The Citizens’ Summit on the Housing Emergency

NatCen were commissioned to deliver a series of deliberative workshops with people with lived experiences of housing issues in England.
Image of row of terraced houses

To inform the development of its general election campaign Shelter commissioned the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)'s Centre for Deliberation (CfD) to deliver a series of deliberative workshops with people with lived experiences of housing issues in England.

About the study

Through its policy work, Shelter has identified four key causes for what it terms England’s ‘housing emergency’: the lack of social housing, insecure and unaffordable private rental homes, a lack of effective regulation of social and private landlords and a lack of rights. Shelter wanted to work closely with people with lived experiences of the housing emergency to develop its manifesto for the general election campaign. Therefore, they commissioned NatCen to deliver a summit that brought together 75 members of the public from across England to take part in four sessions: three 3-hour online evening sessions and one 5.5-hour in-person session. The research aimed to identify an agreed set of principles to guide Shelter’s general election campaign, setting out a vision for a future where there is no housing emergency. It also sought to understand which policy solutions people with lived experience of the housing emergency wanted prioritised in Shelter’s manifesto. The two objectives work in tandem, with the principles demonstrating the overarching values and vision that participants want to guide housing policy, and the proposed policy solutions offering ways forward for realising that vision.


  • Experiences: People’s testimonies highlighted the complex ways different housing issues intersect and interact with other parts of their lives. Underpinning many of these experiences was a perceived power imbalance between tenants and landlords, which left participants feeling insecure in their homes and often powerless to improve their circumstances.
  • Principles: Participants agreed on a set of principles to guide Shelter’s campaign: a home is a human right; home is the foundation of a secure society; home is fundamental to health and wellbeing; strengthen regulation, accountability, and enforcement; listen to communities and act! The first three resonated with people’s experiences of the importance of a secure home in underpinning all other aspects of their lives. The fourth and fifth spoke to the role that participants felt unregulated landlords play in the housing emergency and the need to empower tenants. 
  • Policy solutions
    • When asked to prioritise different solutions participants frequently drew on four rationales for their priorities. The first was opting for solutions because they were seen to satisfy a right to a permanent, truly affordable home which gave a sense of guaranteed security to people. The second rationale was selecting solutions on the basis that they were seen to empower tenants and address power dynamics participants had experienced. The third saw participants select solutions because they felt these helped those most in need or most harmed by the housing emergency. The fourth involved prioritising on the basis of timescales, with a solution judged as addressing a systemic issue in the long-term or because it addressed an immediate challenge in the short-term. 
    • Participants prioritised from among twenty-four policies, and the top two to emerge were investing in building new social homes and introducing rent increase caps. Investing in building new social homes was seen to address the systemic issue of supply through a sustainable, long-term solution that provides secure homes to people in housing need. Participants also interpreted this option as making truly affordable housing available to a wide range of people. Introducing rent increase caps were seen as an immediate solution to the issue of affordability, while working within the private housing market.


The research saw participants engage in a series of deliberative workshops. The first three online sessions were focused on learning and discussion, with a basic structure of information being presented in plenary before participants deliberated in breakout rooms. These three sessions focused on sharing one another’s experiences of housing issues, examining causes and potential solutions to the housing emergency, and examining barriers to these solutions being implemented. In the final session, participants reviewed the policy principles to make any amendments, and prioritised from among the policy solutions. The policy principles were drafted by NatCen in between the third and final sessions based on visions for the future participants had given in the third session. The policy solutions list was developed by Shelter by combing solutions they had presented for deliberation in session two with those suggested by participants during this same session.

Read more on Shelter's website

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