Research by the housing and homelessness charity Shelter has found that more than 320,000 homes in the past five years have not been built despite being given the go-ahead.
The problem is particularly severe in London, where one in two such homes remain unbuilt.
The survey has also discovered that the profits of the country’s top five housebuilders have risen by 388% over the same period to £3.3bn in 2016.
Anne Baxendale, head of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said: "Housebuilders are trickling out a handful of poor-quality homes at a snail’s pace meaning there are simply not enough affordable homes and ordinary working families are bearing the brunt.
"While people across the country struggle with eye-wateringly high housing costs, developers' profits are soaring into the billions.”
Developer profit margins have also increased during this period, with payouts to shareholders rising to nearly £1bn a year.
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“Time and again we hear the ‘red tape’ of the planning system being blamed, but the real problem is a system where developers make more profit sitting on land than they would by building homes,” Anne added.
"It's clear our housebuilding system has failed the nation, but the government can turn things around by supporting a whole new approach.”
Shelter spoke to Elizabeth, 35, who rents in Worthing with her husband and two children.
Elizabeth said: “My husband and I have been renting since we met 13 years ago.
“Despite him working his way up to a management position and myself working long hours, we've never been in a position to save anywhere near enough for a deposit on a house.
“We’ve more or less given up on the idea now.
“With two teenage children, we need a place that can fit a whole family, but that just seems impossible.
“Maybe when our children have grown up and left home we can finally get a small place for the two of us, but it breaks my heart that we will never have a real family home of our own.”
Shelter is now calling on the government to give councils the power to tax developers who aren’t building fast enough.