“Dear Santa…” what’s on the social housing Christmas list?
Housing Association Magazine Editor Joe Bradbury takes a sneak peek at the social housing Santa list. Excitable Edgar aside, what do we want for Christmas as a sector?
It’s understandable that many are struggling to feel jolly as another year is added to the number of years of failure in housing policy. The once common concept of home ownership is now an impossible dream for many, and untold numbers of people are being pushed into homelessness.
The catastrophic decline in social housing has left millions feeling insecure in unaffordable homes they’ll never own. Unless we take action, the future of man will be a generation of young families that are, at best, trapped renting privately for their whole lives, with billions in welfare costs being paid to private landlords. Bah humbug!
But as a sector, are we naughty or nice? There are 4.1m social homes in England and Wales. 2.2 million people rent from local authorities and 1.9 million from other social landlords (mainly housing associations). So you could say we’re providing a roof over the heads of an enormous and misrepresented section of society a place to call home over Christmas. Seems fair to me…
With that in mind, I would suggest we are trying to be as nice as possible, with our hands tied behind our back. At the top of our list should be more freedom!
So what is the answer? What can social housing ask Santa for that will better equip us to tackle the housing crisis as we drag it like an old familiar cross to bear into a brave New Year? Let’s take a look:
Can we build more homes please?
We need to build 3.1 million more social homes over the next 20 years. This will allow the benefits of social housing to be offered much more widely, providing both security for those in need and a step up for young families trying to get on and save for their future.
This will also give hope to those in great difficulty – with just over 1.27m homes for those who are homeless, in the worst conditions and in ill health, over 691,000 for older renters, and 1.17m for people trapped in unaffordable, insecure private renting, according to Shelter.
For the economists reading this, a 20-year programme such as this will provide a return on investment in 39 years, with a cost of £10.7bn a year on average – reduced to £3.8bn when savings in benefits and increased taxes are considered.
So it’s worth it, especially compared with the £21bn spent on housing benefit every year and our £62bn budget for capital expenditure.
How about land reform, as stocking filler?
We’re also asking Santa (if the sleigh has sway) for land reform. We need to reduce the cost of land for social housing.
To that aim, government should reform the Land Compensation Act 1961 so that landowners are paid a fair market price for their land, rather than the price it might achieve with planning permission that it does not actually have. This is a barrier to building. Let’s take down some barriers.
Help people out
The benefit freeze is pushing low income families to the brink, with more than nine in ten homes for private rent (94%) too expensive for those on housing benefit. Two thirds of these families (65%) are in work.
Research by the National Housing Federation shows just how inadequate Local Housing Allowance now is for the 1.3million families who rely on it to cover the high cost of private rent.
This is contributing to children living in overcrowded and poor quality accommodation, as well as increasing levels of poverty and debt; with families who can’t find anywhere affordable to rent likely to end up homeless. The number of homeless children in temporary accommodation has increased by 83% since 2011 to 126,020.
Low income families aren’t able to access social housing due to the sheer shortage of it, now they can’t access enough housing benefit to rent privately either. Come on Government, help people out. Increase LHA payments in line with at least the bottom 30% of rents, build more social housing and ensure there are secure and affordable homes for the families of the future.
End fuel poverty
It is estimated by NEA that fuel poverty affects 3.5 million UK households – that’s 12.9% of all households. How many more people will make it onto the Government’s ‘Excess Winter Deaths’ report this year, and could their lives have been saved by something as simple as a heat pump?
The fuel crisis has no place in a modern world. Let’s ask Santa to help us get with the times in ending it in 2020. Fingers crossed.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone gets what they asked for.
This article and other blogs by HA's Joe Bradbury appear regularly on Mitsubishi Electric's 'The Hub'