Housing - Supporting Policy Development

What is housing policy?

Housing is a key social determinant of health and, therefore, has a strong influence on public health.

It also forms a core part of an inclusive economy and underpins good public mental health, another key topic of interest to SIPHER.

In the narrowest sense, housing policy covers strategies and plans to build or incentivise the building of housing, including social housing, housing for home ownership, and housing designed to be privately rented. It also includes regulation of the socially rented housing sector and, more recently, emerging regulation of the private rented sector.

Policies on homelessness and support provided to households at risk of homelessness or in unsuitable accommodation have traditionally been considered distinct from core housing policy. So have policies on built environment planning and social security benefits that subsidies housing for households unable to meet costs. However, in a practical sense, these policy domains need to be considered as part of the broader housing policy suite.

Policy landscape

SIPHER’s policy partners operate at different geographies (devolved national, regional and local), and have different ‘policy levers’ available. ‘Policy levers’ are the means through which policy organisations can influence or impact upon a system; that is, the powers and mechanisms available to action change. 

In the main, these levers operate through local authorities’ housing and homelessness strategies, which, in turn, respond to a statutory duty placed on local government by the UK Government (in England) and the Scottish Government (in Scotland), to ensure that local population housing needs are met. 

These duties intersect with planning policy, which is also designed and delivered by local authorities to respond to local needs and conditions, but is heavily shaped at the national level by the UK Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (in England) and by the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework (NFP4) and Achieving a Sustainable Future: regeneration strategy (in Scotland).

In Scotland, housing and planning have been devolved policy domains since the late 1990s. SG’s key housing priorities are outlined in Housing to 2040 and policies to reform the private rented sector in Scotland are being developed as part of A New Deal for Tenants. Devolution is also having an impact on housing policy at GMCA, through the Devolution Trailblazer deal. Nonetheless, for both SCC and GMCA, housing policy is still heavily shaped by the UK Government’s key housing strategy, operationalised through Homes England.

For GMCA, housing policy priorities are brought together in the GMCA Housing Vision, the GMCA Housing Strategy and the annual GMCA Housing Strategy Implementation Plan. The related policies and priorities in relation to planning and regeneration for GMCA were outlined most recently in the Greater Manchester Infrastructure Framework 2040 and Places for Everyone. For SCC, these policies are outlined in the Sheffield Local Plan. SCC’s Housing Strategy 2013-23, along with its Homelessness Prevention Strategy 2017-22

Finally, UK Government social security policies are one of the key levers that can be used to intervene in the housing system. These levers largely sit outside of SIPHER’s policy partners control, with the exception of a small number of ancillary benefits administered by local government. Although social security is partially devolved in Scotland, and in the future this devolution will open up greater scope for housing subsidy by SG, at the present time both the resource and the administration of social security benefits still largely sits with the UK Government.



SIPHER policy partners priorities

Despite the significant differences in the levers available to SIPHER’s policy partners in the housing sphere, policy priorities are fairly well aligned and are outlined in the table below.


Policy priorities



  • The availability (and, therefore, the supply) of affordable/social housing
  • The (rising) cost of private sector rent rates
  • The (rising) cost of mortgage interest and maintenance
  • The (rising) cost of regular household bills, especially fuel
  • The gap between housing benefit rates and (private sector) rent rates



  • Energy efficiency
  • Incidence of damp and mould
  • Suitability of housing e.g. accessibility, size



  • Transport (especially to employment and key services e.g. shops, healthcare, education, community infrastructure)
  • Air pollution
  • Green and blue space
  • Crime and fear of crime
  • Noise pollution

Consistency and stability of the housing experience

  • The impact of increasing rent and mortgage costs on defaults and evictions
  • Private sector landlord practices in enacting ‘no fault’ evictions, as well as broader standards and landlord conduct in the private sector
  • Street homelessness
  • Delayed discharge from hospital

In recent years, pressures on the housing system have become significantly more acute. This has been the result of a combination of Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and high inflation.  Together these events have affected households’ spending power, the cost of building and maintaining properties and on supply chains for housebuilding.  Alongside sharp reductions in public spending on housing and related services this has impacted heavily on the housing system.  The Scottish Government declared a national housing emergency in May 2024 after several local authorities declared their own local emergencies in response to rapidly rising homelessness.

Need for evidence-based policy

The housing system is recognised as extremely complex, both for households to have to negotiate and in terms of policy, management, regulation and monitoring. This complexity stems from the interaction of the three main tenures of housing with local conditions, including housing supply and demand, household incomes and inequality, and wider economic drivers of cost and quality.

Furthermore, a broad range of policy domains appear in the policy priority table. These sit within various policy domains, including planning, sustainability/net zero, environment, social security, macroeconomics, transport, social care and tax, in addition to those from housing and homelessness.

In this context, SIPHER’s policy partners need evidence not only to generate business cases to support action on established policy priorities, but also to support the case for change at other levels of government. This includes making the case for new policy and legislation at UK Government level and improving the resourcing of existing commitments. One example is  the enforcement of standards in the private rented sector, which (as this 2021 DHLUC commissioned review demonstrates) are created at national government level but enforced by local government with limited resources. 

Systems approaches to housing and health

A recent review of housing and systems thinking by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence - CaCHE recognised the diversity of tools within systems approaches and the potential to inform housing evidence generation and policy decision-support. However, it also noted the potential challenges of operationalising systems approaches, especially complex systems thinking, in real-world contexts.

The review identified two key ways in which systems approaches are currently being used to inform housing policy development:

  • an approach to organisational housing management 
  • as a locality-wide operational housing planning tool, e.g. the local Housing Need and Demand Assessment.

Through the latter, the housing departments and directorates of SIPHER’s policy partners are already engaged in systems modelling to build a fuller picture of their local housing systems. Modelling is necessary due to a lack of comprehensive data on housing stock, condition, cost and so on.  

There is a subset of public health literature that takes a ‘whole system’ perspective on the determinants of health, bringing together housing, often alongside other socio-economic drivers of quality of life, wellbeing and health outcomes. However, the focus is typically upon collating or synthesising evidence on the relative importance of various aspects of the housing system or experience in shaping health and wellbeing outcomes, often with an emphasis on the assessment of the quality of existing (public health) evidence. As CaCHE’s briefing paper points out, there is a distinction to be drawn between research that frames problems as a system with “broad reference to the need to think about social structures”, with that which takes a specific, systems thinking approach. 

SIPHER support - tools and approaches

SIPHER and its policy partners are using systems maps and approaches to identify viable interventions within the housing system that will positively impact on housing and health outcomes.

Using a range of systems tools and approaches, from ‘soft systems’ mapping to computational modelling. This will support an assessment of prospective policy intervention ‘win-wins’ and a fuller consideration of trade-offs, as well as having the potential to provide evidence for business cases for policy intervention within the broader, complex housing system that cuts across existing policy silos, as outlined in the Table of SIPHER Policy Partners Priorities.

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