability that has been core to our nation’s concept of home, is to build high quality, affordable, social housing. I challenge the belief that building social housing is not the natural instinct of the Conservatives. Uncertain housing prevents too many people from developing their skills, exploring new ideas, reaching their potential. Poor housing forces a reliance on just about managing that restricts the dreams and aspirations of our society and limits the future of our children and young people.

As Lord O’Neill, one of the members of Shelter’s social housing commission, said: “There needs to be a profound shift to see social housing as a national asset like any other infrastructure. A home is the foundation of individual success in life, and public housebuilding can be the foundation of national success. It is the only hope the Government has of hitting its 300,000 homes a year target.”

The economic case is watertight. In fact, building more social housing offers an economic boon that should please the Chancellor.

Work by Capital Economics for Shelter’s social housing commission showed that investment in housing delivers hugely positive impact for the economy when compared with other industries – with every pound spent resulting in an additional £1.84 of sector activity.

Currently, we spend more than £21 billion per year on Housing Benefit. An eyewatering sum that is only necessary because of our long-term failure to provide social housing. And a large part of this money goes straight into the pockets of private landlords – an issue that Churchill himself roared against when he was President of the Board of Trade.

Right now, we need to spend on both Housing Benefit and housebuilding. That’s the price we are paying for decades of neglect of social housing. But over the long term, an investment in our social housing stock will reduce our reliance on the private rented sector and reduce our need to subsidise private rents with Housing Benefit.

By its nature, social housebuilding sits outside of the booms and busts of the private housebuilding market, and because of this it offers a level of stability and long-term security that private housebuilding never can. For example, the stable order book offered by a social housebuilding programme could give long-term certainty to small or medium-sized enterprises or to those looking to invest in the factories associated with new and exciting modern methods of construction.

I firmly believe that Conservatives are natural allies in Shelter’s call for three million more social homes to be delivered over the next 20 years. This is the level of ambition that our commission on social housing identified as necessary to solve our national housing emergency. Whatever happens in Europe, the housing emergency is a fault line in the foundations of British society, a division that will not heal without significant change. The boldness to make that change will be rewarded with vast economic and moral benefits for the nation.

Polly Neate is the Chief Executive of Shelter. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine On the home front. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.