UK Population Growth and the Growing Social Housing Sector

In June 2021, the Office for National Statistics released the Population estimates for the UK, England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2020. This was the latest release of national population data, with the next release expected to be in September 2022. This article seeks to review the data in the context of the wider UK economy, with a specific focus on the social housing sector.

UK Population Statistics (1)

Figure 1: Percentage annual population change

According the data, the UK’s population is growing, albeit at a decreasing rate. The annual population change for 2020 was 0.43, which is down from a 0.54 annual population increase in 2019.

Figure 2: UK Population pyramids 2010, 2015, 2020. Source: ONS

The historical population pyramids depicted above demonstrate the UK’s contracting population growth rate. This is characterised by low birth & death rate, a higher dependency ratio and longer life expectancy.

UK Domestic Economy

The UK’s leading political parties agreed that austerity measures were over by the end of 2019, with these declarations accompanied by plans to increase public expenditure. However, there were concerns that the economy has become too reliant on consumer expenditure (2), fuelled by overly high household debt and sustained by very loose monetary policy.

Over and above these concerns, just a few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic had a hugely negative impact on the economy, with almost a quarter of the British labour population temporarily laid off by May 2020 (3) and the country’s GDP shrinking by over 20% in the first half of 2020 (4).

The current 2022 economic outlook looks a little more positive with PwC’s insights estimating “Headline GDP growth in 2022 between 4.5% and 5.1% “ But it notes “GDP growth will slow down in 2023 as the economy returns to its pre-pandemic trend”. (5)

The impact of the pandemic is likely to be uneven and this is anticipated to continue during the recovery. It will undoubtedly affect sectors, regions and households very differently, but one constant will be that vulnerable groups in society will continue to require additional support from different stakeholders in order to have improved quality of life.

The Social Housing Sector

Social housing is defined in Sections 68 to 71 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 as low-cost rental and low-cost homeownership accommodations. Low-cost rented homes must be let to people whose needs are not adequately met by the commercial housing market and are offered to people on housing waiting lists within their respective local authorities.

There is compelling evidence that England needs at least 90,000 net additional social rent homes a year and it is time for the Government to invest. The sector estimates that £10 billion in extra grant funding will be needed.”

In its Third Report of Session 2019–21 Report published in July 2020 (6), The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee shared that “There is compelling evidence that England needs at least 90,000 net additional social rent homes a year and it is time for the Government to invest. The sector estimates that £10 billion in extra grant funding will be needed.”

Although the UK’s population is growing at a decreasing rate, the number of vulnerable groups of society who will need the access to the right kind of accommodation is increasing. Using extra care as an example:

  • The number of households headed up by someone aged 65+ is projected to increase by 54% by 2041 (7)

  • The number of disabled older people, defined as being unable to perform at least one IADL or having difficulty performing or an inability to perform at least one ADL, is projected to rise by 67% (from 3.5 million to 5.9 million) between 2015 and 2040, and by 116% between 2015 and 2070 (3.5 million to 7.6 million)

  • 850,000 people are estimated to have dementia in the UK. This number is projected to rise to over 1 million by 2025 and 2 million by 2051.

  • In the next 20 years, the number of individuals with complex care needs is projected to increase due to more people reaching ages 85+ and these individuals having higher levels of dependency, dementia, and comorbidity.

Worrying statistics indeed, each of which points to the UK having an urgent need to invest in social housing.

Further evidence of this was offered back in 2019, when The Housing Learning and Improvement Network (HLIN) identified that there would be an overall shortage of 400,000 units of specialist housing for older people in England and Wales by 2035. For extra-care alone, HLIN projected shortages of 61,000 in England and 7,500 in Wales by 2030.

Undoubtedly the Government is faced with fiscal pressures on a variety of fronts following the COVID-19 pandemic and is attempting to spur economic activity to offset the effects of Brexit. On top of this it faces the challenge of increasing demand for social housing, that can accommodate the various special needs of the population that are not catered for by the private sector.

What is apparent, is that left to its own devices the current model for social housing would take a very, very long time, if ever to meet the country’s social housing needs. That’s why new innovation solutions are being sought where the public sector can lean on the greater resilience of the private sector.

At Safe As Houses Care we are enthusiastically committed to providing housing solutions across the Extra Care, Homelessness, Supported Living, and Children’s Care sectors. As we have demonstrated already, we have the people, passion and resources to make this happen right across the UK. Which is important, as the need for increased social care is one aspect of life in the UK that is definitely not shrinking.


(1) Office of National Statistics Population Estimates (June 2021)

(2) Sustainable Governance Indicators United Kingdom Economic Policies (2020)

(3) The Guardian, British Employees Furloughed (May 2020)

(4) The Guardian, British Employees Furloughed (May 2020)

(5) PwC UK Economic Outlook (December 2021)

(6) Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in its Third Report of Session 2019–21 Report (July 2020)

(7) Housing Learning and Improvement Network, The Market of Extra Care Housing (March 2019)