Three million new social homes must be built in England over 20 years to solve the “housing crisis”, a report says.
Housing charity Shelter says upfront costs of £11bn a year could come from housing benefit savings by moving tenants from high-cost privately rented homes to social housing.
Existing schemes such as Help to Buy are a less effective use of taxpayers’ money, the report claims.
The government says providing “quality and fair social housing is a priority”.
It plans to build 250,000 homes by 2022, including homes for social rent.
Social rent properties are currently set aside for those in most need and are let on long-term tenancies.
The report claims 1.3 million homes are needed to house those in greatest need – including homeless people and those living with a disability.
Shelter estimates 277,000 people are homeless in England, most commonly because they have lost their privately rented homes.
An extra 1.2 million homes would be made available under the plans, the charity says, for younger families who cannot afford to buy and “face a lifetime in expensive and insecure private renting”.
A lack of readily available social housing has led to a “drop in the numbers of young families moving into ownership, the rise of pensioners in insecure unaffordable private rentals, and the homelessness that scars our society”, the report found.
It was authored by 16 independent commissioners brought together by Shelter to examine housing in England, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, TV architect George Clarke and Grenfell survivor Ed Daffarn.
Shandor, 48, became homeless after falling behind on his rent following an accident at work.
After six months in a homeless shelter, he and his eight-year-old son Billy moved into a permanent social home.
“The night before I was evicted, I was given a place in a homeless shelter. There were people there with serious mental health issues”, he said.
“I had my son Billy every weekend and it was not a good place for him to be.
“We now have a wonderful little one-bedroom flat, which is our home. The sheer satisfaction of hanging pictures on the wall with picture hooks rather than Blu Tack is incredible.
“Billy is more settled and is starting to make new friends.”
Mr Miliband told BBC Breakfast the proposal would “transform the fabric of the country, the lives of millions of people in the country”.
“It is a big sum of money but the problem is, the last labour government didn’t do enough, and neither is the current government doing enough.
“In the years after the Second World War, governments – Labour and Conservative – built about 120,000 social homes and council houses every year.
“In the last 20 years or so – we’ve built 20,000 social homes per year – and that is one of the biggest causes of the housing crisis.”
Shelter said the report was partially inspired by the Grenfell Tower fire and the belief “the disaster must mark a turning point in how we talk about social housing”.
Building 3.1 million new social homes would cost an average of £10.7bn a year, according to analysis by research group Capital Economics on behalf of Shelter.
But Shelter claims the government would save £60bn over 30 years if it can make renting cheaper.
The charity said the housing benefit system was being kept unnecessarily expensive because of more people renting privately at higher costs.
It said having more social housing would lower rents.
Existing schemes such as Help-to-Buy have produced a relatively small number of additional homes, the report says.
It claims the scheme has enabled people on relatively high incomes to buy expensive homes.
Former chair of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, said: “Social mobility has been decimated by decades of political failure to address our worsening housing crisis.
“We simply cannot afford not to act.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said a further £2bn had been committed as part of a 10-year home building programme through to 2028.
“Councils have been given extra freedom to build the social homes their communities need and expect,” a government spokesman added.