It is now fifty years since the English Housing Survey (EHS) started. The English House Condition Survey, as it was called in 1967, was a response to a need for a nationally representative picture of housing to support national policy.
Quality of housing was very much a focus of policy at the time. By 1967 post-war slum clearance was reaching an end and an accompanying housebuilding program was well underway, involving a high proportion of local authorities as well as housing associations and private enterprise. At the time around a quarter of properties lacked at least one basic amenity, such as an indoor WC, bath, shower, sink or hot and cold water at three points. Central heating and insulation were rare and around half of homes used solid fuel.
However, policies developed to remedy these issues, such as ‘Intermediate Grants’ for basic amenities, mean that the majority of properties that existed in 1967 – over 14 million - are still lived in today albeit with major improvements.
These days, the English Housing Survey continues to provide a strong evidence base to support and monitor housing policy. The Housing Acts, the Decent Homes programme, the Index of Local Deprivation, and the most recent Housing White paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ were all developed using EHS data. The survey is also invaluable to the wider housing community, including charities such as Shelter as well as academic researchers.
The Success of the EHS Survey Design
Survey design reflects a fundamental issue: housing is not just about properties, it’s about the people who live in them. The success and importance of the English Housing Survey lies in its design.
Since 1967, the survey has expanded to include a detailed household interview, as well as a more detailed physical survey which together provide a rich picture of properties and households in England. That physical survey has increased from a single page of key questions to a longer survey that takes around an hour to complete. More detailed household interviews have also been developed and, in 2008, integrated with the physical survey to form a single English Housing Survey.
Combining objective measures from the physical survey with information from householders provides a much better understanding of key issues. The experience of fuel poverty, for example, may be influenced by the energy efficiency of a property, household income and energy costs, and the subjective experience of households being able to heat at least one room in their home.
The large number of interviews and surveys – around 13,300 interviews and 6,200 surveys – provides a representative picture of housing in England each year and allows us to monitor trends in housing, both for the population as a whole and for different subgroups, particularly different tenures and different age groups. This means that the experiences of different groups such as young adult households, older adults or private renters can be highlighted and understood.
Younger adult households for example, are now more likely to be renting privately than buying their own home. The survey allows us to examine trends in tenure in this group, their experience in private rented accommodation, their income, housing costs and buying aspirations. It has also supported policies such as Help to Buy, Shared Ownership and the Starter Homes Initiative.
The wide focus of the survey means that it’s possible to monitor a range of salient topics, through including these as part of the core questionnaire or every few years, ensuring that key housing issues are monitored and potentially driving further improvement. Housing quality remains an important issue, although improved standards mean that the focus has moved from lack of basic amenities to different indicators of housing quality, such as housing health and safety ratings, repair costs, damp, and decent homes. Energy is another key survey area where the focus has shifted, from fuel type to energy efficiency and fuel poverty, accompanied by policies such as Winter Fuel payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme.
There is something special about a survey in its fiftieth year. It allows us to trace the pattern and development of housing over time and to look back in order to see more clearly the value of the English Housing Survey in illuminating and improving the picture of homes and housing in England.
The English Housing Survey is a source of National Statistics, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and carried out by NatCen Social Research, Building Research Establishment and CA design services. Around 13,300 interviews and 6,200 physical surveys are carried out each year. For further information about the survey see: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/english-housing-survey