General election, fuel poverty and housing
Nothing stirs more polarising debate than a General Election. As family conversations get heated over dinner, Housing Association Magazine takes an objective look at what the election means for housing and healthy living.
I’ve decided to focus only on the two main parties for the sake of brevity but of course the Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP, the Northern Ireland parties and others all have their views on this important issues.
Housing is always a hot topic for all political party leaders in the run up to a general election, and this year is no exception. Whilst campaigning in the West Midlands recently, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed a desire to build more council houses and encourage tougher regulation of the private rental sector. On the campaign website, Corbyn states “We will tackle soaring rents in the private rented sector through regulation” and “we will rebuild and transform Britain by building council homes and homes that first-time buyers can afford.” Backing these bold statements with targets, Labour plan to build a million new homes including half a million new council properties during its first five years in office, should they win the election.
The battle cry for more housing isn’t just coming from the left - PM Theresa May has also highlighted a need to get Britain building. The fact of the matter is, regardless of political stance, we aren’t currently building enough new affordable housing. Demand greatly outstrips supply and prices remain astronomically high. However, this has always been a sticky subject for the Tories, who have prided themselves on being a party of home-ownership rather than renting. Therein lies the rub - how do you add more social housing without it somehow detracting away from the dream of owning your own home?
Energy and fuel poverty
With 4.5 million UK households currently unable to adequately heat their homes to a healthy and satisfactory standard, fuel poverty is undoubtedly a very real problem in Britain today. The adverse effects this has on the happiness and wellbeing of a tenant is known all too well, but fuel poverty also has financial implications often overlooked by social housing landlords.
The financial repercussions of fuel poverty actually extend far beyond just that of the affected tenants household, into society as a whole - from avoidable winter burden on the NHS to increased sick days at school and work. Fuel poverty puts enormous pressure on hospitals and doctors surgeries across the country. This is not only because of the physical and mental impact of living in a cold home, but also because it can actually extend the period of time a vulnerable patient is kept in hospital, with some actually not being discharged until their home is renovated to habitable state once again.
The ability of tenants to only afford to heat some rooms rather than the whole property can also have a negative impact on the housing stock that often goes unseen.
The Conservatives have unveiled a controversial policy to tackle the issue of fuel poverty, proposing that energy bills for millions of consumers will be capped.
Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green has said the Tories would allow market regulator Ofgem to impose a price ceiling for customers on standard variable tariffs. Whilst full details are yet to emerge, the policy shows potential to save around £100 a year for 17 million families.
Labour are also making bold proposals for tackling the issue of fuel poverty, with more emphasis on the role of renewables for getting the job done. On Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign website, it states “We will create over 300,000 renewable energy jobs throughout the country. We will put modern low-carbon industries at the heart of our £500 billion investment strategy.” The website also discusses the need to protect people from fuel poverty through support with bills, set a minimum 'B and C' energy efficiency standard for all rented housing and aim for 65% renewable electricity by 2030 (aiming for 85% as technology improves and diffuses).
Politics can be a dirty word - but the need for clean, green affordable housing spans all doctrines and crosses all socio-political barriers. Whatever your stance, and whatever the outcome of the upcoming election, a multifaceted approach will be needed from all sectors of our industry if we are to beat the real enemy – homelessness and fuel poverty.